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Furthering the Field of Animal Law at the Association of American Law Schools Annual Meeting

Posted by on January 10, 2018

Stephen Wells and local animal advocates

Every year we look forward to the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Annual Meeting. AALS is a nonprofit association representing 179 law schools in the United States and “works to uphold and advance excellence in legal education.” This year’s theme, “Access to Justice” included over 250 sessions on many topics relevant to the legal community, including animal law. We headed to sunny San Diego to hold our 11th Annual Animal Law Reception during the AALS Annual Meeting on January 5. Additionally, Animal Legal Defense Fund Academic Outreach Manager Nicole Pallotta shared some of our academic and career resources at our booth in the exhibit hall.

We attend the AALS Annual Meeting because advancing the field of animal law and nurturing the next generation of animal lawyers are core components of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s mission. In a growing field like animal law, it’s crucial to support current and future practitioners. The Animal Legal Defense Fund works to develop new animal law courses and Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapters at law schools across the country. The AALS Annual Meeting is a great time to make connections with the legal professionals and students also interested in furthering the field of animal law.

Matthew Liebman, our director of litigation, and Justin Marceau, of counsel for the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s litigation program and tenured law professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, both spoke on the panel, “Corporate Transparency, Accountability, and Animal Welfare.” The session focused on the exploitation of animals for commercial, scientific, and entertainment purposes and those industries’ incentives for limiting the public’s access to information about their use of animals. The panel also highlighted the barriers that companies have erected to conceal information and discussed whether there is a social responsibility to provide that to consumers.

During the well-attended Animal Law Reception, guests had the opportunity to connect with their colleagues in the animal law community, build new relationships, and learn about the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s recent wins for animals. Stephen Wells, the executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, screened a brief video on our 2017 victories including beating Ag-Gag laws and making the United States Department of Agriculture uphold the Animal Welfare Act against puppy mill operators and roadside zoos. Stephen also looked to the future and shared some of our goals for the coming year.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund's Academic Outreach Manager, Nicole Pallotta

The Animal Legal Defense Fund spearheaded the creation of animal law, and we are committed to  advancing the field and  using the legal system to protect animals today. Sign up for our email alerts and newsletters to learn about the latest developments in animal law and join us at one of our many events in 2018!

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Montreal Repeals Controversial Pit Bull Ban

Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on January 9, 2018

Montreal’s new mayor has lifted the city’s sweeping ban on pit bulls, 15 months after the controversial restrictions went into effect. The animal control bylaw made it illegal to adopt or otherwise acquire a pit bull within city limits, and required any pit bulls grandfathered in to be muzzled when in public and kept on a leash no longer than four feet. In order to be grandfathered in, Montreal pit bull owners were required to purchase a special permit and pass a criminal background check.

Mayor Valerie Plante and her political party, Project Montreal, which won a majority of city council seats in the November 2017 municipal election, made it a campaign promise to repeal the ban. According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), it emerged as a “key election issue.” Prior to the election, representatives of the party promised it would revisit the city’s animal control plan and shift the focus to “responsible dog ownership” rather than banning certain breeds. The ban was lifted on December 20, 2017.

The bylaw was driven by an outpouring of public concern following the tragic death of Christine Vadnais, who was fatally attacked in her backyard by a neighbor’s dog in June 2016. Although the elements of the bylaw targeting pit bulls have been repealed, Montreal still has restrictions on dogs deemed dangerous to public safety, which pertain equally to all dogs regardless of breed.

As reported by CBC, newly elected city councilor Craig Sauve said that targeting just one breed “created a false sense of security because science… shows there is no type of dog that is intrinsically more dangerous than others. All dogs are dangerous, and the bigger the dog, the more the bite could hurt.”

Almost immediately after the ban went into effect in 2016, the Montreal SPCA filed a lawsuit against the city, arguing that the new provisions ran counter “to article 898.1 of the Civil Code of Quebec, which grants animals the status of sentient beings.” The organization also charged that the definition of “pit bull” in the rule – which included three distinct breeds, mixes thereof and any dog with the characteristics of these breeds – was too vague.

A common criticism of breed-specific legislation is that trying to determine a dog’s breed based on appearance is inherently problematic and that the category of “pit bull” is itself arbitrary and overly broad. Empirical data confirms that not only average citizens, but even animal care professionals, cannot identify breeds by appearance. Given this ambiguity, breed-specific legislation is almost impossible to enforce in a fair manner.

Critics of breed-specific legislation argue further that these laws are not only discriminatory, penalizing all pit bulls regardless of their behavior, but also ineffective in preventing dog bite fatalities and injuries. Such laws also raise concerns about due process rights. In the U.S., the American Bar Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Obama administration have issued position statements against breed-discriminatory laws.

As in the U.S., jurisdictions in Canada have not taken a unified approach to the issue of breed-specific legislation. Neighboring province Ontario has had a ban on pit bulls since 2005, which was upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2009; that decision was cited by the Quebec Court of Appeal in a December 2016 ruling that supported the now-defunct Montreal ban. However, within Ontario, Ottawa (Canada’s capital city) has been vocal about not enforcing the ban. The City of Winnipeg enacted a breed ban in 1990, and the City of Edmonton repealed its breed ban in 2012, preferring to focus on dogs’ behavior rather than their breed.

Calgary, however, which does not have breed-specific legislation, has been called the “gold standard” in its approach to the problem of dangerous dogs. Montreal’s new administration has suggested it will emulate the “Calgary model,” which focuses on owner education as the key element to preventing dog attacks and ensuring public safety. As reported by the CBC:

“Calgary has some of the strictest animal regulations in North America…there are hefty fines for owners who don’t control their dogs and strict rules about licensing and harnessing. Money raised through licensing is dedicated to education campaigns for pet owners… [According to veterinarian Judith Weissmann] ‘The most important part is the education campaign. In Calgary, compliance is very high. Owners of pets in Calgary have been incentivized to participate.’”

The Montreal SPCA, which lobbied against the municipal ban on several fronts, including the aforementioned lawsuit, is currently sponsoring a petition to block province-wide legislation that would give the Quebec government authority to ban specific dog breeds. The organization calls Bill 128, which was proposed in April 2017, “costly, unfair, and ineffective in reducing the risk or severity of dog bites.” Along with the petition, the Montreal SPCA has posted alternative solutions to address the public safety issue of aggressive dogs on its website:

The swift repeal of this legislation points to the power citizens can have when using their voices at the ballot box. Alana Devine, director of animal advocacy at the Montreal SPCA, told CBC News: “We do believe that part of why Projet Montréal was elected is their commitment to important animal welfare issues.”

Further Reading:

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Cold Weather Canine Victims Need Justice

Posted by on January 8, 2018

Dog in the snow

With temperatures regularly dipping below the teens, the outdoors is no place for a dog.

In Alexandria, New Hampshire, twenty-two German shepherds have been seized after being neglected in freezing temperatures — with “backyard breeder” Jennifer Choate facing 22 counts of animal cruelty.

In North Carolina, a 35-day-old puppy almost met her fate. The single puppy was found abandoned behind an animal shelter — curled up in a ball, shivering — two hours after the shelter closed. If Donut hadn’t been found, she probably would not have survived the night.

Other dogs across the country have not been so lucky. Reports of dogs freezing to death in low temperatures have plagued the news.

In Hartford, Connecticut a concerned neighbor called the police. When officers arrived… it was too late. A young pit-bull terrier mix was found frozen to death chained outside. He was lying in his own frozen feces. Michelle Bennett has been charged with animal cruelty  – prosecutors and animal advocates are fighting to elevate this charge from a misdemeanor to a felony.

In Toledo, Ohio, an American bulldog was found frozen to death on a porch. Locked outside, Nana’s body slowly succumbed… and she froze to death. Another dog, Haze, was found inside. His ribcage exposed due to malnourishment, he stood shivering as he was rescued. The owner has since been charged with felony animal cruelty.

In Detroit, Michigan, a Pomeranian mix dog was left in a carrier outside a Detroit rescue office. Trapped, she had no way to even try to keep warm and died. It was so cold, fleas were frozen to her.

In Knox County, Illinois, eight newborn puppies lost their lives to the freezing temperatures. A mother dog was locked outside — as she always was — but this night she gave birth. Only the mother and one puppy survived.

There is no question — this is animal cruelty.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund has been contacted about numerous neglect cases this winter — of dogs left outside to die in subzero temperatures. Our expert animal cruelty attorneys are working closely with local police and prosecutors’ offices to get neglected and abused animals the justice they deserve.

Your support today allows our expert attorneys to help animals neglected and left in the cold, or abused, get the justice they deserve.

In addition to our responsive criminal justice efforts, we are actively issuing warnings to regions stricken with inclement weather — alerting residents to the fact that allowing animals to suffer or die in the cold is not only unconscionable, it’s a crime that might include jail time — and urging that cats and dogs be brought inside and that appropriate shelter is available for larger animals.

Despite their fur coats, animals are just as susceptible to hypothermia as humans. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them.

With your support, our attorneys help law enforcement assure justice is served when animals are harmed or killed due to human neglect and abuse.

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We Give Prosecutors the Tools They Need to Win Justice for Animals

Posted by on January 4, 2018

In mid-November, hundreds of prosecutors, law enforcement agents, animal control officers, veterinarians, and others professionally engaged in the fight against animal abuse gathered in Portland, Oregon for the seventh annual National Animal Cruelty Prosecution Conference of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA). Each year, the event—conducted in partnership with the Animal Legal Defense Fund—focuses on practical crime scene-to-courtroom and community engagement techniques that can be used to win justice for animal crime victims and prevent future animal crimes.

Chief Justice Balmer Opens the Conference

The conference kicked off with a keynote address delivered by the Honorable Thomas A. Balmer, chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court. Over the course of his inspiring talk, Chief Justice Balmer framed the issue of animal cruelty in the context of the larger mission of the justice system to do just what it says on the label: affect justice. Though for animal cases the drive for just outcomes begins with the experiences of individual victims, it reverberates throughout the justice system, as highlighted by Chief Justice Balmer’s discussion of Oregon’s seminal trilogy of animal crime cases: State v. Nix, State v. Fessenden, and State v. Newcomb. In each of those cases, foundational animal crime issues—such as animal sentience, and the fundamental truth that animals are beings, not things—stood prominently along standard matters of criminal law and procedure at trial, the appellate court, and before the Oregon Supreme Court. Chief Justice Balmer also discussed how cases such as Nix, Fessenden, and Newcomb connect beyond just the parties to a case.

Noting the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s influential amicus (“friend of the court”) briefs in these important cases, Chief Justice Balmer explained that amicus briefs can be extremely impactful in helping judges discern the contours of the animal law issues before the court. Legislation passed by law makers—and supported by voters who make animal protection a priority—also plays a critical role: not only do such laws set the terms for how animals may legitimately be treated, but legislative findings—such as the Oregon Assembly’s finding that animals are “sentient” and “should be cared for in ways that minimize pain, stress, fear, and suffering”— send a message to the courts, the decision-makers in these important cases, that animal interests are legally significant.

Hearing from the Experts

Lora Dunn, Director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund's Criminal Justice Program, David Rosengard, ALDF Staff Attorney, and Diane Balkin, ALDF Senior Staff Attorney

Lora Dunn, Director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Criminal Justice Program, David Rosengard, ALDF Staff Attorney, and Diane Balkin, ALDF Senior Staff Attorney

Over the next two and a half days, attendees developed skills that will help the animal crime victims Chief Justice Balmer discussed secure justice. Michelle Welch, the virginia senior assistant attorney general who heads the nation’s first attorney general-level animal crime unit, walked attendees through the broad ins and outs of prosecuting animal cruelty cases. Other faculty, such as Jill Hollander (chief senior district attorney, Fulton County, Georgia), Adam Lippe (chief, Animal Abuse Unit, Baltimore County State Attorney’s Office, Maryland), Jeremy Hoffman (detective, Fairfax County Police Department, Virginia), and Melinda D. Merck (forensic veterinarian, and founder of Veterinary Forensics Consulting) focused on specific investigatory challenges and case hurdles. Given that animal crime victims are unable to speak for themselves, animal crimes often involve the sort of complexities associated with homicide cases or the abuse of pre-verbal children. As such, understanding evidentiary issues is crucial to making a successful animal cruelty case. From the utility of bringing forensic accounting to bear on animal fighting rings, to the importance of having access to a forensic veterinarian who can discern the abuse recorded on a victim’s body, to training officers on the front lines of responding to animal cruelty allegations in what signs to look for, conference attendees delved deep into how to secure the solid evidence which can speak the truth of events where an animal victim cannot. Similarly, conference faculty—including Animal Legal Defense Fund Staff Attorney David B. Rosengard—conducted sessions focusing on how prosecutors can effectively and responsibly litigate animal cruelty cases and communicate to their communities the importance of addressing those crimes.

The conference also explored innovative strategies to confront animal cruelty. Emily Davidsohn (attorney, Oregon Humane Society Investigations Department) outlined the utility of creating partnerships between the state and the nonprofit sector by training and deputizing the latter to investigate animal crimes. Jake Kamins, Oregon’s animal cruelty deputy district attorney, discussed the way his position—the first such in the nation—operates to help ensure that all of the state’s counties have the resources and prosecutorial expertise to take on animal cruelty.

Finally, the impact law enforcement agencies and other front-line responders can directly have on animals did not go unremarked: issues surrounding animals seized during criminal investigation saw much discussion, and Animal Legal Defense Fund Senior Staff Attorney Diane Balkin presented on officer-involved shooting of dogs—and how those tragic outcomes can be prevented.

Training Allies to Win the Case Against Cruelty

As the Animal Legal Defense Fund pursues its goal of winning the case against cruelty, we know that having strong animal protection laws and a culture that appreciates the inherent value of animals are only part of the solution: ultimately, responding to animal cruelty requires that laws shielding animals from abuse and neglect are consistently and effectively enforced. That is why the Animal Legal Defense Fund has worked alongside the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys for years to support the important National Animal Cruelty Prosecution Conference, to arm those on the front lines of animal cruelty—law enforcement officials, prosecutors, veterinarians, and others—with the legal tactics and techniques to secure justice for animal cruelty victims and prevent future victimization. We look forward to next year’s conference as an opportunity to further the fight against cruelty: if your discipline is one involved in animal cruelty prosecutions, we hope you will join us then!

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Animal Legal Defense Fund: 2017 Year in Review

Posted by on December 16, 2017

The new year is almost here, and it’s time to take stock of all the legal advances we’ve made together for animals in 2017. Victories defeating dangerous Ag-Gag legislation, increasing the pressure on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to uphold the Animal Welfare Act, and assisting police and district attorneys in nearly 100 animal cruelty cases across the country to hold animal abusers accountable are just a few of our accomplishments this year! Watch the new video from our Executive Director Stephen Wells which highlights many of the victories we’ve accomplished together in 2017.

Thank you for your ongoing support. Whether it’s sharing our message on social media, responding to our action alerts, or making the generous donations that enable us to give animals the expert legal team they deserve, our success is all because of you.

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The Case for Tougher Animal Cruelty Laws

Posted by on December 8, 2017

They were sure she was dead.

Bella, the 11 year-old shepherd mix, had been shoved into a garbage bag and beaten with a shovel. Her owner, Michael Gallagher, had first tied a zip-tie around her neck before he began hitting her. When neighbors interceded, and Gallagher fled, they were shocked to see that the garbage bag was moving. Somehow, Bella was still alive.

Although they rushed her to a veterinary hospital, her injuries were too severe — and Bella had to be euthanized.

New York prosecutors pursued the maximum sentence for Gallagher’s crime, after he pleaded guilty to a felony charge of aggravated cruelty to animals.

Believe it or not, Gallagher will spend just four months in county jail for his crime!

Why? Because in New York, as in so many other states, the animal cruelty statutes are in desperate need of updating.

Join us in standing up against animal cruelty.

Sadly, the story is the same in states across the country. A patchwork of outdated state laws allows convicted animal abusers to keep their animals, prevents veterinarians from reporting suspected cruelty, and provides no felony provisions for neglect or abandonment. And there are currently no federal laws against these kinds of crimes.

We need your help to protect animals. Please sign the petition now.

Take Action

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California Becomes First State to Ban Retail Sale of Companion Animals

Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on December 7, 2017

On October 13, 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 485, which prohibits pet stores from selling dogs, cats, and rabbits unless they are obtained from a shelter or rescue organization. Although a growing number of jurisdictions have passed similar legislation – including major cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia – California is the first state to ban the retail sale of companion animals.

Beginning January 1, 2019, California’s new law will prohibit:

…a pet store operator from selling a live dog, cat, or rabbit in a pet store unless the dog, cat, or rabbit was obtained from a public animal control agency or shelter, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals shelter, humane society shelter, or rescue group…The bill would require all sales of dogs and cats authorized by this provision to be in compliance with laws requiring the spaying or neutering of animals, as specified…The bill would make a pet store operator who violates these provisions subject to a civil penalty of $500 [per animal], as specified.

It also expands on a provision in the existing law that “authorizes a public or private shelter to enter into cooperative agreements with animal rescue or adoption organizations regarding dogs and cats” to include rabbits. Notably, the law does not prohibit individuals from purchasing an animal directly from a private breeder.

Laws like California’s are part of a growing movement to combat puppy and kitten mills, large-scale commercial breeding facilities that keep animals in poor conditions while mass-producing them for sale. Retail pet stores that sell live animals source from puppy and kitten mills (or from third party brokers who do) and provide very little information to consumers about the origin of the animals. Federal standards for these facilities are notoriously lax, which was an impetus for California’s new law, the first to regulate the sale of companion animals at the state level. As reported by The New York Times: “A summary and fact sheet about the bill said it was meant to address ‘extremely minimal’ federal standards, such as the requirement that a cage be only six inches larger than the animal it housed and cleaned just once a week.”

Legislative efforts to ban the retail sale of companion animals began in earnest after the passage of the first such law in Albuquerque in 2006. In the decade since, more than 200 cities and counties have passed similar laws. Now, with the first statewide ban having been enacted, we can expect even more momentum on this front.

Unsurprisingly, these laws have not gone without challenge from the pet store and puppy mill industries. But in an important decision issued in September 2017, the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Chicago’s ordinance banning the sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits from large commercial breeders. The lawsuit, brought by two Chicago pet stores and a Missouri breeder, argued that Chicago had violated both the Illinois State Constitution, by overstepping its home rule powers, and the U.S. Constitution’s Dormant Commerce Clause, by illegally blocking interstate commerce. A federal judge ruled in favor of the city in 2015, and that decision has now been upheld on appeal.

Animal Legal Defense Fund members responded to action alerts we sent about this bill encouraging its passage, and numerous Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) chapters wrote letters to Governor Brown in support. Until they are outlawed completely, the Animal Legal Defense Fund also uses litigation to work toward improved conditions in puppy mills. In a landmark victory in Pennsylvania in 2016, the court struck down exemptions that had significantly weakened state law regulations as applied to puppy mills. The decision restored the integrity of the law and reinstated a comprehensive set of requirements for commercial dog breeders, including prohibitions on metal wire flooring and never letting mother dogs outside to exercise. Last year, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, with the Humane Society of the United States and law firm Locke Lord LLP, also settled a lawsuit against Chicago pet store chain Furry Babies, which is now required to disclose the specific source of its puppies, thereby giving consumers who do not wish to support the cruel puppy mill industry the ability to make an informed choice. In July 2017, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a class action lawsuit against Petland, a national pet store chain, and the chain’s Kennesaw, Georgia location. In October 2017, we sued to shut down a puppy mill in Northern California. Finally, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and pro bono attorneys have been fighting for three years to get justice for consumers who unknowingly bought puppy-mill puppies from Barkworks pet stores.

Public awareness has likely contributed to the recent proliferation of legislation prohibiting the sale of companion animals not sourced from a shelter or rescue.  Advocates have focused in recent years on exposing the inhumane treatment of animals in puppy and kitten mills – including overcrowded, unsanitary conditions without adequate socialization or exercise, and often lacking appropriate veterinary care, food, and water. As a result, animals bred in these facilities tend to suffer from myriad health and behavior problems. These living conditions, like so many in which animals are exploited, are hidden from public view. But as campaigns to bring these conditions to light continue to be successful, public criticism has mounted regarding pet stores and the cruel puppy mills behind them. As more people choose to adopt rather than buy a companion animal, we can expect to see the notion that animals are sentient beings with inherent value, rather than commodities to be bought and sold, increasingly reflected in our laws.

Further Reading:

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25 Animals Rescued from Pennsylvania Ice Cream Shop

Posted by on December 7, 2017

Three years ago, the Animal Legal Defense Fund successfully fought to have Ricki the bear relocated to a sanctuary after being held in miserable conditions for 16 years at Jim Mack’s Ice Cream shop. The settlement agreement also stipulated that the owner would not obtain any more animals. But, in 2017, the ice cream shop violated the settlement agreement. In addition to acquiring peacocks, the shop was keeping other animals in poor conditions in violation of state cruelty laws. We stepped in, and this past weekend, all 25 animals, including alpacas, a llama, emus, peacocks, rabbits, chickens, goats, and a goose, were transferred to rescues. A special thank you to Chenoa Manor, Indraloka Sanctuary, York SPCA, the Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team, and Baker Hostetler for their assistance.

Many thanks to our donors—who made this rescue possible!

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Congratulations to the 2017 SALDF Chapters of the Year!

Posted by on December 5, 2017

Vermont School of Law SALDF chapter winners

Congratulations to the New Zealand Otago Faculty of Law and Vermont School of Law Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) chapters for winning the 2017 SALDF Chapter of the Year Awards!

The awards celebrate SALDF chapters that are strong voices for animals on campus and in their community and have shown incredible efforts to advance the field of animal law.

SALDF chapters play an important role in the growing field of animal law. Through raising awareness of animal abuse, they show their law school communities that animal protection is a serious social justice issue. SALDF members are future attorneys, legislators and judges who will be influential in changing the law to better protect animals.

The Otago contingent with their 2017 SALDF chapter awards

The Otago contingent with their 2017 SALDF chapter awards

The Otago SALDF chapter’s work covered a broad spectrum of issues across the field of animal law. The chapter campaigned strongly against their university’s new animal research facility, and even obtained student representation on the university’s Animal Use & Compliance Steering Group. The chapter held many events, including a plant-based sausage sizzle, a talk on careers in animal law, and its most popular Animal Law Week ever, which included events on alternatives to animal testing, animal sentience, legal protection of dolphins, the link between slaughterhouses and violent crime, and the legal rights of vegans. Chapter members also participated in the inaugural New Zealand Animal Law Conference.

The Vermont SALDF chapter also had an incredibly successful year. Over 100 students attended their annual Vegan Thanksgiving event. The chapter held a symposium on the SALDF Program Guide topic of captive wild animals, a speaker event and movie night on the plight of pit bulls, and got active locally by drafting a letter to the Montreal mayor opposing its breed ban. The chapter also supported the Vermont animal protection community by volunteering at a farmed animal sanctuary and raising over $500 for a local humane society through its “Paws-4-Beer” fundraiser.

Thank you to the chapters that applied for this year’s award and to all of our SALDF chapters for your dedication to and hard work for the animals!

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Washington, D.C., Enacts Legislation to Protect Companion Animals in Cold Weather

Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on December 1, 2017

A dog chained outside in the winter

As winter approaches, many caring people wonder what legal protections exist for companion animals left outside in very cold weather. Although most guardians are cognizant of the need to bring animals indoors when the temperature drops, many animals still suffer and freeze to death after being left out in the cold. Each state has an animal cruelty law under which an owner could potentially be charged for mistreatment, but some also have provisions that directly address extreme weather. This year has witnessed a tremendous increase in social awareness about the issue of dogs in hot cars, and with it a flurry of new laws protecting Good Samaritans who take action to rescue an animal from a closed vehicle. There are currently few laws that specifically address the problem of animals left outside in cold weather, but Washington, D.C., has recently passed one of the strongest in the nation.

On Oct. 24, 2017, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser signed into law the Standard of Care for Animals Amendment Act of 2017, which “establishes under what extreme weather conditions that keeping animals outside would constitute cruelty to animals.” It significantly improves the district’s animal protection laws by mandating specific standards of adequate care and empowering humane officers to enforce them.

According to the Humane Rescue Alliance, which helped craft this legislation, highlights of the amendment include the following:

  • Provides Humane Rescue Alliance officers with the authority to issue citations and warnings in cases of intentional or grossly negligent harm to an animal.
  • Defines “adequate shelter.” When the temperature is at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, “adequate shelter” shall  mean that a the dog has access to a shelter large enough for the dog to stand up and turn around, that has an entrance covered by a flexible wind-proofing material or self-closing door, that contains a platform for the dog at least 4 inches off the ground, and that contains dry bedding, which must consist of an insulating material that does not retain moisture, such as straw, of sufficient depth for the dog to burrow. When the temperature is at or above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, “adequate shelter” shall additionally mean that a dog has access to a shelter shaded by trees, a roof, a tarp, or a tarp-like device.
  • Clarifies that an animal cannot be outdoors for more than 15 minutes during periods of extreme weather without human accompaniment or adequate shelter. Extreme weather means temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

The amount of detail provided in the definition of “adequate shelter” in both cold and hot weather is notable, as is mandating a maximum amount of time an animal may be left outside unaccompanied. Such clarity is rare among similar laws, which are often vague and lack specific standards of care. This makes it difficult to determine what constitutes criminal cruelty or neglect, which in turn creates difficulties for law enforcement and can be an obstacle to actually using the law to help an animal in distress. The clarity provided in this amendment should be used as a model for other jurisdictions looking to improve their animal protection laws. (If you are curious how your state’s animal protection laws compare to those in other states, see the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s annual rankings report here.)

The district’s new law originated with a 90-day emergency bill, the Extreme Weather Protection for Animals Act of 2017, which was passed in February 2017 due to an outpouring of public concern about a pit bull named Momma who was left outside in freezing temperatures for weeks. Neighbors tried to help the dog to no avail; despite repeated complaints to the city, Momma received no help. The emergency bill specified what actions must be taken to help animals like Momma left outside in frigid temperatures. Unfortunately the emergency law was not able to help this particular dog, whose owner removed her from the premises after a local news station reported on her situation. But the 90-day provision that Momma’s plight inspired is now a permanent law that can be used to help neglected animals like her in the future.

According to Councilmember Brandon Todd, who introduced the legislation after learning about Momma’s mistreatment:

“This comprehensive animal-welfare bill creates a ‘Standard of Care’ that all pet owners must comply with – something brand new for the District. By providing the authority necessary to holistically protect the health and safety of District animals, we can prevent others from suffering like Momma, a Petworth pit bull left outdoors in frigid temperatures whose inhumane treatment triggered an outpouring of concern and my introduction of an earlier version of this legislation.”

Strong animal protection laws are an important tool to safeguard animals’ wellbeing. Also crucial, especially to prevent tragedies, is public outreach and education. Some people who keep companion animals are intentionally negligent, while others are simply unaware. As such, the district’s law also contains provisions for an Animal Education and Outreach Fund, funded by dog license fees, to provide low-cost spay and neuter services and implement “an educational program for animal owners regarding pet care and safety, specifically in extreme weather conditions or emergencies, and the laws relating to pet ownership.”

Besides strong animal protection laws and public education, there is another important component to preventing animal suffering: you. Neglected animals depend on the involvement of caring community members. The fact that concerned neighbors could not help Momma when she was left outside to suffer in the cold is distressing. However, their efforts raised awareness and resulted in the passage of one of the strongest cold weather laws in the nation. If you see an animal in distress, including one who has been left outside in frigid temperatures this winter, you should document the conditions, preferably by taking photographs and/or video, and call your local law enforcement or animal control. For more information, see the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s resource: “How to help a neighbor’s neglected animal.”

Further Reading:

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Animal Forward Academic Institutions

Posted by on November 30, 2017

A student stops work to pet a dog

Colleges and universities are ideal places for students to explore interests, values and beliefs while learning more about the world around them. In a welcome trend, institutions of higher learning are beginning to offer increased opportunities for students to better understand the use of animals in today’s society and how these uses can be harmful and exploitative. Humane education has become popular for school-aged children and is vital in supporting a future generation that is kind to all animals. However, humane education is also important for college students, who are often on their own for the first time and interested in learning how to make a positive difference in the world.

Healthline, an online publication dedicated to providing information on health and wellness topics, recently posted an article “The Best Universities for Vegan Eating.” This list, created with help from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, mentions not only universities that offer great options for plant-based food, but that do so much more. It lists universities that offer courses on animal issues (including animal law), student clubs devoted to animal protection, community gardens that promote plant-based eating, and host speakers who are known for their animal advocacy. For example, several universities like Yale University and University of California San Diego have Meatless Mondays in their cafeteria, while others like Pacific University and Cornell University offer undergraduate courses on animal topics. Almost every school mentioned also offers an animal law course at their respective law school.

In addition to animal law courses, many of these universities have law schools with active Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) chapters. There are currently 220 chapters in the United States and internationally. SALDF chapters are run by law students and host speakers and fundraisers, volunteer in their communities, organize educational events for students and faculty, and promote the field of animal law within the legal community. At the undergraduate level, these universities often have student-run clubs that focus on animal issues.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund applauds Healthline for putting together a list of great schools that are welcoming of animal protection efforts by students and faculty alike. Together, we can inspire and empower the next generation of animal advocates to create a better world for everyone.

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UPDATE: Fight the Border Wall’s Threat to Animals

Posted by on November 22, 2017

A gray wolf

This week the Animal Legal Defense Fund called on a federal court to rule that current plans for a U.S. border wall are illegal. We filed a summary judgment motion laying out the overwhelming case that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) illegally sidestepped important environmental and animal protection laws in its plans to construct a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

A human-made barrier on the scale of the proposed border wall would have a serious impact on animals. Such a structure would cause immediate and long-term harm to countless species, including the more than 100 endangered or threatened species living along the border. Animal families would be divided, breeding and migratory patterns would be disrupted, and many species like Mexican gray wolves, jaguars, and ocelots may be driven to extinction. As the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund will not stand for a government plan that so plainly threatens animals and violates the law.

We first filed suit in September 2017, joining a coalition of wildlife protection groups to protect animals and enforce adherence to critical laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Migratory Bird Conservation Act.

Our motion for summary judgment demonstrates that the government’s current plans for a border wall are an illegal use of the 2005 REAL ID Act, which deals with identification documents as well as immigration issues. It granted DHS extraordinary powers to waive a variety of laws, including those that offer vital protections for the environment and endangered species. The power to waive so many laws was granted specifically to ensure the completion of certain sections of fencing, pursuant to 1996 and 2005 mandates to construct a physical barrier along particular stretches of the border. Now DHS is invoking those extraordinary waiver powers for projects far beyond the clearly intended scope of the REAL ID Act.

Our motion details the many ways DHS’s invocation of these waivers is illegal. In addition to the waivers not being justified in the context of the REAL ID Act, they also violate the Administrative Procedure Act. Even beyond that, under the government’s interpretation, the REAL ID Act’s waiver-granting power would be unconstitutional in itself, rendering its application to the border wall plan void.

We urge the court to use its judicial authority to declare DHS’s conduct illegal and void.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is committed to challenging this threat to animals, and will continue to update you on the case’s progress. To read more about this case and why a border wall would have a devastating effect on wildlife and the ecosystem, please read The Border Wall: Disastrous for Wildlife.

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Urgent: Protect Wildlife from Trophy Hunters

Posted by on November 20, 2017

UPDATE: Read the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s comments opposing International Wildlife Conservation Council.

Wildlife, including some of the most endangered species on the planet, are under attack from trophy hunters. We need your help to protect them.

The U.S. Department of Interior is creating and seeking nominations for the International Wildlife Conservation Council. Despite its name, this council is about anything but conservation. Instead, the council will advise the government on the “benefits” of U.S. citizens traveling to foreign countries to hunt animals.

A herd of elephants

Pro-hunting groups have claimed for years that hunting supports wildlife conservation. It doesn’t. Hunting only benefits the hunter and the commercial interests of hunting companies. Your action is critical. Elephants and other endangered species need to be protected.

To make matters worse, you can only submit a comment for a short period of time – through November 24, right after the Thanksgiving holiday. This isn’t an accident. It’s a deliberate attempt to push through a dangerous policy that hurts animals.

We can’t let the hunting industry get away with this. Please join us in telling the Department of Interior that we want science informing our wildlife policies, not special interest groups.

The comment window is now CLOSED.

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Illinois and New York Pass First Statewide Bans on the Use of Elephants in Entertainment

Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on November 17, 2017

An elephant performing in a circus

[It] is in the best interest of the state that the use of elephants in entertainment be prohibited, and that the state use its authority to aid in the protection and welfare of these animals. – State of New York S2098B Bill Text (Elephant Protection Act)

As public sentiment continues to turn against forcing wild animals to perform in entertainment acts, a flurry of new legislation has been enacted across the U.S. that reflects this attitude change. Although several cities and counties have passed legislation prohibiting wild animal performances, Illinois recently enacted the first statewide ban on the use of elephants in traveling acts. New York soon followed suit, becoming the second state to prohibit the use of elephants in entertainment acts.

Illinois’s SB 1342, signed by Governor Bruce Rauner in August 2017 and effective January 1, 2018, amends the state’s Criminal Code to make it unlawful to use an elephant in a traveling act, defined as any “undertaking where animals are require to perform tricks, give rides, or act as accompaniments for entertainment, amusement , or benefit of a live audience.” The new section reads:

A person commits unlawful use of an elephant in a traveling animal act when he or she knowingly allows for the participation of an African elephant (Loxodonta Africana) or Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) protected under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 in a traveling animal act. (c) This Section does not apply to an exhibition of elephants at a non-mobile, permanent institution, or other facility. (d) Sentence. Unlawful use of an elephant in a traveling animal act is a Class A misdemeanor.

Soon after, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed New York’s SB 2098B, also known as the “Elephant Protection Act,” into law on October 19, 2017. It amends the state’s Agriculture and Markets Law and its Environmental Conservation Law to prohibit the use of elephants in entertainment acts. The New York law does not specifying “traveling” acts but expressly exempts accredited zoos and aquariums. It takes effect in two years.  In contrast to the Illinois law, which makes violation a Class A misdemeanor, the New York law provides a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation because offenses against animals are not part of New York’s Penal Code.

The legislation was drafted by undergraduate students in Pace University’s Environmental Policy Clinic, who also lobbied for its passage and collected student signatures in support of the bill. Several New York chapters of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund submitted letters in support of the bill to Governor Cuomo over the summer.

New York’s law contains a strongly worded “legislative findings” section that clearly enumerates the many problems faced by elephants used in entertainment performances, concluding not only that New York should use its authority to help protect elephants but also that prohibiting their use in entertainment is in the state’s best interest. It reads:

The legislature hereby finds that…it is widely recognized that elephants used for entertainment purposes (“entertainment elephants”) suffer physical and psychological harm due to the living conditions and treatment to which they are subjected, resulting in increased mortality with life spans only one half as long as wild elephants; entertainment elephants are trained with cruel techniques that involve the use of objects to control and punish, such as bullhooks, electric shocks, metal bars, whips, chaining, and other forms of physical restriction and painful coercion; entertainment elephants live in conditions that are in no way similar to their natural habitat, including an unnatural diet, restricted movement, inappropriate housing and a hostile climate; entertainment elephants are subjected to confinement and social isolation, leading to physiological, behavioral and psychological impairments; entertainment elephants transported into the state spend a significant portion of their lives inside trucks, trains or trailers, enduring  additional physical restrictions and social isolation; the use of elephants in entertainment provides a false and inaccurate educational experience for children and adults, often including performance tricks that are never executed by elephants in the wild and that are stressful or harmful to the animal; and it is in the best interest of the state that the use of elephants in entertainment be prohibited, and that the state use its authority to aid in the protection and welfare of these animals.

This statement reflects the growing awareness that elephants suffer not only physically but also psychologically in captivity. Although these laws could be made stronger by being more inclusive and covering all wild animals in entertainment, not just elephants (for example, Santa Fe’s recent law also includes bears and tigers) – they are a step in the right direction and a harbinger of a cultural shift that is well underway regarding wild animals in captivity.

In particular, the past few years have seen a stark change in attitudes regarding the acceptability of forcing wild animals to perform unnatural behaviors for amusement and profit. Multiple factors have contributed to this shift in public opinion, but many credit the 2013 documentary Blackfish as being a significant catalyst. In what is commonly referred to as “the Blackfish Effect,” this acclaimed documentary shined a spotlight on the inherent cruelty of keeping orcas in captivity and resulted in an outcry for their release from SeaWorld. Following the film’s success, SeaWorld’s profits and attendance plummeted, and the corporation eventually announced it would discontinue both breeding captive orcas and using them in entertainment shows. In 2016, the California legislature enacted the California Orca Protection Act, codifying SeaWorld’s new company policy into law. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is currently working on similar legislation in Florida.

Blackfish’s 2013 release tapped into growing public unease about keeping large mammals in captivity, especially when they are forced to perform in unnatural entertainment acts. In addition to aquatic theme parks like SeaWorld, circuses have come under increased scrutiny in recent years, with momentum increasing in 2017.

In January 2017, amid sluggish ticket sales and mounting public criticism, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus permanently shut down after operating for almost 150 years, following a 2015 announcement it would stop using elephants in its performances by 2018. Just as the California Orca Protection Act came on the heels of SeaWorld’s decline, the movement to ban circuses has only accelerated since Ringling went out of business. The bans in Illinois and New York are just the latest examples of a national legislative trend.

In June 2017, the New York City Council voted to prohibit the use of all wild animals in circus performances, creating a broader law than the statewide ban, which applies only to elephants. This added NYC to the growing list of major cities that have banned the use of wild animals in entertainment, including San Francisco in 2015 (whose strong law includes film shoots). In April of this year, the Los Angeles City Council approved a similar ban.

With bans on the use of elephants in circuses reaching beyond the local to the state level, we are moving closer to codifying into law changing social norms about using animals in entertainment. We can expect to see similar laws passed moving forward as the cruel practices used to force wild animals to perform for human amusement – and the lies told by the corporations that profit from this exploitation – continue to be revealed by undercover investigations and poignant documentaries like Blackfish.

Beyond the abusive training methods that are necessary to compel wild animals to perform for us, keeping large intelligent animals such as elephants and orcas in captivity – even if they are not forced to do tricks – causes them inherent physical and psychological harm. As demonstrated by facts brought to light in recent lawsuits against large, well-established zoos like those in Los Angeles and San Antonio, captivity in itself is often detrimental to an animal’s wellbeing, frequently resulting in significant suffering and premature death. The idea that animals exist to be held captive for our gaze and amusement, rather than as subjects of their own lives, is thankfully becoming more antiquated with each passing day. Recent laws like those passed in Illinois and New York are just the beginning.

Further Reading:

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Celebrating the 2017 Advancement in Animal Law Pro Bono Achievement Award Winners

Posted by on November 8, 2017

2017 Advancement in Animal Law Pro Bono Achievement award winners

This past Saturday, the Animal Legal Defense Fund held its second annual Cruise for a Cause. During the event, we honored the dedicated legal professionals and law firms who help us achieve our mission to the protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. Our 2017 Advancement in Animal Law Pro Bono Achievement Awards recognize the many legal professionals across the country who have contributed to our life-saving work.

2017 Advancement in Animal Law Pro Bono Achievement Award award winner Jessica Farley. Laffey, Leitner & Goode.

Our honorees helped contribute to the more than 12,500 total pro bono hours donated to our work last year. They assisted on a wide range of cases including our work on behalf of Lucky, an Asian elephant held at the San Antonio Zoo, our lawsuit to free four tigers being held in deplorable conditions in an aquarium in Houston, Texas, and our efforts to stop the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) from rubberstamping license renewals of roadside zoos it knows are not in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act.

During the cruise, Tom Linney, Pro Bono Director, shared with guests some of the accomplishments of our Pro Bono Achievement Award winners in the past year. These attorneys and firms provided invaluable assistance on numerous cases such as:


  • A successful lawsuit regarding the disclosure of public records related to taxpayer-funded experiments on infant monkeys that cause extreme suffering
  • A class action lawsuit against the Barkworks pet store chain alleging Barkworks violated California consumer protection laws by tricking patrons into buying sick dogs sourced from puppy mills
  • A major victory against foie gras when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the landmark California law banning its sale
  • Our lawsuit against Monterey County, California, arguing that its contract with USDA’s Wildlife Services violated the California Environmental Quality Act because the county failed to assess the program’s environmental impacts
  • Our efforts to shut down a coyote-killing contest in Wyoming. In October, a judge issued a partial ruling in favor of the Animal Legal Defense Fund finding some of the activities associated with the event constituted illegal gambling.

These are just a few highlights of the incredible work that our pro bono network provides every year. The following is a full list of the law firms recognized in our 2017 Advancement in Animal Law Pro Bono Achievement Awards:

Capstone Law APC
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
Irvine & Conner
Laffey, Leitner & Goode
Lane Powell
Lugenbuhl, Wheaton, Peck, Rankin & Hubbard
Sandefer & Woolsey Trial Lawyers
Shearman & Sterling
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati

Thank you to all our award winners, and we look forward to the great work we will accomplish together in 2018!

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