Legally Brief: Neuter the Puppy Mills
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on April 5, 2016
Earlier this year, ALDF sent an undercover investigator to capture video at a puppy mill in McIntosh, New Mexico—Southern Roc Airedales—after receiving multiple complaints from the facility’s customers and visitors. The video showed deplorable conditions: uncollected feces, dirty drinking water green with algae, often frozen, all in a tragic shantytown shelter where temperatures fall below 30 degrees at night. Trash and debris litter the “breeding facility,” while dogs with dirty, matted fur visibly shiver in desolate pens. In sum, our investigator witnessed and recorded multiple, significant violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
And still, in this heartbreaking setting, perfectly indicative of the operation’s priorities and motivations, Southern Roc’s representative offered to sell our investigator an Airedale puppy for $1,000.
Sadly, the state of Southern Roc’s facility are all too typical. In fact, relative to other, larger puppy mills uncovered in the U.S., the conditions at Southern Roc’s operations are far from the worst. Contrary to common expectation, breeders in the US operate with little actual oversight or enforced regulation. Endorsements like “AKC registered” or “USDA licensed” mean next to nothing, especially about the quantity of dogs kenneled within an operation or about the quality of the care they receive after they enter the world.
While every major animal-advocacy and veterinary organization encourages adoption rather than purchase of companion animals, still more than one-fourth of dogs brought into American homes each year are purchased from breeders, most often as puppies. This represents a huge for-profit market as well as an opportunity for unscrupulous breeders to operate puppy mills with little heed for the well being of their “products.” And because puppy mills routinely churn out unhealthy, miserable dogs, their dissatisfied buyers too often end up dumping those dogs into the nation’s overcrowded shelters. The problem is egregious enough that over 100 cities and counties in the US have banned the retail sale of dogs and cats outright.
In this environment, ALDF is working to effect change on behalf of the Airedales at Southern Roc and, by extension, on behalf of all other dogs.
- In late February, using that undercover investigation video as evidence, ALDF filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) against Southern Roc and its owner, Southern Sollars, seeking enforcement of the AWA. The complaint cites Southern Roc’s lack of an AWA license, its inability to meet the minimum standards of care for a breeding facility, and customer complaints of dogs purchased with “intestinal infections, bacterial infections, hip dysplasia necessitating hip replacement, and exorbitant veterinary costs incurred to treat these ailments.”
- Also in February, ALDF filed a motion for summary judgment against the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, seeking to reinstate the stronger standards of care it stripped from the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s 2008 “Dog Law” after puppy mill operators complained about the law’s potential to drive up their cost of doing business. The “Dog Law” as originally written, requires nursing mothers and puppies to have unfettered access to outdoor exercise, but the amended law allows them to be caged continuously with only once-a-day access to an “exercise area.” And while the original law prohibits the use of wire-strand flooring, the amended law allows this notoriously painful material to be used. Mother dogs in such mills are generally bred twice a year, and they spend more than half of their lives in inadequate enclosures with painful flooring underfoot. We’re working to make sure Pennsylvania’s dogs get the protection intended by the law as written.
- In October, ALDF filed a class-action suit against Barkworks, a southern California pet store chain, alleging that the company had been orchestrating a scheme to defraud unsuspecting consumers by misrepresenting the health and origins of its puppies for sale. As with Southern Roc, Barkworks’ customers’ new puppies were falling seriously ill. Moreover, Barkworks had been telling those customers that its puppies were not from puppy mills and that they had been examined and treated by veterinarians prior to their sale. In the course of investigation, documents came to light showing that Barkworks had misrepresented known puppy mills as reputable breeders, going so far as to provide inaccurate breeder license numbers and addresses, fabricating breeding certificates, and lying outright about prior veterinary care.
ALDF’s legal experts are working every day to ensure that our nations animal protection laws are enforced and when they’re not, we take action. The passing of pet-store dog-and-cat sales bans in over 100 cities and counties nationwide suggests that, alongside us and common sense, history is on the side of stronger animal protection laws. Adoption and spay programs are gaining momentum while we’re working to ensure that laws that protect our animal companions are strong, and enforced.
Elephants in Captivity: Demanding an End to Cruel Confinement
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on March 15, 2016
Today, an Asian elephant named Lucky shuffles and sways in a zoo in San Antonio, Texas, where she has spent 53 long years. Since the death of her companion in 2013, Lucky has lived entirely alone in captivity, deprived of the reassuring touch of other elephants so fundamental to her wellbeing. While the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) requires that a female Asian elephant live with at least two Asian elephant companions, the zoo apparently plans to keep Lucky in forced solitude the rest of her life.
Appalled by this cruel confinement, in December 2015, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed a lawsuit against the San Antonio Zoo for violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA), alleging that the conditions of Lucky’s captivity have caused her psychological torment and physical injury. In late January, Judge Xavier Rodriguez of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas issued a ruling that will allow ALDF’s ESA lawsuit on behalf of Lucky to proceed, refuting the Zoo’s untenable argument that captive wildlife are not protected by the ESA.
Human beings have long celebrated the exceptional qualities of elephants—their capacity for self-awareness, empathy, and grief, their ability to communicate across vast distances, and their strong and enduring familial bonds. But it wasn’t until more recently that society began to ask important questions—questions about the effects of captivity on animals that roam up to fifty miles a day in the wild, about what goes on behind the scenes when elephants aren’t performing tricks for our amusement—and the answers, invariably involving horrific suffering, proved incompatible with our values.
As circuses and zoos have been confronted with the growing public and legal opposition to elephant captivity, the practice of exploiting these emotionally complex creatures for profit and entertainment has begun edging closer to extinction. One of the most notorious elephant profiteers, Ringling Brothers, recently announced an accelerated timeline for phasing out elephants from its shows. Originally slated for 2018, the circus recently announced its intent to phase out the elephant act in May 2016. Additionally, since 1998, 25 American zoos have either closed or announced plans to close their elephant exhibits, citing an inability to provide them with adequate care. Indeed, a study by the Seattle Times found that of the 390 elephants that died at accredited U.S. zoos in the past 50 years, the majority did so from injury or disease directly related to the conditions of their confinement.
Relief for Lucky cannot come soon enough. Like so many of her captive peers, Lucky has an abnormal gait and probable arthritis. Her best friend, Ginny, was euthanized by the Zoo in 2004 due to severe arthritis and foot infections, both common in captive elephants due to standing on hard, unnatural surfaces all day without adequate room to roam.
Fortunately, we have reason to be optimistic about Lucky’s chances in the ESA case, thanks to ALDF’s successful case against Cricket Hollow Zoo in Iowa. In early February, Judge Jon Stuart Scoles of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa issued an order agreeing with ALDF’s argument that the owners of an Iowa roadside zoo had violated the ESA by providing substandard care for their four tigers and three lemurs.
ALDF is proud to have contributed to the evolution of both the law and society’s treatment of captive elephants, and look forward to continuing to do so as advocates for Lucky—and, by extension, for every animal so cruelly confined, including:
- Lolita, a captive orca held in the smallest orca tank in North America at the Miami Seaquarium. In July 2015, ALDF and a coalition of partners brought a lawsuit against Seaquarium citing the conditions of her captivity as a violation of the ESA.
- Candy, the country’s loneliest chimpanzee who, like Lucky, has spent more than fifty years in captivity, forty of them in solitary confinement. In November 2015, ALDF filed suit against the Dixie Landin’ amusement park for isolating and neglecting Candy in violation of the ESA.
- Ricky, a female black bear held for 16 years in an undersized chain-link and concrete cage at a Pennsylvania roadside attraction, on whose behalf ALDF filed suit in December 2014. Two months later, the owner agreed to a settlement wherein Ricky would be released to live out her days in a sanctuary filled with rolling grassland in Colorado.
- Ben, a bear held at a North Carolina roadside attraction, on whose behalf ALDF filed a lawsuit in April 2012 against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), challenging its decision to renew the owners’ federal Animal Welfare Act license. The lawsuit resulted in a victory four months later when a Cumberland County District Court injunction ordered Ben released to a California sanctuary.
Elephant abusers, like most owners of captive wildlife, won’t do the right thing until the wrong thing stops being profitable. People can do their part by not patronizing those circuses and zoos that keep elephants in cruel confinement, and by supporting laws that regulate and restrict elephant captivity. When public awareness, legislative advocacy, and cutting edge litigation ultimately combine to make elephant captivity cost prohibitive, circuses and zoos will be quick to send the elephants to sanctuaries, where they may enjoy the natural habitats and lasting friendships so vital to their survival.
The 13th Successful National Animal Law Competitions
Posted by Lindsay Kadish, Guest Blogger on March 7, 2016
The Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) in collaboration with the Animal Legal Defense Fund was pleased to present the 13th annual National Animal Law Competitions (NALC) this month, hosted at Harvard Law School. This event brings students, animal law scholars and advocates, and state and federal judges together to explore a number of interesting and challenging legal issues within the field of animal law. The competition has three different components, including Appellate Moot Court, Closing Argument, and Legislative Drafting and Lobbying. Through these components, students have the opportunity to hone their written and oral advocacy skills in a quickly growing field that needs both litigators and policymakers.
Students from law schools around the country participated. We were gratified to receive feedback from all of the judges who praised the competitors’ professionalism, intelligence, and passion for the field. We at CALS were inspired by the dedication the students brought to the process, and congratulate them all on a job well done. NALC is a wonderful and unique learning experience and we are grateful to the many students, coaches, and judges who spent considerable time preparing for and participating throughout the weekend. Visit the website to see all the winners, as well as photos from the competitions. Congratulations to all!
There were many people who made this event possible, and CALS would like to extend a huge THANK YOU to:
- Animal Legal Defense Fund
- Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Program, especially Kristen Stilt, Chris Green, & Delcianna Winders
- Writers of the NALC problems: Delcianna Winders, Lora Dunn, & Chris Green
- NALC Brief graders: Russ Mead, Sonia Waisman, & Delcianna Winders
- NALC Bill & Fact Sheet graders: Lee Greenwood, Laura Hagen, & Carney Anne Nasser
- NALC Guest Judges
- Harvard SALDF student volunteers
- Harvard Law School event, AV, catering, and facilities staff
- Members of the NALC planning committee
- And, of course, the NALC 2016 competitors & coaches!
Freedom at Malheur
Posted by Stefanie Wilson, and Carter Dillard on February 9, 2016
As the last of the militia remaining in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge set up defensive perimeters and mock the FBI, their supporters around the country continue to invoke the one word most used to defend the militia’s action: Freedom.
For the militia, freedom means using the public lands at Malheur and the surrounding area for ranching, logging and mining. Theirs is the freedom to consume nature or the nonhuman world, to the exclusion of those who want to be free to restore Malheur’s natural ecosystems, the habitat of plants and animals, for all to enjoy by observing rather than destroying.
And whose freedom should win out?
The answer may lie in what Senator Frank Church of Idaho said in helping to pass the Wilderness Act of 1964, that “without wilderness this country will become a cage.” Church and other wilderness proponents saw nature as freedom from others, the self-control, ascendance and actualization Thoreau wrote of in Walden. It is freedom as the absence of other people’s influence, manifested as the nonhuman world around us, realized as a place we can go but should not change. It is the freedom environmentalists restoring wilderness, and animal rights activists liberating animals, fight for every day.
This freedom of wilderness stands opposite to the militia’s and others’ view of freedom as the ability to control and consume nature and the nonhuman world by ranching, logging, and mining, by trophy hunting the animals that live in nature, by profiting through caging and exhibiting those animals, and by promoting the “free” marketing and consumption of cruelly raised animals. This form of freedom, the “free-for-all” to do whatever one wishes to animals, nature, and the nonhuman world, ultimately fails because it results in all of us being caged. As Church feared, in a world of human influence, surrounded by the Bundy’s cattle, the empty mines, the logged forests and missing wildlife, and now degraded and quickly warming atmosphere, we are all less free.
Yes, Malheur is a struggle for freedom, but not in the way the militia’s supporters believe. What’s at stake is a truer form freedom, one that will take humans and animals out of the cage together.
Ag-Gag: Outlawing Voices Who Speak for the Voiceless
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on February 2, 2016
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the federal agency responsible for the enforcement of laws pertaining to farming, agriculture, and food production, estimates that more than 9 billion animals will be slaughtered in the U.S. this year.
Despite increasing worldwide demand for meat and the accelerating pace of American slaughter lines, there are acknowledged staffing shortages among the USDA’s inspector corps that have existed for some time.
More than half a million people work in low-income jobs in American slaughterhouses and related facilities. Many are undocumented, and they labor with little job security in physically demanding and often dangerous conditions.
In October 2014, following years of intense lobbying by the meat industry, and in spite of opposition from citizens groups, the USDA elected to allow some poultry plant employees, rather than USDA inspectors, decide whether their products are safe for consumption. At the same time, the agency reduced the number of trained inspectors in plants nationwide.
Meanwhile numerous investigations within the animal agriculture industry have exposed a pattern and practice of animal cruelty and workplace violations. In response, and at the behest of the industry, eight states have passed laws that essentially criminalize whistleblowing and undercover activism, making it illegal to record and disseminate photographs or footage taken in agricultural operations. These are the “Ag-Gag” laws.
Agribusiness leaders want to hide the suffering of the animals they kill and of the workers who kill and butcher them. They want to hide the frantic pace of production that churns fecal matter into ground meat. They want to hide lagoons of hog offal that pollute groundwater with the insecticides, antibiotics, and vaccines used to fatten hogs, herds, and profit margins.
But ALDF is challenging the industry’s efforts to cover up its illegal activities in court, with cooperation from allied organizations in consumer rights, food safety, civil liberties, and whistleblower-protection agencies.
In 2013, ALDF led a coalition in filing the nation’s first challenge to an Ag-Gag law, representing activist Amy Meyer in a case against the state of Utah, charging that the law infringes on free-speech rights by criminalizing undercover investigations. Meyer, who had videotaped the operations at Dale Smith Meatpacking Company from the roadside, was the first person in the nation to be prosecuted under an Ag-Gag law, although the charges were dropped after a public outcry. In August 2014, despite a motion from the state to dismiss the case, the court allowed the lawsuit to move forward.
Last August, in another lawsuit brought by ALDF and a coalition of public interest organizations, including PETA, the Center for Food Safety, and the ACLU, a federal district court in Idaho struck down the state’s Ag-Gag law as unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Drafted by the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, the law made it a criminal offense to document animal welfare, worker safety, and food safety violations at any “agricultural production facility,” thus “gagging” speech that is critical of industrial agriculture. The statute defines “agricultural production facility” so broadly that it applies not only to factory farms and slaughterhouses, but also to public parks, restaurants, nursing homes, grocery stores, pet stores, and virtually every public accommodation and private residence.
In Wyoming, ALDF represented environmentalists in challenging two state laws criminalizing any individual who enters private or public open land without permission to collect what the state defines as resource data—including pictures of noxious weeds, samples of polluted water, videos of injured animals, or notes on the landscape—and then communicates that data to a federal or state agency.
Most recently, ALDF and a coalition of allied organizations filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a new North Carolina law that allows for civil suits against whistleblowers who seek to reveal wrongdoing at any workplace. That law, effective January 1, prohibits investigations not only in agricultural settings, but also in any private business, including hospitals, elder care facilities, veteran care facilities, and schools. The New York Times endorsed the lawsuit, writing that “[t]he secrecy promoted by ag-gag laws should have no place in American society.”
Nonetheless, big agribusiness knows that interest continues to grow among the American public in where its food comes from, who’s producing it, and how it’s being produced. In North Carolina, a state with an economy heavily dependent on hog production, 74 percent of voters “support undercover investigations by animal welfare groups on farms,” according to a May 2015 poll. In Idaho, an October 2015 poll found 53 percent of respondents agreed with the federal judge’s overturning of that state’s Ag-Gag law, while less than a third opposed his ruling.
Though not to be taken lightly, we see such laws as examples of the desperation increasingly felt by industries that rely on cruelty and neglect to thrive. With so much to hide, corporate meat producers feel forced to firewall their practices from government inspectors, from their own customers, and from the American public. No Ag-Gag law is immune from challenge.
This Land is Our Land – Not Militant Ranchers’
Posted by Stefanie Wilson, ALDF Litigation Fellow on February 1, 2016
On January 2nd, a group of self-styled “militiamen” occupied a federal building in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon to protest on behalf of two ranchers who were recently ordered to serve out prison terms after a jury of their peers convicted them of arson on federal lands. By now, most know that the Ammon Bundy and Co. destroyed cattle fencing that protected the refuge and the wildlife within from grazing cattle, drove tractors around and upon sacred Tribal sites, and engaged law enforcement in a fatal firefight. The full consequences of their month-long occupation of the refuge remains to be seen, as of this posting, a handful of holdouts remain. The refuge has been closed throughout and will remain so until further notice.
To be sure, citizens have the right to peacefully protest what they view to be unfair convictions and sentencing. But the driving force behind these protests is unfortunately misguided and far more disturbing. The militia were led by Ammon Bundy, the son of Clive Bundy – who owes $1 million to taxpayers for unpaid grazing fees. The Bundy’s are poster children for a political movement that advocates armed resistance against federal control over public lands.
Only there’s a fairly sizeable wrinkle in their ideology: that land that they wish to exert control over and use for their own commercial benefit is held in public trust for all of the American people.
The protection that the public trust was intended to provide to our natural resources has largely failed – in no small part because public lands ranchers like Clive and Ammon Bundy are a vocal and politically powerful minority. They produce less than 3 percent of American beef, yet they have access to approximately 24 percent[i] of land in this country for their own private financial gain, while taxpayers foot the bill.
As a result of this, much of the public lands in the American West is basically a taxpayer-subsidized gestation and feeding facility for a relatively small subsector of the beef industry.
Public lands grazing occurs on an estimated 229 to 260 million acres, approximately 85 percent of all of the lands managed by the federal government. Under the dubious guise of protecting livestock, the USDA’s Wildlife Services spends $8 million to kill more than 94,000 native wildlife such as coyotes and wolves each year – keystone species in these fragile ecosystems. Public lands grazing is also the driving force behind cruel and inhumane coyote killing contests – such as the one that ALDF successfully shut down in Burns, Oregon, where the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is located – as well as the cruel wild horse round-ups conducted by federal land management agencies (see ALDF’s in-depth coverage and what we’ve done about it).
Conservation biologists have long warned that livestock grazing is the “most insidious and pervasive threat to biodiversity on rangelands.”[ii] More than 175 plant and animal species are threatened by the effects of livestock grazing on public lands and it has contributed to the decline of almost one quarter of federally listed threatened and endangered species.
It’s no accident or coincidence that Bundy’s militia chose to occupy a wildlife refuge. By attacking the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, they have publicly admitted who (and what) they are really at war with: the wilderness and nature that belongs to all Americans and to future generations.
[i] Calculated from the 28% of lands owned by the federal government, and the 85% of that land permitted for grazing.
[ii] Reed F. Noss and Allen Cooperrider, Saving Nature’s Legacy 230 (1994).
Major Settlement in Case of Dog Shooting by Colorado Officer
Posted by Lora Dunn, ALDF Staff Attorney on January 26, 2016
On January 25, the owner of a therapy dog named Chloe who was shot and killed by a Colorado police officer in 2012 reached a landmark settlement over Chloe’s unlawful killing. Commerce City agreed to pay $262,500 to Gary Branson and his family, according to media reports. Officers were allegedly responding to a call about a dog running loose in the neighborhood on November 24, 2012 when they tried unsuccessfully to use a catchpole and a Taser to capture Chloe while her owner was out of town. Officer Robert Price shot Chloe five times at close range, and neighbors videotaped the incident. The officer was charged but acquitted of criminal aggravated animal cruelty in 2013, and the Branson family filed a federal civil suit against Commerce City alleging a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 violation for unlawful deprivation of their property for Chloe’s death.
This settlement is another victory for pet owners in a legal system that categorizes animals as property, a classification that seems like an odd fit when we’re talking about sentient beings. Yet the law does recognize that animals are inherently different from other property—you could smash a table to pieces or light your car on fire without legal ramifications, but doing the same to a dog triggers serious cruelty violations (all 50 states now have felony cruelty laws on the books). Beyond the criminal realm, in cases where animals are wrongfully killed, more courts are recognizing animals’ intrinsic value by awarding damages that exceed the sheer market value of the animal.
The shooting of dogs by police officers is a systemic issue nationwide, with the Department of Justice estimating that about 10,000 dogs are shot by cops every year in the United States. The documentary Of Dogs and Men, which was produced in association with ALDF and premiered at the Austin Film Festival in November 2015, examines this important issue by tracing the stories of families and their victim dogs and interviewing law enforcement. The film includes the story of Chloe from the Commerce City case, and an interview with owner Gary Branson.
While the Branson case may be among one of the larger settlements of its kind in a § 1983 case, it is by no means the largest: In 2012, a Maryland jury awarded $620,000 in a case where two sheriff’s deputies shot a chocolate Labrador named Brandi when they entered the dog owner’s home while attempting to serve a body attachment (similar to a warrant). The jury’s award was later reduced by the appellate court to just over $200,000. Brooks v. Jenkins, 220 Md. App. 444 (2014). In an earlier case, the worst possible plaintiffs (the Hells Angels) extracted more than $900,000 in damages after San Jose officers shot three dogs during the execution of search warrants at multiple locations.
The good news is that awareness is growing that a lack of police training on animal encounters is the root of the problem, and police departments are taking action to change the statistics. More and more departments are adding animal-specific training to their rosters thanks to the work of organizations like the National Sheriff’s Association and the International Chiefs of Police. Further, the Colorado and Texas legislatures have enacted mandated officer training as well.
What should you do if you witness a dog being injured or killed by law enforcement? Visit our resources on “Dogs Shot by Cops: Companion Animals and Law Enforcement” and find out more.
Pamela Frasch Receives Excellence in Teaching Award
Posted by ALDF Update on January 19, 2016
The Animal Law Section of the AALS awarded Pamela D. Frasch, Assistant Dean, Animal Law Program and Executive Director, Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark Law School, in collaboration with ALDF, the inaugural AALS Animal Law Section Award for Excellence in Animal Law: Teaching, Scholarship, and Service. Pamela has been working in the area of animal law for over twenty years and teaching for eighteen. She has inspired students, lawyers, advocates, and others through her immense knowledge of the law, outstanding skills in writing, teaching and advocacy, and her compassion and commitment to the protection of all animals.
The Animal Law Section presented the award during the Section’s program—Animal Rights: From Why to How—during the AALS Annual Meeting in New York City on January 9 at 1:30pm. After the awards ceremony, a spirited conversation on various strategies for securing legal rights was led by an impressive panel of legal scholars including Sherry Colb (Cornell), Michael Dorf (Cornell), David Favre (MSU), Lori Gruen (Wesleyan), Angela Harris (UC Davis), and Dale Jamieson (NYU).
In addition to the formal presentation of the award, The Animal Law Section celebrated Pamela at the Section’s reception hosted by the Animal Legal Defense Fund on January 8, 2016.
“The AALS Section on Animal Law is pleased and honored to have a true giant among animal law faculty, Pamela Frasch, as the inaugural recipient of its award for Excellence in Animal Law: Scholarship-Teaching-Service. Throughout her 20-year commitment to animal law advocacy, teaching, and scholarship, Pam has inspired students, lawyers, and animal advocates and has immeasurably advanced both animal law and animal legal education world-wide.” – Joan Schaffner: former Chair, AALS Animal Law Section; Associate Professor of Law, George Washington University Law School.
A Great Year for Animals, Thanks to Your Support
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on December 28, 2015
The Animal Legal Defense Fund had our busiest and most successful year to date—and it’s all thanks to your support. We’ve been able to achieve so many great victories for animals through the legal system, and it’s all because of the generosity of animal lovers like you. Watch our video overview of 2015, and join me in reflecting on an amazing year.
Legally Brief: Exotic Animals and the Law
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on December 14, 2015
States that do not set even minimal safety and animal welfare requirements for private ownership of captive wild animals are playing a dangerous game that too often results in tragedy both for the animals and for people.
In October 2011, Terry Thompson released more than five dozen dangerous wild and exotic animals into his Zanesville, Ohio, community before he committed suicide. He had kept the animals as pets in cages on his property. First responders found themselves in a volatile situation, with no choice but to kill nearly all the animals.
At the time, Ohio had yet to institute any oversight of privately owned tigers, lions, bears, and other dangerous wild animals, an illustration that in the absence of state action, it is a matter of when—not if—something bad will happen.
There are currently six states that exercise no oversight of or restrictions on private ownership of potentially dangerous animals such as tigers, bears, and apes: Nevada, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, and Indiana. A bill aimed at providing some regulation of exotics ownership is pending in the Wisconsin state legislature. In Indiana, it is expected that the state’s exotics law will be amended to correct deficiencies that a judge ruled earlier this year precluded enforcement by the state wildlife agency.
Private citizens are ill equipped to meet the needs of complex and dangerous animals like tigers and chimpanzees. Many feed them inappropriate diets and keep them in squalid enclosures and cages that not only deprive them of the ability to engage in natural behaviors, but fail to confine them safely, leading to escapes. This is why ALDF and groups like the American Bar Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention oppose private ownership of exotic animals.
In the wake of the Zanesville catastrophe, Ohio eventually passed a law that restricts ownership of most dangerous wild animals to bona fide zoological institutions or sanctuaries. However, the state had already become a haven of sorts for exotics owners due to lack of state oversight for so many years. As a result, the state has had to step in and confiscate numerous dangerous animals from unsafe and inhumane conditions.
Sadly, many of the confiscated animals arrive at the state’s temporary holding facility in extremely poor condition after years of neglect, lack of adequate space and veterinary care, and poor diet.
One sad example was a lion named Leo. Necropsy records show he suffered from multiple painful health conditions frequently associated with long-term neglect, including “severe degenerative osteoarthritis,” degenerative joint disease, and intervertebral disk disease, all of which contributed to his rapid decline after his confiscation from a private owner.
Ohio has turned to ALDF’s friends, including Tim Harrison and his organization, Outreach for Animals, and Bobbi Brink and her extraordinary team at Lions, Tigers & Bears (LTB), to rescue and rehome animals who have been confiscated from substandard conditions. Indeed, since 2012, Brink and LTB have rehomed more than sixty big cats and bears to reputable sanctuaries outside Ohio.
While Ohio is taking meaningful steps to manage its exotic animal crisis, Nevada has yet to take action on the state level. But there is some good news here as well.
On November 17, Clark County, which encompasses the greater Las Vegas area, passed its first exotic animal ordinance. The ordinance prohibits anyone except bona fide sanctuaries and zoological institutions from keeping potentially dangerous animals (including, but not limited to, big cats, bears, and apes). Tim Harrison, Bobbi Brink, Las Vegas activists Linda Faso and Stephen Sorrentino, Jonathan Kraft and Tina Matajek from Keepers of the Wild Sanctuary, and our friends from the Humane Society of the United States all joined ALDF to testify at the hearing where the ordinance was passed.
ALDF Legislative Affairs attorney Carney Anne Nasser worked on the ordinance with Clark County officials for several years, and it passed with unanimous support from all seven county commissioners. ALDF hopes it will serve as a model for localities in other states that lack oversight of private ownership of dangerous wild animals.
ALDF applauds Clark County for doing the right thing, and will continue to work with other localities to achieve legislative victories for animal welfare and public safety in 2016 and beyond.
Congratulations to the 2015 SALDF Chapters of the Year!
Posted by Kelly Levenda, Staff Attorney on December 4, 2015
The Animal Legal Defense Fund would like to congratulate the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapters at George Washington University Law School (GW) and Harvard Law School (HLS) for winning the 2015 SALDF Chapter of the Year Awards! The awards celebrate SALDF chapters that have shown incredible efforts to advance the field of animal law and advocate for animals on campus and in their surrounding community.
The GW SALDF chapter held numerous events in the 2014-2015 academic year that raised awareness of the need for protections for wild and farmed animals, and those used in experimentation and entertainment. The chapter also hosted speakers, including journalist and author Will Potter.
During ALDF’s Speak Out for Farmed Animals Week, GW SALDF members staffed a table offering ALDF materials and free vegan treats, visited Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, and held a successful pay-per-view event using an innovative outreach strategy (people are offered $1 to view a short film on the experience farmed animals go through on their way to becoming food). For ALDF’s National Justice for Animals Week, the chapter hosted a free vegan breakfast, an animal law career panel, and an eye-opening discussion on Ag-Gag laws with Taylor Radig, an investigator who was charged with animal cruelty for documenting animal abuse at a farm, and co-hosted a screening of the film Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.
Involvement in the community is also important to GW SALDF. The chapter built shelters for feral cats, and participated in the Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals and the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos. Members shadowed local humane officers as they responded to animal cruelty calls and attended oral arguments for Carol Grunewald v. Jonathan Jarvis, the challenge to the National Park Service’s deer-killing program in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park. They also held a companion animal study break, where students lined up to cuddle with adoptable dogs and cats from local shelters, and raised more than $1,000 to support their projects through a companion animal photo contest!
The Harvard Law School (HLS) SALDF chapter raised awareness of animal law among law students, faculty, and the broader campus community by publishing articles in the Harvard Law Record and Harvard Crimson, and holding 17 packed events throughout the 2014-2015 academic year! The events averaged 70 attendees, with some drawing more than 100. The chapter maximized attendance by promoting its events on school chalkboards, bulletin boards, and its Facebook page.
HLS SALDF was proud to host leaders in the animal protection movement, such as Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who spoke about history’s progress toward recognizing groups as deserving of rights, and experts in the field of animal law such as Carter Dillard, ALDF director of litigation, who spoke on Animal Rights, Human Rights, and the Future of our Planet. HLS SALDF raised awareness of animal agriculture with a screening of Cowspiracy and a virtual reality display that gave students firsthand experience of what it’s like to be a chicken. The chapter hosted Lewis Bollard, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) policy advisor, who spoke on Ag-Gag laws, and Liz Hallinan, Compassion Over Killing director of policy, who talked about animal and human rights abuses in factory farming. The chapter also promoted plant-based eating with a talk on vegan diets for athletes, a screening of Forks Over Knives, and speakers like Josh Tetrick, Hampton Creek CEO, and Dr. Michael Greger, HSUS director of public health.
HLS SALDF also addressed the popular issue of wild animals in captivity through talks by Chris Green, former ALDF legislative director (and current executive director of the Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School), who spoke about legal developments in this area, and Death at SeaWorld author David Kirby, who spoke on the plight of captive orcas. HLS SALDF also helped host the 2015 National Animal Law Competitions.
Thank you to the chapters that took the time to apply for this year’s award and to all of our SALDF chapters for the amazing work you are doing for animals!
Putting the Spin on Flying Elephants to Omaha
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on November 30, 2015
Three American zoos have orchestrated a fairly tricky sleight-of-hand to remove 18 African elephants from their native grasslands and plant them in expensive faux-habitat exhibits in the U.S.
The Dallas Zoo, the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, and the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, committed to pay a “significant contribution”—$450,000—to Big Game Parks, a family-run organization that manages wildlife for the government of Swaziland in three of that nation’s protected areas. In exchange, each zoo will receive six elephants from Swaziland, transported first via 747, then in shipping crates on the backs of tractor-trailers to the zoos’ complexes in Dallas, Wichita, and Omaha.
The $450,000, however, is not technically a direct payment for taking possession of the elephants. The zoos describe the deal as a “contribution” to Big Game Parks and Swaziland’s black rhinoceros conservation efforts.
According to Big Game Parks, the nation’s protected areas are overcrowded with elephants and, because of this, endangered black rhinos are being pushed closer to extinction. To hear the zoos’ administrators tell it in the press, they “agreed to take ownership” of the elephants, practically as a favor to the elephants and to the poor, drought-ridden nation of Swaziland. In late September, news articles supportive of the importation ran in the largest newspapers in the zoos’ three cities, all touting the “win-win” nature of the transaction for the elephants and the rhinos.
Notably, as of September, the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita had raised $10.6 million for construction of a new elephant exhibit, of which half was contributed by the county government. The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha was in the final stages of constructing its $73 million African Grasslands project, including a $15 million elephant building. At that time, the Executive Director and CEO of the Doorly Zoo told the Omaha World-Herald, “When people come to a zoo like ours, they expect to see elephants.” And when for-profit zoos build multi-million dollar compounds, they expect a return on investment.
Swaziland is a poor country. Big Game Parks manages its wildlife with little if any government oversight. The organization has threatened to kill the 18 elephants if permits allowing their exportation are not issued. They do not point out that the entire population of fewer than 35 elephants occupies only small fenced portions of the reserves and poses no considerable threat to other wildlife. No evidence has been presented to show significant habitat competition with rhinos. Nor have they shown that they’ve made any significant efforts to move the elephants to protected areas elsewhere in Africa where they would not be subjected to incarceration or family destruction.
Big Game Parks stands to benefit financially from the transaction, as do the American zoos, but both parties know that the world increasingly sees the purchase and importation of African big game as morally repugnant, even if it’s not out-and-out illegal. Thus, the transaction is shaded as something other than a direct sale.
We know that elephants roam up to thirty miles a day in the wild. Female elephants stay with their families all their lives. They are highly intelligent, communicative, and have complex social structures that are critical to their welfare. We know that in captivity they grow depressed (indicated by abnormal stereotypic behaviors such as head bobbing and swaying) and have diminished life expectancies, although an elephant’s natural lifespan is similar to that of a human.
In zoos and circuses, however, captive elephants are frequently euthanized at an early age due to painful arthritis and other foot problems—conditions that are unique to unnatural and inappropriate captive settings. These zoo executives and their private partners in Swaziland are hoping we’ll forget those things. They’re hoping the people of Kansas will forget, too, and pay $13.95 to see elephants fresh out of Africa right off Interstate 235 in Wichita.
ALDF has joined with dozens of scientists, conservation and animal advocacy organizations to stop this importation, and we hope you will join us and spread the word. The elephants, after all, don’t have the luxury of forgetting.
UW-Madison Evasion Hides Public Records and Details of Infant Monkey Experiments
Posted by Kelsey Eberly, Litigation Fellow on November 16, 2015
Today, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed its final brief in support of its motion for summary judgment in a case that has pitted animal welfare and public records advocates against the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW). Last October, ALDF sued the University for refusing to disclose to ALDF the full public records from federally-mandated animal welfare oversight committees that reviewed and approved a controversial “maternal deprivation” research protocol on infant primates. Such research proposed to take newborn rhesus macaque monkeys away from their mothers, subject them to frightening and anxiety-inducing stressors including live snakes, and inflict a battery of invasive tests and procedures before killing them by the age of two.
Over a year after ALDF filed its case, UW remains obstinate in its refusal to allow public access to these records concerning taxpayer-funded research, while its arbitrary records withholding policy has already inflicted irreparable harm to the public interest. Indeed, as ALDF learned last spring, UW previously destroyed pages and pages of documents that ALDF had sought concerning the maternal deprivation research. ALDF filed an amended complaint seeking more documents last May, but significant damage has already been done. If UW has its way, the public will never be able to exercise its right of government oversight, protected by the public records law, to know the extent of the oversight committees’ discussion leading to its approval of such highly controversial research on infant monkeys.
Meanwhile, details about the experiments remain murkier than ever. In March of this year, UW alleged that the research design was changed to remove the maternal deprivation element (previously its central feature), but ALDF has seen no independent confirmation of this assertion. UW has now attempted to stymie ALDF from learning about this change by delaying its response to ALDF’s renewed records request for seven months, and proposing to charge an outrageous sum (over $12,000) to search for and disclose relevant records.
UW’s continual attempts to shift the playing field—about what is happening to the baby monkeys, and about what documents are at issue in ALDF’s public records case—is little more than a smokescreen. ALDF will not rest until it gets to the bottom of what UW is doing to baby monkeys in the name of “science,” and until the court has set the University straight on the public’s right to obtain the complete records of this taxpayer-funded animal research.
Class-Action Encouragement: Barkworks’ Case Brings Puppy Mills Into Focus
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on November 16, 2015
More than 40 million households provide homes to at least one dog in the US. We are a nation of avowed dog lovers. Yet nearly 4 million dogs enter our shelters every year and more than a million of them are euthanized. Given those statistics it’s difficult to imagine why we tolerate puppy mills that churn out thousands of sick dogs each year—or the stores that sell them—for profit.
These are questions running alongside ALDF’s lawsuit against Barkworks, a pet-store chain in four Southern California counties. In October, ALDF broadly expanded its lawsuit against Barkworks, initially filed in Orange County in September 2014 on behalf of a handful of individual plaintiffs, by adding class-action allegations, thus filing on behalf of a broad class of misled purchasers of the chain’s puppies. Since September 2014, ALDF and pro bono attorneys working on the case have uncovered numerous documents detailing the widespread nature of Barkworks’ deception, thus making a change in the scope of the lawsuit necessary. ALDF’s lawsuit alleges that Barkworks intentionally violated California consumer protection law by explicitly stating that its puppies were “not from puppy mills” and had been examined by veterinarians before being sold. Buyers soon learned that these assertions were false when their new puppies fell seriously ill, in some cases within hours of leaving the store and when these consumers tracked down the source of their puppies.
Many pet stores that continue to sell live animals view small, vulnerable puppies and other animals for sale as mere products—cuddly and lovable when presented through the pet-shop window to lure consumers, but ultimately line items on a balance sheet. For these business owners, it makes financial sense to buy from puppy mills—places that will continue to churn out litter upon litter of puppies at low wholesale prices without concern for the health or well-being of the dogs. Still, the “puppies for sale” model has improved dramatically at many pet-supply retailers, where grooming, doggie daycare, high-end pet products, and immunization clinics have replaced dog-and-cat sales as revenue generators. And well over 100 cities and counties in the U.S. have banned the retail sale of cats, dogs, and in some cases even rabbits, in part to curtail the sale of mill-bred animals.
Such changes are coming about because Americans are getting more familiar with the details of commercial exploitation of animals. We understand that animals bred in close confines and unclean conditions in commercial facilities might well be expected to begin their lives battling short-term issues—distemper, respiratory infections, mange and various parasitic diseases. And most dog lovers—of mutts and purebreds alike—recognize that, longer term, excessive inbreeding and short-cutting of thoughtful animal husbandry practices will lead to increased rates of lifelong health problems like hip dysplasia, hyperthyroidism and glaucoma, among others.
None of that comes as a surprise to any of us. What is startling is the scale and the everyday nature of the problem: how often such truths are hidden by brokers, breeders and retail establishments, how often dogs and cats and other companion animals are bred purely for profit without concern for their welfare, and how little awareness people have of these practices. Consumers still purchase puppies from retail pet stores, reassured that a breeder is “USDA-licensed” or “AKC registered.” However, most consumers don’t realize that these endorsements guarantee little if anything about the number of dogs at a facility, a dog’s breeding history, or the life quality of breeder dogs. Moreover, the AKC is funded largely by its own registration fees—for over 1 million dogs each year by its own account—giving the organization an incentive to encourage irresponsibly high birth rates from its “registered breeders.”
Fortunately, the culture is waking up to the problem, not just about the continued existence of puppy mills, but about the realities of the pet-store industry and its sales pitches, and ALDF is eager to help. Barkworks stores have been picketed and boycotted; law enforcement has shut down mills where puppies were neglected, underfed and overcrowded. And now ALDF is grateful to be well positioned and well armed to litigate for change that will close down avenues for such behavior.
The puppy-mill problem stems in part from people’s continued willingness to view and treat non-human animals as products rather than sentient beings. That’s one reason ALDF is especially moved by the opportunity in this case—so much of our work concerns the advancement of the culture’s recognition of animals as more than someone’s property, more than viable product.
Court Enjoins Enforcement of Unconstitutional Ag-Gag Law
Posted by Matthew Liebman, ALDF Senior Attorney on November 12, 2015
Today Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued the final judgment declaring Idaho’s Ag-Gag law unconstitutional and enjoining the state from enforcing the law. The judgment comes as the result of a ground-breaking lawsuit filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, alongside a broad-based public interest coalition of advocates for animals, workers, journalists, the environment, and consumers.
In August, Judge Winmill issued a 29-page written opinion, which held that the Ag-Gag statute was unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. Judge Winmill observed that if the Ag-Gag law were allowed to stand, “[t]he effect of the statute will be to suppress speech by undercover investigators and whistleblowers concerning topics of great public importance: the safety of the public food supply, the safety of agricultural workers, the treatment and health of farm animals, and the impact of business activities on the environment.”
Today’s judgment gives legal effect to the August opinion by formally declaring the Ag-Gag statute unconstitutional and permanently enjoining and prohibiting the state from enforcing the statute.
As of today, undercover investigations at agricultural facilities in Idaho are once again legal. These investigations reveal the routine animal suffering inherent in the production of animal products and shine a light on an industry shrouded in secrecy.