Blog Archives - Page 2 of 85 - Animal Legal Defense Fund
Is SeaWorld Secretly Fighting to Protect an Orca Breeding Program?
Posted by on July 28, 2017
For years the Animal Legal Defense Fund has been fighting for justice for orcas. From Lolita and SeaWorld San Diego to our new campaign to end captive breeding and use of captive orcas for entertainment purposes, we’re committed to securing these animals the protections they deserve. As the only nonprofit with a focus on protecting animals through the legal system, we’re proud that our successes have such impact, but lawsuits and legislation don’t happen overnight, and sometimes things don’t go the way we expect. This week, a Politico article gave readers a behind-the-scenes look at the early stages of proposing a bill—specifically, our Florida Orca Protection Act.
Why would Florida House Representative Thad Altman release a letter calling for a hearing on the Florida Protection Orca Act, then suddenly backtrack, saying we “don’t have enough science” to support an orca breeding ban? Politico seems to have reason to think SeaWorld played a role in Rep. Altman’s change of heart.
Altman blames staff after request for workshop on SeaWorld captive breeding policy
In the letter, Altman seemed to sympathize with those with concerns.
The Florida Orca Protection Act is a commonsense way to codify SeaWorld’s corporate promise to end its captive breeding program. The company’s ownership could change hands at any time, especially given that a company in China recently bought a 21% share in SeaWorld. Whether or not orcas get the protections they deserve shouldn’t hinge on who owns the most shares in a company.
We don’t know exactly what path this bill will take on its way to becoming law, but we can assure you we will fight to push it forward, no matter what.
Don’t Let Ringling Export Big Cats for Further Exploitation
Posted by on July 18, 2017
*UPDATE: The permit application was republished on June 21, 2017 with a 30-day comment period closing on July 21, 2017. If you took action before June 21, please re-submit your comments.*
On May 26, 2017, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service published notice that Feld Entertainment, the multi-billion dollar parent corporation of the recently shuttered Ringling Bros. Circus, is applying for an Endangered Species Act permit to export eight tigers back to a circus in Germany. Feld’s application also indicates it intends to export six lions and a leopard as well.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund strongly opposes Ringling’s effort to condemn these animals to continued exploitation for “entertainment” when there are humane options for the endangered animals. These big cats should be allowed to live out their lives at a reputable sanctuary where they can experience the space, habitats, and peace they need and deserve. We will file administrative comments to oppose the export permit.
You have the right to comment on the permit application. The 30-day comment window is now open. Read over our guidelines below, then register your formal comment.
Tips for Commenting on Ringling Big Cat Export Permit:
- Keep your comments concise and to the point.
- Share your passion! But remember to keep it clean and stay calm. Using vulgar language, “shouting” with all-caps text, or making personal attacks encourages reviewers to disregard your comment.
- If you have a level of expertise in a relevant field (lawyer, scientist, etc.) be sure to mention that in your comments.
- It’s best to write your own comments, which have more impact than a form letter or petition.
Sample comments to personalize:
[Talk about your reaction to hearing the news that Ringling Circus was closing, and how you felt when you heard that instead of being able to “retire” to a reputable sanctuary, these big cats would be sent to Germany to endure more exploitation]
I oppose granting Ringling a Big Cat Export permit. A permit like this requires a demonstration that the activity for which the permit is being sought “enhance[s] the propagation or survival of the species.” The applicant has not demonstrated this in any capacity. In fact, granting this permit directly threatens the wellbeing of the animals involved and does not help endangered species as a whole.
[Talk about how it makes you feel to witness the reality of life for circus animals. Explain what you think should happen to the big cats.]
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should not employ a pay-to-play approach and continue rubber-stamping permits simply because the applicant makes a nominal donation to a conservation program. Not only do animal acts fail to educate the public and fail to enhance the propagation or survival of species, studies have shown that public display and commercial use of endangered species do operate to the detriment of wild populations of such species. Granting this permit circumvents the purpose of the Endangered Species Act.
[Summarize why you oppose granting this permit.]
Wildlife Services is a Taxpayer-Funded Killing Machine – We’ll See Them in Court
Posted by on July 12, 2017
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services for failing to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in accounting for the harm the agency causes to native Californian wildlife, including coyotes, foxes, and bobcats. The lawsuit, filed in conjunction with the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Project Coyote, the Animal Welfare Institute, and WildEarth Guardians, asks the court to order that Wildlife Services update its environmental analysis to comply with NEPA.
Wildlife Services Ran Afoul of Federal Law After Failing to Update Its NEPA Analysis
The Animal Legal Defense Fund has a history of challenging Wildlife Services’ cruel killing policies. This latest lawsuit against Wildlife Services alleges that its “Wildlife Damage Management” program in northern California violates NEPA because the program is operating under an outdated environmental analysis. NEPA is a federal law that requires federal agencies to prepare an intensive environmental analysis, called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), before taking major actions that significantly affect the quality and integrity of the environment. An agency has a continuing obligation to comply with NEPA and must update its analysis whenever “significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts” emerge. Animals, including wildlife, are considered a part of the environment.
Roughly 20 years have passed since Wildlife Services analyzed the impacts of its “Wildlife Damage Management” program in the North District of California, despite advances in the science of wildlife management and changing ecological circumstances. Among these advances are new scientific research demonstrating the ineffectiveness of killing native species as a form of “predator control” and that nonlethal approaches to wildlife management are better for the environment and can be more effective at mitigating conflicts. In light of these significant changes, Wildlife Services is legally required to update its NEPA analysis. Yet it has failed to do so.
A Decades-Long War on Wildlife
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program is responsible for the deaths of millions of animals annually. It contracts with other government agencies and private landowners to fulfill its stated mission of “managing problems caused by wildlife.” “Problems” can include wildlife simply existing in areas where people don’t want them, though the majority of the agency’s killing is done to protect the private profits of ranchers who view wildlife living in its native habitat as competition with their domesticated herds. “Managing” nearly always means killing, by poisoning, aerial gunning, leghold traps and strangulation snares—all of which cause excruciating suffering—to target wolves, coyotes, cougars, and other animals.
These methods are also indiscriminate, meaning that they pose a risk to any animals that may encounter them, including animals that are legally protected, like bald eagles and the Pacific fisher. Hundreds of cats and dogs have also been killed. Even people are not safe! In one recent example, a dog named Casey was killed by a “cyanide bomb” planted by Wildlife Services agents to poison coyotes, right in front of his best friend, a 14-year-old boy named Canyon, who was also injured in the encounter.
In other cases, the impact on protected wildlife is less direct, but the consequences are just as devastating. For example, the endangered black-footed ferret relies on prairie dogs as its primary food source, but Wildlife Services kills countless prairie dogs year-round, making the ferrets’ survival more difficult.
Wildlife Services Benefits Agricultural and Ranching Interests, Not Wildlife
This cruel war on wildlife is a taxpayer-funded gift to the agricultural and ranching industry. Ranchers want wildlife killed to protect their farmed animals so that they can profit from selling the animals to slaughter. Further, removing native species leaves a void in the ecosystem that has a devastating ripple effect on the remaining flora and fauna. The impact of indiscriminate killing endangers the health of the larger ecosystem and all the animals within it.
It’s time for Wildlife Services to either retire its program entirely or otherwise rely on science-based methods that take the well-being of animals and the environment into account. Until then, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and its allies will continue to hold the agency accountable in the courtroom.
Legally Brief: California Air Resources Board Commits to Regulate Methane Emissions by Dairy Industry
Posted by Stephen Wells, Executive Director on June 29, 2017
In a momentous and long overdue shift in policy, partly in response to the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s advocacy, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) has formally committed to regulating the dairy industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. California’s human and wildlife residents will breathe a little easier now that the ARB will adopt regulations on dairy manure management with implementation scheduled for roughly 2024. The purpose of these regulations is to reduce methane emissions that primarily come from animal agriculture in California. This is believed to be the first time that a governmental body (state or otherwise) will regulate greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture, positioning California to become a leader in combatting climate change.
ARB is the department within California’s Environmental Protection Agency charged with improving air quality for Californians. The California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and the California legislature recently extended the law to reduce emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. ARB is a key player in achieving these goals. In the fall of 2014, the Animal Legal Defense Fund submitted a petition for rulemaking urging ARB to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from factory farming under the state cap-and-trade program. It was a modest request considering factory farming’s impact on climate change and that ARB already regulates greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation and energy sectors.
Two and a half years later, ARB granted part of the petition due to its commitment to reducing methane emissions from the dairy industry, one component of its Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy. In its 2014 report, “Reducing Short-Lived Climate Pollutants in California,” ARB recognized that the livestock industry is responsible for 59% of all methane emissions in the state. Methane is a short-lived climate pollutant compared to carbon dioxide, meaning it does not persist in the atmosphere as long, but it is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere making it a particular concern.
Climate change is acknowledged as one of the most significant threats to the welfare of human beings, with the threats of increasingly unpredictable and violent storms, droughts, floods and fires already well-documented. As governments across the world – with the notable, and tragic exception of the United States – collaborate to confront this threat to our human world, wildlife is already suffering. Climatic changes are already occurring far too rapidly for wildlife to adapt. Studies have shown that extinctions linked to climate change are already occurring and will likely increase rapidly, making it an issue that animal advocates must confront.
State-level changes have national impact
The benefits of the regulation aren’t confined to California. California’s dairy industry is massive; the states nearly 1.75 million cows produce 40.5 million pounds of milk annually making it the largest in the nation. Collectively these cows produce roughly 9 billion gallons of urine and feces, much of which is collected in waste lagoons. As this sewage begins to break down methane is created and released into the atmosphere. Regardless of what other states do, reducing methane emissions in California will reduce the total methane emissions for the dairy industry nationwide. California’s willingness to regulate dairy also signals to other states with smaller dairy industries that such regulations are politically feasible.
ARB intends to make the required cuts primarily by using “manure digesters” which convert methane into energy. The Animal Legal Defense Fund and other groups such as the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment recommended pasture-based options, which are far more humane for the cows, and the ARB did acknowledge that switching to pasture-based systems could be an effective strategy. Under pasture-based dairy, cows graze on open fields instead of being confined to factory farms. Manure in a pasture-based system emits significantly less methane than the same amount in a manure lagoon. Dairy owners may also be motivated to find new ways to reduce methane, inventing processes and machines that don’t exist today.
Ultimately, the best way to protect animals and the environment is to reduce our consumption of dairy and other animal products, as inherent inefficiencies in producing animal products compared to plant foods results in vastly increased resources consumption and production of wastes, including raw, untreated sewage, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and greenhouse gas emissions. The Animal Legal Defense Fund will monitor the unfolding regulatory process to make sure any new processes provide increased protections for the cows involved as well.
Animal agriculture is a top contributor to climate change
The second part of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s petition urged that livestock emissions be included in the cap-and-trade program and mandatory reporting requirements. This part of the petition was denied. But any regulation of methane emissions by the dairy sector is a victory that can’t be overstated. For too long, legislators and regulators have ignored the tremendous negative impact that factory farming has, not just on the animals, but our environment as well, and particularly on climate change.
Animal agriculture is a major contributor to climate change. Factory farming’s impact on climate change has been documented in multiple studies. A 2006 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that animal agriculture accounts for about 15% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, and a 2011 follow-up study by the Worldwatch Institute concluded that the figure is closer to 51%. And, alarmingly, the impact of animal agriculture is steadily increasing. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that greenhouse gas emissions produced by animal agriculture have increased 11% over the last 25 years. They are expected to continue to increase even while we work to curtail emissions from energy and transportation.
Considering the amount of greenhouse gases that factory farming creates, it’s shocking that in 2017, the industry remains largely unregulated. Well-funded lobby groups for the animal agriculture industry, notorious for preventing regulation of animal welfare on factory farmers, have also successfully blocked regulation of the industry’s many environmental impacts in California and elsewhere, until now. To effectively fight climate change, it’s essential we use every tool at our disposal. It’s been said that where California goes, so goes the nation. In this case, we hope it’s true.
Sonoma County, CA: Tell the DA to Take Animal Cruelty Seriously
Posted by on June 28, 2017
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is urging residents of Sonoma County, California to speak up and demand that the Sonoma County District Attorney file animal cruelty charges in the case of a terrible incident that took place in April causing the death of two miniature horses, Scout and Big Red.
Ronald Rennert allegedly drove his SUV through three sturdy wooden fences separating a corral from the roadway. The car then struck the horses, mangling them both so badly they had to be euthanized by an emergency veterinarian. According to media reports, Rennert fled the scene and police arrested him on suspicion of DUI. He currently faces two DUI charges and one hit and run charge for damaging property. Neither of those charges account for the horror and severity of allegedly causing the suffering and death of two animals.
Sonoma County residents can also take a step farther and attend the next hearing in this case on Wednesday, July 5 (time and room number to be determined) at Sonoma County Superior Court. Call the courthouse for details: (707) 521-6500.
The DA needs to hear that citizens care about this issue.
Rhode Island: Say NO to Cruel Confinement of Egg-laying Hens
Posted by on June 27, 2017
Residents of Rhode Island, we need you to speak up in support of an important measure to prohibit the cruel confinement in battery cages of the more than 40,000 egg-laying hens in the state. Earlier this month, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed H.B. 6023, a bill that would prohibit egg-laying hens from being restrained in battery cages so small that these hens cannot even spread their wings.
We need your help in ensuring that this bill passes through Rhode Island Senate and that this inhumane practice is eliminated from the state once and for all.
Please make a 30-second phone call to your state senator to urge support for H.B. 6023 and simply say:
“As a concerned constituent, I urge you to support H.B. 6023 to prevent cruelty to farm animals and to do everything you can to make sure it gets a vote.”
Thank you for taking action to protect animals.
New Mega Dairy is an Environmental Catastrophe for Oregon Residents
Posted by on June 27, 2017
The environmental devastation created by mega dairy facilities (“factory farms”) is immense. These operations, where thousands of cows are confined in cramped and often-filthy conditions, store excessive manure in giant lagoons, which create a chemical reaction that ultimately releases methane into the earth’s atmosphere. These methane emissions are a leading contributor to climate change. Dairy factory farms are also a major source of water pollution, endangering wildlife and public health.
At the end of May, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, in conjunction with other local and national groups, challenged the state of Oregon’s approval of a water-pollution permit for Lost Valley Farm, a mega dairy. The coalition argues that the permit does not meet requirements under state law or under the Clean Water Act, a federal law that regulates the discharge of pollutants into U.S. waters. Specifically, the Clean Water Act requires “point sources” of pollution such as large factory farms to obtain a permit before discharging animal waste or wastewater.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund, along with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, Columbia Riverkeeper, Food & Water Watch, Friends of Family Farmers, Humane Oregon, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and Oregon Rural Action, filed a petition for reconsideration with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Oregon Department of Agriculture. The petition argues that the permit is invalid because the mega dairy has inadequate protections against the discharge of fecal matter, drugs, and heavy metals, all of which will threaten public health, groundwater, and wildlife.
A Day on a Dairy Farm
Understanding how mega dairies function is crucial to understanding their environmental impact. Generally, cows are housed indoors in huge concrete and metal barns with poor ventilation. Cows stand on hard concrete, which leads to foot damage and exacerbates lameness. They live their entire lives indoors, only moving between stalls and milking parlors until they are killed for beef. Many factory farms keep cows tethered by the neck inside stalls to further restrict movement.
A typical dairy cow produces 100 pounds of milk daily, roughly ten times more than a cow would produce naturally. This high milk production is the result of human manipulation. Like all mammals, cows only produce milk as a result of pregnancy. Dairy cows are forcibly impregnated, and kept pregnant almost continuously, to maintain milk production. All of the milk produced is intended for sale, so calves are taken from their mothers immediately after birth. Male calves are marked to be slaughtered as veal, and female calves are incorporated into the dairy stock to replace “older” cows. Dairy cows’ bodies begin shutting down at just three or four years of age as a result of the significant physical and emotional toll of constant pregnancy, lactation, and abuse.
A dairy housing 2,000 cows produces roughly 240,000 pounds of manure daily, and the largest mega dairies house tens of thousands of cows. Lost Valley Farm will eventually house 30,000 cows, producing 3,600,000 pounds of manure in a single day. All this manure must be managed to avoid contaminating groundwater and polluting the environment. Manure management includes spreading it onto fields and holding it in manure “lagoons” (massive pools that hold millions of gallons of manure). Spills and runoff into nearby waterways are a frequent problem.
Polluted Water Hurts the Community, Wildlife, and the Environment
The location of Lost Valley Farm is particularly concerning. The mega dairy is in the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area, which already suffers from groundwater depletion and high groundwater nitrate concentrations. The operation of Lost Valley Farm, which experts believe will create roughly 23 million cubic feet of waste and wastewater each year, will further compromise the area and endanger Oregon residents who use the groundwater for drinking water.
Groundwater contamination occurs when potentially harmful substances enter groundwater, rendering it unsafe for humans and non-human animals. Despite the deadly risks that contaminated groundwater presents, the permit issued by the state sets up inadequate groundwater monitoring. The parameters of the permit for Lost Valley Farm only mandate sporadic testing and exclude common pollutants like pharmaceuticals and pesticides.
Local wildlife is also negatively impacted by the degraded water. All area wildlife, from deer to trout, eventually encounter the pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones flooding into local waterways, because these animals either consume or live in the affected water. Dairy factory farms across the country are responsible for aquatic “dead zones,” which refer to hypoxic (low-oxygen) areas in bodies of water that can no longer support aquatic life.
The two Oregon agencies have 60 days to respond to the petition. The Animal Legal Defense Fund and the coalition intend to pursue legal remedies in court if the agencies fail to respond or deny the request. The protection of local wildlife and the safety of residents and farmed animals rest in the balance. The state can either sanction the endangerment of its citizens by animal agriculture operations or enforce its own laws and protect the environment, human health, and animals.
HIMP: Inherently Cruel for Pigs
Posted by on June 26, 2017
Despite disapproval from public health and safety organizations and animal protection groups, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced it will finalize the euphemistically named “Modernization of Pork Slaughter” rule. The rule would expand a problematic pilot program that allows slaughterhouses to radically increase the speed with which pigs are slaughtered while at the same time decreasing government oversight of food safety by largely putting the slaughterhouses in charge of policing themselves. Called the swine Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), the HIMP program started in 1997 with five hog slaughterhouses. Since its inception, HIMP has been widely criticized because it increases pigs’ suffering, and threatens consumer and worker safety.
The Slaughter Process
Under HIMP, slaughterhouses process pigs at very high line speeds. “Line speeds” is an industry term that refers to the speed with which an animal is killed and then dismembered to be packaged and sold for human consumption. Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the USDA is charged with inspecting slaughterhouses to ensure meat processed therein is safe for human consumption and animals are slaughtered only using humane methods. However, meat conglomerates strive to kill and process as many animals as possible to maximize profit; the suffering of pigs is an unimportant side effect of this drive for ever faster slaughter speeds and greater profits.
High Line Speeds Endanger Human Health and Increase Animal Suffering
At very high line speeds, employees cannot identify bile contamination and animal parts that should be removed (like hair and toenails). But most worrisome is the impact that high line speeds have on the animals. Federal law requires pigs to be rendered unconscious before they are killed. Usually, a pig is made unconscious by stunning her in the head with a captive bolt gun or shocking her with an electric current. But with the line moving so quickly and with little time to properly stun the animal, numerous undercover investigations and employee testimony have confirmed that many pigs are still alive as they bleed out or, even worse, are boiled to death alive in a scalding tank (pigs are put in scalding tanks to soften the skin and remove hair). Additionally, employees struggling to keep up sometimes resort to beating, kicking, and shocking pigs.
Given the risks inherent in increasing line speeds, the USDA should exercise greater oversight over HIMP plants, not less. Yet under HIMP, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service inspectors turn many of their monitoring duties over to slaughterhouse employees, allowing the companies to inspect and police themselves. Untrained employees may face retaliation for stopping the line to correct problems—a strong disincentive against addressing animal suffering or contamination.
Companies with Histories of Animal Abuse Participate in HIMP
Hormel Foods, a corporation with a history of animal abuse, is one of the participants in the HIMP program. In 2016, the Animal Legal Defense Fund obtained undercover footage from a pig breeding facility operated by The Maschhoffs, LLC which provides pigs to Hormel Foods. The footage was shocking. Pigs suffered for weeks with prolapsed rectums, gaping open wounds, and bloody cysts among other illnesses. Pigs went hungry for long periods of time causing them to become distressed and injure themselves.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund also filed a lawsuit against Hormel Foods, alleging the company was misleading consumers by advertising its Natural Choice™ meats as “100% natural,” when instead they are sourced from factory farms that use hormones, antibiotics, and other veterinary drugs, and which confine animals in cramped, unnatural conditions. A 2015 Consumer Reports survey found over half of consumers believed “natural” meat and poultry comes from animals not fed antibiotics or artificial growth hormones, and half believed the animals went outdoors—misperceptions Hormel cynically exploited with its “Make the Natural Choice” advertising campaign.
HIMP Should Be Ended, Not Expanded
Millions of pigs will suffer under an expanded HIMP program. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is a signatory to a coalition letter to the USDA urging that the HIMP program not be expanded. We also urge Animal Legal Defense Fund supporters to sign a petition asking the USDA not to expand this dangerous program. At the time of writing, over 225,000 people have signed the petition.
The factory farming industry requires more oversight, not less. It’s time for the USDA to end the disastrous HIMP program.
Victory in NYC: No more animal exploitation in the circus
Posted by on June 21, 2017
New York City has joined the growing list of cities that say “NO” to animal exploitation. Today, June 6, 2017, the New York City Council voted to pass Intro. 1233, a bill banning the use of wild animals in entertainment.
It took many years of hard work to make this bill a reality. This victory belongs to the New York residents who took a stand for animal protection. San Francisco passed a similar bill in 2015 and this April the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously in favor of such an ordinance. Change is happening.
Animals forced to perform lead lives of misery and indignity. Travel, confinement, and being forced to perform tricks deprive wild animals like tigers and elephants of anything that might satisfy their complex physical, behavioral, and emotional needs. What few protections these animals have under state and federal law are not adequately enforced, making New York City’s new ordinance a critical tool to provide these creatures the care they deserve.
This victory in New York City is just one of the many victories we will celebrate on behalf of animals. Together, we will continue to expand the legal protections for animals.
Unique Connecticut Law Allows Court-Appointed Advocates to Represent Animals
Posted by Nicole Pallotta on June 21, 2017
With the passage of the innovative “Desmond’s Law” last year, Connecticut became the first state to allow legal advocates to testify on behalf of animal victims in cruelty and neglect cases. Although some states allow victims’ or children’s advocates to testify in cases involving humans, this law is groundbreaking in that it is the first to allow advocates to act in a similar capacity for animals.
Under the new law, judges have discretion over whether to appoint an advocate in an animal abuse case, but prosecutors or defense attorneys may request them. The advocates, who are pro bono attorneys or supervised law students, assist the court by gathering information, conducting research, writing briefs, and making recommendations to the judge, thus easing the burden on often overworked prosecutors.
Desmond’s Law was named after a shelter dog who was starved, beaten, and strangled to death by his owner, who, despite having admitted his guilt upon arrest, was able to avoid jail time (which was recommended by the prosecutor) by entering an accelerated rehabilitation program, upon completion of which all charges were dismissed—leaving him with a clean record despite the heinousness of his crime.
Although it went into effect in October 2016, Desmond’s Law received a surge of media attention this month when the first advocate testified in court under the new legislation. On June 2, 2017, University of Connecticut (UConn) law student and SALDF member Taylor Hansen, under the supervision of UConn law professor Jessica Rubin, testified in a dogfighting case involving three pit bulls, one of whom had to be euthanized due to the severity of the animal’s injuries. As reported by the York Dispatch, in her testimony, Hansen described the abuse suffered by the dogs, cited studies linking animal abuse to violence against humans, and argued that the defendant should not be allowed to avoid conviction and maintain a clean record by entering the same accelerated rehabilitation program as Desmond’s killer. While the judge agreed the crimes were serious, he found the defendant was eligible for the accelerated rehabilitation program as a first-time offender. However:
“On Hansen’s suggestions, the judge did impose conditions that will prevent [the defendant] from owning, breeding or having dogs in his home for at least the next two years. He also will have to perform 200 hours of community service, but nothing involving animals.”
Thus far, eight attorneys have been approved as volunteer advocates under the new law, including Professor Rubin, who is working with UConn SALDF members Taylor Hansen and Yuliya Shamailova. Professor Rubin, who serves as faculty advisor for the UConn SALDF chapter and teaches animal law, is an expert in the field and was instrumental in creating Desmond’s Law.
Some have compared the court-appointed advocates allowed under Desmond’s Law to guardians ad litem, who can be appointed by courts to represent the interests of unborn humans, infants, minors, and mentally incompetent persons for the duration of a legal proceeding. Although uncommon, in some cases guardians ad litem have been approved to represent animals. For example, some states, such as California, permit the appointment of a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of a companion animal for whom a trust has been established. Additionally, in 2007, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia appointed law professor Rebecca J. Huss as the guardian/special master of the more than 50 pit bulls who were victims in the Michael Vick dogfighting case. In this relatively unique situation, Professor Huss was appointed during civil litigation to ensure each dog enjoyed a good quality of life, and that the dogs and those around them would be healthy and safe.
Though an important and innovative legal development, the representation provided for under Desmond’s Law seems to stop short of granting guardian ad litem status. According to the statutory language, advocates are appointed to represent the “interests of justice” rather than those of the animal. In this sense, Desmond’s Law advocates share the same responsibility as prosecutors (who also have a duty to act in the interest of justice in all criminal cases) and does not specifically position the advocates as prioritizing the needs of animal victims. However, the interests of justice are likely to coincide with the interests of the animal in an abuse case, or will help prevent future victimization of other animals (e.g. rehoming the animal rather than returning her to an abusive owner, or sentencing provisions that prohibit a convicted abuser from having animals for a set period of time).
Desmond’s tragic death, and the fact that his killer walked away with a clean record, shined a spotlight on the fact that animal abusers often receive light sentences that are out of proportion with the seriousness of their crime, or are able to avoid conviction altogether. According to Representative Diana Urban, who sponsored Desmond’s Law, animal abusers have an 18% conviction rate in Connecticut. Reasons why animal abusers too often get a “slap on the wrist” vary, but include the fact that crimes involving humans often receive higher priority amid challenges like overburdened courts and limited resources, and that law enforcement and prosecutors sometimes lack expertise in the unique issues that frequently arise in animal abuse cases. As Professor Rubin pointed out when testifying in favor of the bill last year, Desmond’s Law was intended to help alleviate these challenges by providing the court “with extra resources at no cost…a neutral party that will assist the court in collecting information to represent the animal’s interest and/or the interest of justice.”
Although the suffering of animal victims in cruelty and neglect cases is an inherent wrong that should not be glossed over, the steady accumulation of research linking animal abuse to violence against humans, such as intimate partner violence and child abuse, has prompted a societal shift toward crimes against animals being taken more seriously by law enforcement, judges, and policymakers. Desmond’s Law is part of this shift, as is the fact that with the addition of South Dakota in 2014, all 50 states now have felony animal cruelty laws on their books. Additionally, on Jan. 1, 2016, the FBI began collecting data on crimes against animals and added animal cruelty offenses as a category in the agency’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Prior to this, crimes against animals were lumped under “all other offenses,” which made it impossible to track patterns or gain an accurate picture of the nature of cruelty to animals. A large part of the FBI’s rationale to start including animal cruelty offenses alongside felony crimes like arson, burglary, assault, and homicide in its criminal database was a growing awareness of the connection between animal cruelty and other crimes affecting humans, as well as a belief that animal cruelty is not only a crime against animals but also, in the words of the National Sheriffs’ Association’s John Thompson, “a crime against society.”
In support of this societal shift toward crimes against animals being taken more seriously, and to mitigate the lingering challenges mentioned above that can cause animal abuse to be deprioritized in the legal system, the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Criminal Justice Program provides free assistance and resources to prosecutors and law enforcement around the country to help secure the best outcome possible in animal abuse cases. In that capacity, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is able to help secure justice in animal abuse cases by assisting prosecutors with evidentiary evaluation, legal arguments, trial strategy, and the like—even making court appearances, with the special permission of the court. The courtroom advocates provided by Desmond’s Law fulfill another much-needed service for animal victims and the interests of justice, and we are hopeful other states will follow Connecticut’s lead.
- Wamsley, Laurel. “In A First, Connecticut’s Animals Get Advocates In The Courtroom.” NPR. June 2, 2017.
- Eaton-Robb, Pat. “State experiments with court advocates for abused animals. York Dispatch. June 2, 2017.
- Sisson, Jordan Otero. “Abused Animals Will Get Voice In Court This Month Thanks To New Law.” Hartford Courant. April 10, 2017.
- Text of Public Act No. 16-30 (Desmond’s Law).
- Huss, Rebecca J. 2008. “Lessons Learned: Acting as Guardian/Special Master in the Michael Vick Bad Newz Kennels Case.” Animal Law. Vol. 15:1. Pp. 1-17.
- “Tracking Animal Cruelty: FBI Collecting Data on Crimes Against Animals.” FBI. February 1, 2016.
Indiana Passes “Good Samaritan” Law to Protect Dogs in Hot Cars
Posted by Nicole Pallotta on June 13, 2017
On April 26, 2017, Governor Eric Holcomb signed House Bill 1085 into law, making Indiana the ninth state to pass a “good Samaritan” hot car law allowing a citizen to forcibly enter a motor vehicle under certain conditions to rescue a companion animal confined inside. Indiana’s new law, which goes into effect July 1, is stronger than many hot car laws in that it allows a regular citizen (as opposed to only law enforcement) to break into a car to rescue an animal, yet it is significantly weakened by not providing full immunity from civil and criminal liability, unlike the other eight laws that allow citizens to act. Instead, under Indiana’s law, a person who breaks into a vehicle to remove an animal in distress is required to pay for half of the repair costs directly caused by the forcible entry.
The only exception to having to pay for half of the damage would be if the owner of the vehicle agrees to pay for all of the repair costs or if the “good Samaritan” is acting in the scope of their employment as a law enforcement officer, firefighter, government officer or public safety employee, emergency responder, animal control officer, or veterinary professional.
Besides the cost-of-repairs provision, the law grants immunity from all other civil and criminal liability provided the person:
“(1) reasonably believes that the domestic animal is in imminent danger of suffering serious bodily harm; (2) determines that the motor vehicle is locked and forcible entry of the motor vehicle is necessary to remove the domestic animal; (3) calls 911 or otherwise attempts to contact a law enforcement officer or another emergency responder before forcibly entering the motor vehicle; (4) uses no more force than reasonably necessary; and (5) remains with the domestic animal until a law enforcement officer or other emergency responder arrives.”
State Representative Tony Cook, who sponsored HB 1085, presented in a press release the scope of the problem regarding dogs left in hot cars, and why this legislation was necessary:
“There are about 13,600 community animal shelters and control agencies nationwide and they receive at least one to two calls per day reporting pets left in hot cars. That amounts to 13,600 to 27,200 pets being neglected in unattended cars every day. That does not include the number of 911 calls that police departments receive across the country. I hear of these stories and I want to help people who remove pets from these careless situations. According to the director of Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control, there were 269 calls received for dogs being left in vehicles from May 1 through Sept. 30, 2016. In addition, nearly half of the animal-neglect calls were in response to animals left inside a car. The average interior temperature of these vehicles were between 90 and 130 degrees, and an officer’s average response time ranged from five to 20 minutes.”
Rep. Cook continued, “It is important that Hoosiers are not punished for doing the right thing and stepping up to rescue animals from enduring terrible suffering.” However, it is likely that having to pay for half the repair costs will indeed be seen as “punishment” by would-be rescuers—or at least a deterrent. Although this provision appears to be a compromise from an earlier version of the bill in which the person would be on the hook for the total cost of repairs, having to pay for vehicle damage will almost certainly dissuade would-be rescuers from helping an animal in distress. The rationale given for adding this provision was that it would deter potential thieves who would use the law as a cover for breaking into a vehicle to steal something.
Shortcomings of Indiana’s law aside, legislation addressing dogs in hot cars has been gaining momentum. Twenty-nine states currently have statutes that either prohibit leaving an animal confined in a hot vehicle or protect a person—law enforcement or civilian— who rescues an animal from a vehicle from being sued under certain conditions. Several of these laws have been passed within the last few years as public concern has mounted about this issue. Regardless of whether a state has a “hot cars” law on the books, an owner could still potentially be charged under that state’s general animal neglect law.
While there is a cause to be optimistic about this legislative trend and the further protection it provides to companion animals, unsurprisingly, Indiana’s law only applies to “domestic animals” (defined as a dog, cat or other vertebrate animal that is domesticated and kept, or intended to be kept, as a household pet). It expressly exempts “livestock” animals (a term that is so expansive under Indiana law that it includes rabbits and “birds of the avian species”), who do not receive the care and concern under this law that animals defined as “domestic animals” do. In contrast to the recent spate of legislation designed to protect companion animals trapped in hot cars, a Canadian advocate was recently acquitted of criminal mischief charges for offering water to farmed animals confined in a hot truck. This trial, which spawned the slogan “Compassion is Not a Crime,” highlights the stark contrast between what is considered lawful treatment of animals classified as “food” versus those classified as “companions.” Though pigs and dogs are biologically similar, and pigs have been shown to outperform dogs on cognitive tests, the cultural category in which we place them results in very different protections under the law.
You can help spread the word about dogs in hot cars with the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s sunshade.
- “Indiana Law: No Jail For Breaking Into Car To Rescue Pet; But Pay Up.” CBS Chicago. May 2, 2017.
- House Enrolled Act No. 1085
- “Cook: Protecting citizens who rescue animals left in hot cars.” Press Release. Indiana House of Representatives, Republican Caucus. February 10, 2017.
- James, Jenni. 2014. “When is Rescue Necessary? Applying the Necessity Defense to the Rescue of an Animal.” Stanford Journal of Animal Law and Policy. Vol. 7.
- See Animal Legal Defense Fund’s resource: Overview of State Laws: Leaving Unattended Animals in Vehicles.
Canadian Activist Acquitted of Criminal Charges for Giving Water to Thirsty Pigs Bound for Slaughter
Posted by Nicole Pallotta on June 9, 2017
In the conclusion to a trial that garnered global media attention and shined a spotlight on the treatment of farmed animals in Canada, on May 4, 2017, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice acquitted Toronto animal advocate Anita Krajnc of all charges for offering water to overheated pigs on a transport truck bound for slaughter. Krajnc’s case inspired multiple petitions of support and the slogan “Compassion Is Not a Crime.”
As reported in a previous Animal Law Update, Krajnc was arrested and charged with criminal mischief in June 2015 for “interference with the use, enjoyment and operation of property” after giving water to panting pigs confined in a sweltering trailer on a hot summer day. According to Krajnc, the pigs were overheated and severely dehydrated when she offered them water through narrow openings in the truck while it was stopped at a traffic light on the way to Fearman’s Pork slaughterhouse. The owner of the pigs filed a complaint with police the following day, citing concern that Krajnc’s actions might have “contaminated” his property, making the animals unfit for slaughter. If convicted, she would have faced up to $5,000 in fines, six months in jail, or both.
In a video of the incident, a pig is seen panting heavily inside the tractor trailer and appears to be in distress as Krajnc asks the driver to give the animal some water. He warns her not to give the animals anything and chastises her, “These are not humans, you dumb frickin’ broad!” Krajnc pleaded not guilty to the charges, saying her only crime was compassion, and her lawyers argued she was acting in the public interest. Krajnc told The Washington Post:
“I did what I did because I was just following the golden rule, like you’d treat others as you’d like to be treated. If someone’s thirsty, you give them water. When someone is suffering, it’s actually wrong to look away. We all have a duty to be present and try to help. In the history of the world, that’s how social movements progress.”
The criminal case revolved around the question of whether the pigs, as property, were unlawfully interfered with when Krajnc gave them water. Despite allegations by the police and prosecution that Krajnc had given the pigs an “unknown substance” that could potentially endanger the food supply or result in the facility refusing to slaughter the pigs, Justice David Harris found that it was clear she had only given them water. Because her actions in offering water to the pigs did not stop them from being slaughtered, Justice Harris also dismissed the claim that Krajnc had interfered with the “lawful use of property,” noting that activists had been giving water to slaughter-bound pigs at this same facility for two years prior to Krajnc’s arrest, and these actions had never resulted in animals being turned away from the slaughterhouse.
Although he dismissed the charges, Justice Harris criticized the defense’s comparisons of Krajnc’s actions to those who gave water to Jewish prisoners being transported to concentration camps during the Holocaust, and rejected analogies to human rights leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Susan B. Anthony, saying these arguments did not factor into his decision.
Even if one rejects comparisons between animal protection and human rights causes, most would agree that animals, including farmed animals, are worthy of basic decency and kindness. The legal classification of animals as property, coupled with an agriculture system in which cows, pigs, chickens, and other farmed animals are routinely treated as commodities rather than the sensitive and intelligent beings science increasingly shows them to be, encourages callous disregard for their wellbeing. Many legal experts believe expanding the concept of legal personhood to animals is the best way to prevent their cruel treatment, a path for which Krajnc’s lawyers, Gary Grill and James Silver, argued in court.
According to “The Anita Krajnc Trial: Compassion, the Public Interest, and the Case for Animal Personhood,” which was published in the University of Toronto Faculty of Law student newspaper, there was a lengthy exchange during closing arguments about the concept of legal personhood and whether it should be applied to animals, especially given scientific advances regarding the capacities of animals. During a talk at the University of Toronto, Grill and Silver:
“…acknowledged that this case was unlikely to result in profound changes to the law. However, by discussing animal personhood in a Canadian courtroom, they hoped to raise awareness about an area of widespread scientific consensus: the extraordinary cognitive abilities and emotional complexities of animals. As neuroscientist Dr. Lori Marino testified during the trial: ‘Pigs are persons. They are at least as emotionally complex as dogs and as psychologically complex as primates. It sells pigs short to say they are as sophisticated as a human toddler, for they are more complex than that.’”
Pigs also outperform dogs on many cognitive tests, yet there is a stark disparity between what is considered acceptable treatment of animals defined as pets versus those defined as food. As this case highlights, in both Canada and the U.S., farmed animals have few meaningful protections under the law, leaving them vulnerable to cruel and neglectful treatment that would be illegal if the victim were a companion animal. Although the truck driver and owner of the slaughterhouse maintained the pigs had been watered and transported lawfully, Canadian regulations allow pigs to be transported for up to 36 hours without food, water or rest, in addition to a five-hour food withdrawal period before travel.
Krajnc is co-founder of grassroots group Toronto Pig Save, which bears witness to pigs, cows, chickens and other farmed animals in their final moments as they approach slaughterhouses. The strategy of bearing witness is based on the philosophy of Leo Tolstoy, encapsulated in a quote on The Save Movement’s homepage: “When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, do not submit to the initial desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can to him who suffers, and try to help him.” Toronto Pig Save holds weekly vigils and in the summer offers water and watermelon to dehydrated pigs outside slaughterhouses. Its inception in 2010 ignited the global Save Movement, a worldwide network that has grown to more than 130 groups, whose members work “to raise awareness about the plight of farmed animals, to help people become vegan, and to build a mass-based, grassroots animal justice movement.”
As The Save Movement gains momentum, companies that profit from animal exploitation grow more anxious, as evidenced by increasingly bold attempts to silence advocates. Earlier this year, slaughterhouse Manning Beef filed a trespass lawsuit against Los Angeles Cow Save, which holds vigils on the road in front of the facility to bear witness to the suffering of the animals slaughtered there and raise public awareness about cruelty to farmed animals. In April 2017, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Law Offices of Matthew Strugar, and attorney Ryan Gordon from Advancing Law for Animals filed a motion on behalf of Los Angeles Cow Save under the California “anti-SLAPP” (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute, which protects activists from baseless lawsuits that seek to intimidate them from exercising their right to free speech on issues of public concern. In June 2017, the Los Angeles Superior Court dismissed Manning Beef’s lawsuit against the activists as meritless, recognizing the slaughterhouse was trying to stifle their First Amendment rights.
For The Save Movement, bearing witness and telling the stories of the countless individual farmed animals killed in slaughterhouse every day is part of a broader strategy for social change, which includes shifting the legal status of animals. As Krajnc wrote in a Toronto Star op-ed: “It’s wrong to see pigs as property, just as it was wrong hundreds of years ago to see human slaves as property and women as chattel — the property of men. The law needs changing.”
A necessary first step to enacting meaningful legal reform for farmed animals is transparency regarding their treatment, which is why the Animal Legal Defense Fund is leading the fight against Ag-Gag laws in the U.S. With pigs, chickens, and cows used for dairy increasingly locked away in windowless buildings that bear little resemblance to most Americans’ image of a farm, and slaughterhouses moved to the outskirts of cities and towns, the lives and deaths of most farmed animals are hidden from public view. Besides the existing challenges to access these facilities to document the treatment of animals, the agriculture industry has been lobbying vigorously not only to block any legislation deemed friendly to animal protection but also to pass laws to criminalize whistleblowers to further shield themselves from public scrutiny and accountability. The Animal Legal Defense Fund, with a coalition of other groups, successfully challenged Idaho’s Ag-Gag law in 2015, when the United States District Court of Idaho ruled it unconstitutional on both free speech and equal protection grounds. Idaho appealed the decision and oral arguments were heard in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on May 12, 2017. The Animal Legal Defense Fund has pending cases challenging similar laws in Utah and North Carolina.
- Kennedy, Merritt. “Canadian Court Clears Activist Who Gave Water To Pigs.” National Public Radio. May 4, 2017.
- Loriggio, Paolo. “Woman who gave doomed pigs water found not guilty.” Toronto Sun. May 4, 2017.
- Craggs, Samantha. “Pig Trial: Anita Krajnc found not guilty of mischief charge for giving water to pigs.” CBC/Radio-Canada. May 3, 2017.
- Greenberg, Jeremy. “The Anita Krajnc Trial: Compassion, the Public Interest, and the Case for Animal Personhood.” Ultra Vires. March 30, 2017.
- Craggs, Samantha. “Pigs headed for slaughter were in distress when Anita Krajnc gave them water: expert.” CBC/Radio-Canada. August 25, 2016.
- Wang, Amy B. “An animal activist gave water to slaughterhouse-bound pigs. Now, she’s on trial for mischief.” The Washington Post. August 25, 2016.
- Krajnc, Anita. “Should I go to jail for giving a thirsty pig water?” The Toronto Star. December 3, 2015.
- The Save Movement.
World Oceans Day Highlights Lack of Protection for Sea Life
Posted by on June 8, 2017
World Oceans Day, June 8th, is a global day to honor, help protect, and conserve the world’s oceans. We can all do our part to help the ocean’s inhabitants by not eating them and fighting for their legal protections.
Globally, the total number of wild and farmed finfish who are killed every year is in the trillions. Hundreds of thousands of other animals, including sea turtles, whales, dolphins, and sharks, are caught and killed unintentionally as bycatch while fishing.
Can Fish Feel Pain?
Fish deserve to be included in our circle of compassion. The evidence of pain perception in fish strongly suggests that they experience pain similarly to other vertebrates, such as dogs and cats. Their perception and cognitive abilities frequently match or exceed other animals, even nonhuman primates. Fish can learn and remember complex information, which means they are capable of suffering.
When fish are caught from the wild, some are crushed by the weight of fish in the net. (Some trawling nets are so large that they can hold 13 jumbo jets!) Fish suffer decompression injuries when raised from deep water, including bulging eyes and burst internal organs. Fish are snared by their gills with nets and spiked with hooks (sometimes for hours or days). They are also impaled on hooks to be used as live bait. Fish caught from the wild are routinely killed through live gutting, which can take up to an hour to cause unconsciousness, and asphyxiation in air, which can take up to four hours to cause unconsciousness.
With the dire state our oceans are in, we must question whether they can sustain our appetite for seafood. Between the effects of climate change, ocean acidification, and oxygen depletion (which cause ocean dead zones), an unprecedented marine species extinction has already been triggered. Aquaculture won’t be able to save wild fish populations. Fish farms actually increase the number of wild-caught fish because many farmed fish are fed fishmeal (which is made from wild fish).
Lack of Legal Protection
In the US, fish killed for consumption most likely have no legal protections. They are not covered by the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, 28 Hour Law, or Animal Welfare Act. We need to regulate fishing methods, the equipment used, and farming and slaughter methods to decrease the suffering of fish. We could also decide not to consume them, speak out against the cruel fishing industry, and advocate for a world that protects all animals.
For Further Information:
- Don’t miss the Animal Law Conference in October, with keynote speaker, Jonathan Balcombe, author of What a Fish Knows. The Animal Law Conference is co-presented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis and Clark Law School, and the Lewis and Clark Student Animal Legal Defense Fund.
- Fish Count UK has detailed reports on how we can reduce the suffering of fish.
Animal Law Symposium 2017 Recap
Posted by on May 22, 2017
On May 20, 2017 the Animal Legal Defense Fund hosted its third annual Animal Law Symposium in Los Angeles. This year’s Symposium focused on wild animals and how to protect them when human activity increasingly runs counter to the interests of wildlife. The sold out event brought together law students, attorneys and experts, all interested in improving the lives of animals in our society.
Panels discussed a variety of topics relating to wild animals and their place in society today ‑‑ from the current politics-driven model of “managing” wildlife by killing animals like coyotes and mountain lions to keeping wild species in captivity under the guise of “conservation”—to connecting the dots between animal agriculture and climate change. Finding solutions to these issues was also a focus for the expert panelists who shared ideas on developing a less human-centric and more compassionate approach to co-existing with other species as well as strategies that can be carried out through litigation, legislation, and regulations to help animals in those circumstances.
Keynote speaker Jo-Anne McArthur talked about her book and project, We Animals. For years, McArthur has photographed animals in the human environment to showcase how humans’ interactions with animals can often be abusive with humans using animals as objects. She has photographed animals in more than 40 countries and those images have been featured in almost 100 campaigns to end the suffering of animals worldwide.
In between panels and during the reception following the day’s events, attendees were able to network and exchange ideas on how to help wildlife in their own communities. Animal advocates and Animal Legal Defense Fund supporters journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell and actress Elaine Hendrix also attended the event.
We’re grateful to all of this year’s speakers, attendees and sponsors, Tatiana Freitas, Jane Unchained, RKD Alpha Dog, Beyond Meat, Aidikoff Law and an anonymous Animal Legal Defense Fund board member, for making this year’s symposium such a success.
Law students, attorneys and experts gathered at the historic Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles for a day of discussions on how to protect wildlife.
Wildlife photographer and keynote speaker Jo-Anne McArthur shared images from her project “We Animals”.
Dan Rohlf, Professor of Law and Of Counsel at Earthrise Law Center at Lewis and Clark Law School participated in the panel exploring a new paradigm of wildlife protection.
Animal Legal Defense Fund founder and “Mother of Animal Law” Joyce Tischler delivered the evening’s closing remarks.
Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells spoke about connecting the dots between animal agriculture and climate change – and the effects that relationship has on wildlife.
Massachusetts Farmers Charged with More than 150 Counts of Animal Cruelty
Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on May 15, 2017
In what has been called the largest farmed animal cruelty case in New England, on March 30, 2017, a statewide grand jury indicted the owner of a farm in Westport, Massachusetts, and 26 tenants who rented space on his property on 151 counts of animal cruelty involving mistreatment of 1,400 animals.
After multiple visits by state inspectors, past cruelty charges (but no convictions), and repeated complaints from local residents about what some dubbed the “Farm of Horrors,” many are struggling to understand how a horrific case of this magnitude could have gone on for so long. According to an internal investigation, many say the fault lies with an apathetic culture at the Westport Health Department (the local department most responsible for ensuring proper treatment of farmed animals) and negligent town employees who did not take animal cruelty seriously, and in fact appear to have proactively ignored it.
The charges follow a July 2016 investigation into Westport Tenant Farm by Westport Police, Massachusetts Environmental Police, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and the Animal Rescue League of Boston (ARLB). The investigation, which began after police received a 911 call about animal cruelty at the property, revealed hundreds of animals – including cows, pigs, goats, sheep, horses, dogs, rabbits, and chickens – living in deplorable conditions with many lacking basic food and water. Some animals were found housed with rotting carcasses and many were suffering from severe malnutrition, untreated wounds, and contagious diseases.
According to a press release by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, some animals “were living in such deep manure waste that their hooves had rotted off and they were suffering from painful eye, intestinal and skin ailments.” Lieutenant Alan Borgal of the ARLB said the situation at Westport Tenant Farm was “unparalleled” to anything he had seen in his 37 years as an animal law enforcement officer: “The sheer number of animals in dire need of care, and the cruel and unsanitary conditions we found were deplorable.” As reported by the Boston Globe, this included “cows trapped in barbed wire” and “emaciated dogs kept on short chains in pens littered with broken glass.”
The scope of this case and the tremendous number of animals involved created unique issues for law enforcement. As reported by NBC 10 News, Detective Jeff Majewski of the Westport Police Department said: “It’s not your typical crime where there was one crime scene, one suspect. You’re talking about 23 different crime scenes, 26, 27 different suspects, and then 1,400 pieces of evidence.” Despite these challenges, Attorney General Maura Healey has vowed to pursue justice for the animal victims in this case, saying “as a result of our investigation, the owner of this farm and its tenants will be held responsible for the inhumane treatment of these animals.”
Richard Medeiros, the farm’s owner, was charged with 21 counts of animal cruelty and his 26 tenants were charged with between one and 11 counts each. Each count carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison.
This was not the first time problems were observed at this property. Medeiros, along with 12 tenants, was also charged with animal cruelty in 2010 after “authorities discovered malnourished dogs, cows with open wounds, and dead calves on the farm.” However, Medeiros was acquitted of those charges and, according to a Westport internal investigation, there is no record of any follow-up action after the several known problems that led to the 2010 charges.
Yet, according to those on the scene of the 2016 investigation and rescue, animals had been suffering for months and probably years on the farm, which leaves many wondering how these horrendous conditions, which clearly deteriorated over a prolonged period of time, could have reached such a crisis point without the authorities taking action. Why had the farm been able to pass inspections as things got progressively worse for the animals trapped there?
Last year, following a comprehensive review of interviews, documents, and video relating to the case, the Boston Globe concluded that:
“…town officials failed to discover the deplorable conditions because of their own lax oversight of local farms. Some Westport officials…were steeped in a centuries-old farming culture skeptical of intrusive regulations, and appeared to pay little mind to repeated warnings.”
Due to the fact that Medeiros and his tenants have now been charged with animal cruelty twice in the past seven years, that these animals’ documented conditions were clearly dire for many years, and that several previous complaints about animal mistreatment on the property had gone unaddressed, Westport officials are trying to figure out what went wrong.
It appears that multiple Westport Department of Health employees filed incomplete and falsified inspection reports dating back to April 2015, when a complaint was filed with the Westport Board of Health regarding “dire animal conditions” at the farm by a state animal inspector following a visit to the property. Yet, the town’s former senior health agent did little if anything to address the situation, and in fact, according to an internal investigation, appears to have actively covered it up. The Herald News said of a “scathing” report that resulted from the investigation, written by Westport Town Administrator Timothy J. King in September 2016:
“The Westport Department of Health and its agents did not take cruelty and neglect of farm animals very seriously, neglecting to follow up on cases of suspected abuse and failing to keep detailed and accurate records of local barn inspections…The report also validates what several animal advocates have been saying since the abuse case became public; that town officials dropped the ball and allowed the abuse to happen…But the problems ran deeper than a few individuals.”
King concluded the problem could not be attributed to a few lax employees, but rather was the result of a department-wide lack of care regarding farmed animal mistreatment. King’s report found that although the barn inspections “are seen as a great opportunity to ensure that farm animals are being properly and humanely treated…the general attitude of the Board of Health was that complaints about animal cruelty and neglect were not their responsibility.” He further noted the inspections at Westport Tenant Farm should have triggered referrals to the appropriate agencies for further action, but did not.
After this internal investigation uncovered a pattern of willful inaction by Health Department employees, the town is implementing changes to prevent a situation like this from happening again. One of those changes will be hiring additional animal inspectors and creating a new oversight policy for them. Following the July 2016 investigation and rescue at Westport Tenant Farm, two inspectors were fired for having filed clean inspection reports in January 2016 – reports which bore no resemblance to the actual conditions at the property. Westport is also involved in a civil action to prevent animals from being returned to the farm.
Among the recommendations made by King in his report were to increase supervision and accountability and improve communication and complaint procedure protocols. But the first recommendation offered was aimed at the organizational culture of the department that shirked its responsibility. He wrote:
“The Health Department culture needs to change so that staff have a heightened awareness and sensitivity about the importance of ensuring the prevention of animal neglect and mistreatment of farm animals.”
In the midst of widespread outrage over the town’s culpability in this case, the Westport Board of Selectmen also created a Tenant Farm Plan of Action to guide improvements moving forward, which includes conducting a performance review of the town departments and employees involved in oversight of animal health and welfare, and creating a new Animal Action Committee to determine what can be done to improve this oversight.
Situations like this highlight the importance of sheltering animals who are rescued from large-scale cruelty cases, which can be a steep challenge due to logistics from transporting and medically treating rescued animals to finding permanent placement when there is limited space at sanctuaries and shelters and, in cases where animals can be adopted to families, not enough homes. Although many of the animals found at Westport Tenant Farms had to be euthanized due to the severity of their injuries and/or illnesses, the ASPCA was able to rescue others and give them temporary shelter until they could be permanently placed with shelters and sanctuaries in Massachusetts and nearby states. Some are still awaiting placement. As reported by the Boston Globe, the effort to rehabilitate and relocate the rescued animals, which began six months prior, had cost $1.4 million by December 2016.
Among the rescued animals were 21 goats fortunate enough to be placed with Tamerlaine Farm Animal Sanctuary in New Jersey, which encourages people to get to know farmed animals as individuals. One of the goats, named Huckleberry Finn:
“…doesn’t get too close to people. He arrived with a tag on his ear that said Slaughter Only. His caretakers removed it. ‘It’s our job to show people how important they are,’ [sanctuary president and co-founder Gabrielle] Stubbert said. ‘They’re just as important as your dog or your cat or any animal that you cherish and love and is part of your family.’”
Stories of egregious abuse carried out against animals in factory farms routinely surface as a result of undercover investigations – from cruel confinement, to stressful transport, to the terror and pain of slaughter (though the federal Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act mandates that animals be rendered insensible to pain prior to slaughter, a multitude of investigations have shown this law is routinely violated; it also does not cover birds, who constitute more than 90% of the animals slaughtered for human consumption). Yet cases like this remind us that it is not only factory farms that are problematic. As the horror at Westport Tenant Farm shows, even on small farms we cannot assume authorities will act to stop animal abuse. Of course, consumers can choose not to support the largely-unregulated cruelty inherent in modern animal agriculture by choosing cruelty-free options.
- Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. “Westport Farm Owner, 26 Tenants Indicted in New England’s Largest Animal Cruelty Case.” Press Release. March 31, 2017.
- Levenson, Michael. “27 indicted in largest animal cruelty case in New England.” The Boston Globe. March 31, 2017.
- Fraga, Brian. “Report: Westport health department failed town on tenant farm issue.” The Herald News. March 31, 2017.
- “Westport farm owner, tenants indicted on animal cruelty charges.” NBC News 10. March 31, 2017.
- Guerra, Cristela. “Animals allegedly abused at Westport farm find greener pastures.” The Boston Globe. December 9, 2016.
- A panel on the role of sanctuaries in the animal law and protection movement, as well as a panel on criminal animal law, will be included at the upcoming Animal Law Conference (registration opens June 1, 2017).