Legally Brief: Behind Closed Doors, Beneath the Law
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on June 6, 2016
Farmed animals in the U.S. receive virtually no protection under federal law except for regulations of the way they are transported and slaughtered. Despite the last few decades’ slow expansion of legal protections for companion animals and, to a lesser degree, animals used in entertainment, no federal laws have been enacted to protect farmed animals when it comes to the way they are raised. Moreover, most state laws exempt otherwise cruel standard agricultural practices from state cruelty laws, essentially making farmed animals beyond—or beneath—the law.
In late April, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General regarding violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act recorded on video at a pig-breeding facility own and operated by The Maschhoffs, LLC. The Animal Legal Defense Fund complained that the company engaged in unfair business practices due to the apparent animal neglect caused by a failure to feed and provide proper veterinary care to animals. The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s complaint also alleged that the company engaged in deceptive business practices because the conditions at the facility conflicted with the company’s own advertising that it is committed to “humane animal handling” and providing the “best possible environment” for the animals.
In the video, The Maschhoffs employees can be seen slamming piglets against the ground. Adult mother pigs are shown writhing in farrowing and breeding crates, constructed to maximize per-square-foot profit and so small as to prevent pigs from being able to turn around, much less stretch their muscles or roam to satisfy natural instincts. Confinement is intense, and when workers fail to move pregnant pigs to farrowing crates in time, piglets are crushed to death by mother pigs with no room to move and no natural bedding material to make a proper nest. Pigs obviously anxious with hunger can be seen jostling empty food bins and employees converse about malfunctions with the feeding systems.
None of this was surprising to our investigators, or to us. In an industry that slaughters well over 100 million pigs in the U.S. every year, these dead piglets and sick, dying mother pigs are simply considered breakage or shrinkage if not “collateral damage.” To an industry that can move lame animals into position for slaughter using electric prods, the sight of empty food troughs is unlikely to evoke empathy and spur changes from within.
Even the last few moments of an animal’s life that might be granted some humane protection by federal law are under attack, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been decreasing its slaughterhouse inspector workforce and shifting those responsibilities to the animal product producers themselves, as absurd as that may sound.
And all of this is taking place in an environment where at least seven states have enacted “Ag-Gag laws” that seek to punish would-be whistleblowers and undercover activists for recording and sharing footage like that taken at The Maschhoffs facility. We’re doing battle to keep such laws from spreading. In August 2015, an Animal Legal Defense Fund-led coalition of animal, environmental and civil rights organizations scored a first victory against an Ag-Gag law when a federal district court in Idaho declared the law unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendment. Similar suits are now pending against the states of Utah, Wyoming and North Carolina.
Factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses will continue to try to find ways to hide their practices and protect their profits. With your continued support, the Animal Legal Defense Fund will anticipate and counter their every step, bearing witness and sharing what we see with judges, legislators, litigators and you, as we work to eliminate so much unnecessary suffering.
Animal Law Symposium 2016: Animal Cruelty Prosecution
Posted by Lora Dunn, Interim Director and Staff Attorney, Animal Legal Defense Fund on June 1, 2016
On May 21, 2016 the Animal Legal Defense Fund gathered experts in criminal animal cruelty cases for our second-annual Los Angeles symposium, Animal Cruelty Prosecution: Pitfalls and Progress.
Kicking off the day was our Prosecuting Animal Cruelty Cases 101 panel, with animal control professional Mark Kumpf and L.A. County Deputy District Attorney Debbie Knaan sharing strategies for building a successful animal cruelty case from the ground up—from processing the crime scene through analyzing potential criminal charges. Dr. Farshid Shahriar then walked us through the importance of veterinary forensics in linking the perpetrator to the animal victim, such as conducting a thorough necropsy (an autopsy for an animal).
Senior Trial Consultant Rich Matthews—a “myth buster” of traditional beliefs about jury selection—shared some insider tips and tricks of the voir dire process, which can be the most crucial part of any criminal prosecution. Veteran prosecutor and ALDF Criminal Justice Program attorney Diane Balkin and civil rights attorney Karen Snell addressed the host of issues surrounding canine encounters with law enforcement, and proposed strategies for addressing these heartbreaking and often fatal cases.
The symposium concluded with the tragic story of a 5-month-old Doberman pinscher named Davey, who suffered horrendous injuries at the hands of his abuser. District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley and Deputy District Attorney Kevin Weichbrod of the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, who worked tirelessly to prosecute Davey’s case, also proposed legislative changes to California’s animal cruelty laws and related legislation bolster better outcomes in animal cruelty cases.
We’re grateful to all of this year’s speakers and attendees for making our second annual symposium such a success!
The Animal Legal Defense Fund Files Lawsuit to Advocate for Wildlife Welfare
Posted by Jeff Pierce, ALDF Legislative Counsel on May 18, 2016
Does the law contemplate the welfare of wildlife in the wild? On Monday, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, in collaboration with Friends of Animals and the Law Offices of Donald B. Mooney, filed a lawsuit in Sacramento arguing that it most certainly does.
We represent the Public Interest Coalition (a Placer County grassroots organization) in litigation challenging the California Fish & Game Commission’s recent decision allowing hunters to outfit their hunting dogs with GPS tracking devices and “treeing switches” (radio telemetry that tells a hunter when an animal might be treed). The lawsuit alleges that the Commission violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in failing to examine a range of ways their decision will significantly impact wildlife.
The new rule permitting GPS tracking devices effectively incentivizes hunters to use dogs more often, since such devices make hunting easier and basically eliminate the hunter’s ethical commitment to so-called “fair chase.” Outfitted with GPS collars, dogs can range at greater distances from hunters, who no longer have to keep them within sight or earshot. More dogs and less control means greater harm to wildlife, not only to the wild animals hunters are permitted to pursue with dogs, which includes deer and feral pigs, but also to the wild animals whom hunters are forbidden to hunt with dogs, like bear and bobcats.
Indeed, on state and federal lands throughout California, companion dogs are restricted to leashes, and in some cases prohibited entirely. Those restrictions are based on the recognition that dogs harass and disrupt wildlife. Beyond those site-specific restrictions, California law, like the federal Endangered Species Act, broadly prohibits any activity that “harasses” wildlife. State regulation, like its federal counterpart, defines harassment to mean activity that “disrupts an animal’s normal behavior patterns, which includes, but is not limited to, breeding, feeding or sheltering.” In other words, a person need not kill or even physically injure wildlife to break the laws protecting them: they need only disrupt a wild animal’s normal behavior.
Wildlife biologists, cognitive scientists, and animal behaviorists insist that an animal who exhibits normal behavior enjoys a high degree of welfare. Conversely, an animal who is denied the ability to exhibit normal behavior—or who exhibits abnormal behavior—suffers a low degree of welfare, characterized by physiological and psychological disturbances.
In allowing hunting dogs to tear through the wild spaces of California beyond the control of hunters, the Fish & Game Commission has effectively authorized hunters to harass wildlife, which the law prohibits. Our lawsuit petitions the California court system to prevent the Commission from allowing GPS collars until it has properly examined the unlawful toll its decision will have on the welfare of our State’s wildlife heritage.
American Humane Certified and Foster Farms: Profiting On Consumer Concern for Animal Welfare
Posted by Kate Brindle, Animal Legal Defense Fund Law Clerk on May 9, 2016
Many consumers who eat animals and animal products strongly prefer to buy only “humane” products, but this term is not well-regulated, and unfortunately, many products advertised as “humane” may not actually reflect what consumers think they are buying and supporting. One example is the chicken sold by Foster Farms and marketed as “American Humane Certified,” a private certification label created by the American Humane Association (AHA). Yet, AHA standards permit standard industry practices, which are anything but humane. Foster Farms also markets some of its chicken products as “fresh” and “natural,” even though Foster Farms’ chickens are denied everything that is natural—like foraging and dust-bathing—to them.
Foster Farms’ cruel treatment of chickens begins at the start of the production process. According to a class action lawsuit against Foster Poultry Farms filed in California, under AHA standards, Foster Farms can source from hatcheries (including its own) that only comply with the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP). However, the NPIP permits de-toeing—a debilitating procedure where roosters’ toes are cut with surgical sheers to prevent scratching, de-beaking—the cutting off of the ends of chickens’ beaks, without anesthesia so chickens will not peck each other in the crowded and unnatural conditions in which they are kept, and grinding up of live male chicks since they cannot lay eggs and are, thus, useless at hatcheries.
The American Humane Certified label also allows chickens to experience cruel living conditions, where they are overcrowded, forced to breathe air with concentrations of ammonia up to 25 parts per million, and suffer a host of medical problems, including chronic joint and leg pain.
Further, AHA standards permits inhumane slaughter practices, including shackling and hanging live chickens by their feet before slaughter, a painful and stressful process that can result in broken bones. Under AHA standards, some chickens drown in scalding hot water as the industry standard bleed-out time is often not long enough to kill the chickens before they are submerged in de-feathering tanks.
Given the conditions chickens actually endure, Foster Farms’ labeling its chicken products as “humane” is deceptive. Ironically, in a survey conducted by the AHA itself, when asked “[w]hat does a humanely raised certified label signify to you when seen it on meat, dairy and egg products?” 95% of respondents said “better treatment of animals.” So, an overwhelming portion of ordinary consumers would likely see the American Humane Certified label on a package of chicken, and believe that chicken received better treatment than other chickens on the market, even though AHA certification allows treatment that is often no different and, in some cases, worse than standard factory farming industry practices and the labels are in no way a guarantee that Foster Farms’ chickens didn’t suffered through the cruel practices listed above.
On July 13, 2015, California consumers filed suit against Foster Poultry Farms, claiming Foster Farms’ use of “American Humane Certified” labels on their chicken products is misleading and deceptive. In response to the complaint, Foster Farms challenged the plaintiffs’ causes of action by filing a demurrer, which is set to be heard today.
Foster Farms is claiming that the court should not hear the consumers’ case because the United States Department of Agriculture controls the labelling of poultry products under the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act. But the State of California has long had power to protect its citizens from false advertising, and to prevent animal cruelty. Regardless of the outcome of the hearing on this jurisdictional issue, consumers should arm themselves with truth about “humane” labeling, or choose plant-based alternatives to eliminate cruelty from their plate completely.
See more work that the Animal Legal Defense Fund has done to stop consumer deception by factory farms here.
Legally Brief: Leaders in Animal Law Gather in Los Angeles
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on May 6, 2016
Legal professionals who care about animals should circle May 21 on their calendars. That’s the day the Animal Legal Defense Fund puts on the second annual Animal Law Symposium in Los Angeles. The intensive day-long program offers cutting-edge information on one of the most compelling issues in animal law: criminal acts of cruelty. The symposium is perfect for prosecutors, law enforcement professionals, judges, veterinarians, law students, and other individuals with an interest in animal cruelty laws, investigations and enforcement.
Sadly those in the field know that while cruelty can grab headlines and heartstrings, the realities of seeing these cases through the legal system are very complex. The symposium’s theme, Animal Cruelty Prosecution: Pitfalls and Progress, sets the stage for an agenda packed with real world research from some of the most respected names out there. Attendees will get a crash course in the most up-to-date legal thought and research.
From a 101 course on prosecuting cruelty cases, to the secrets behind veterinary forensics and jury selection, to a special spotlight on how improving police training can lead to better evidence and fewer civilian dogs killed, the symposium is an invaluable experience for those who want to fight for justice for animals.
I have been looking forward to this year’s symposium since the moment last year’s ended—it’s so important for everyone on the animals’ side to keep up with what is going on in the wider world of animal law.
Join me on May 21, 2016 to hear from experts like:
- Debbie Knaan, Deputy District Attorney and Animal Cruelty Case Coordinator, LA County
- Rich P. Matthews, Senior Trial Consultant, Juryology, San Francisco, CA
- Farshid Shahriar, DVM, MVSc, PhD, President, Animal Diagnostic Laboratory Veterinary Pathology Services and Consulting, Tustin, CA
- Karen L. Snell, Civil Rights Attorney, San Francisco, CA
- Lora Dunn, Criminal Justice Program Interim Director, Animal Legal Defense Fund
These top experts, and many more, make the 2016 Animal Law Symposium a can’t-miss opportunity.
Animals need a strong team of lawyers to protect them—and to fight for better laws. For fresh dialogue on this important topic, join us at the Animal Law Symposium in May.
California attorneys will be eligible to receive continuing legal education credits, pending approval.
Kristen Lindsey in Court to Fight for Her Veterinary License
Posted by Lora Dunn, Interim Director and Staff Attorney, Criminal Justice Program on April 28, 2016
Was the orange tabby cat in Kristen Lindsey’s April 2015 Facebook post a companion animal named “Tiger,” killed without his owner’s consent?
This was the main point of heated debate in Austin, Texas this week at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH), when Kristen Lindsey faced the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (TBVME) over the revocation of her veterinary license before two administrative law judges. In April 2015, Kristen Lindsey shot a cat with a bow and arrow and bragged about the killing on Facebook. Later that year, the Texas Veterinary Board decided to revoke her license after conducting a full investigation and hearing testimony from witnesses and advocates, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
In this week’s hearing, the Veterinary Board called a slew of fact and expert witnesses to bolster its case, both those who knew “Tiger,” the alleged feline victim, and veterinary experts on felines and proper methods of euthanasia. Multiple witnesses testified about the identity of the cat in the photograph, explaining that the distinctive markings on the cat’s left leg indisputably identified him as Tiger. Clare Johnson, Tiger’s owner, took the stand and testified that she was “as certain as I can be” that the cat in the grotesque Facebook photo was Tiger. Feline expert and long-time Texas veterinarian Dr. William Folger testified that the white spot on the cat’s left hind leg was “like a unique tattoo” and explained that the cat’s anatomy was reflective of a neutered cat like Tiger—not an intact feral cat.
In perhaps the most devastating testimony of the two-day hearing, Dr. Folger testified that the cat seen dangling from the arrow was, in his expert opinion, still alive at the time the photo was taken, given the angle of the cat’s limbs in the picture. Dr. Gail Golab, an expert in euthanasia policies for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), emphasized that “humane” euthanasia is that which renders an animal instantaneously unconscious, and that the preferred method of companion animal euthanasia is intravenous injection. Dr. Golab emphasized that there is insufficient scientific data to evaluate the humaneness of a bow-and-arrow shot, but that the AVMA considers a captive bolt shot humane euthanasia if certain conditions are met, including the animal already being anesthetized and the proximity and precision of the shot.
“I had made a good shot to be quite honest,” said Lindsey on the stand. She expressed little remorse in killing a cat she says she thought was feral and insisted that she had a right to protect her property from an animal she claimed was spraying and fighting with her animals. She also claimed the cat had a “gross appearance” and was an intact male, and that “feral cats are an issue that need to be managed.”
Legally, it does not matter if Lindsey thought the cat was feral, only that she was aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the cat was owned and disregarded that risk when she made the fatal shot (in other words, acted “recklessly”). The SOAH must decide by a “preponderance of evidence” (more likely than not, a lower standard than the criminal justice system’s “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard) that Lindsey violated the rules of veterinary ethics, here based on committing animal cruelty. The Texas Veterinary Board has premised its case on Texas Penal Code § 42.092 (b)(2), recklessly killing an animal “without the owner’s effective consent.” (While feral cats are included under the definition of “animal” in Texas cruelty law, the Vet Board decided to pursue only one theory of animal cruelty, that the cat was owned, possibly due to the weight of evidence identifying the victim as Tiger). TBVME Rule of Professional Conduct § 573.4 allows the Vet Board to impose sanctions when a veterinarian violates any Texas law, regardless of a criminal conviction.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund continues to support the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, and commends the TBVME Staff Attorney Michelle Griffin in particular for her tremendous job presenting the Vet Board’s case at this week’s hearing. Both parties will submit written closing arguments to SOAH in June 2016, and we expect a decision on the revocation of Kristen Lindsey’s license later this summer.
California Proposing Regulation and Mandatory Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Animal Agriculture
Posted by Chris Berry, ALDF Staff Attorney on April 27, 2016
The world received some good news last week when California’s Air Resources Board (commonly referred to as “ARB”) announced that it is proposing to create regulations to reduce methane emissions from manure at large dairy facilities in the state, and require those facilities to report their emissions to the state. Presently, animal agriculture facilities are not required to reduce or even report emissions in California even though facilities in other industries are generally required to do so. In fact, animal agriculture facilities are generally exempt from other climate change regulations around the world, meaning California may become a leader in starting to regulate the industry. Animal agriculture is responsible for 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, similar to emissions from the entire transportation sector.
The Air Resources Board is the department of California’s Environmental Protection Agency responsible for air quality. The announcement that it planned to begin regulating dairy manure management was fueled in large part by pressure from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which submitted a petition for rulemaking in October 2014 asking the agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture under California’s cap-and-trade program. We also urged the ARB to include animal agriculture under the mandatory reporting regulation for greenhouse gas emissions to promote transparency and better policymaking. We filed that petition because the need to curb animal agriculture’s significant impact on climate change was not being adequately addressed by policymakers or other public interest groups. We believe the ARB arbitrarily exempted animal agriculture from climate change regulations and reporting requirements.
Around the same time, California’s legislature passed a law compelling ARB to tackle methane emissions, presenting a perfect opportunity to push the animal agriculture issue. At first, the ARB insisted that it would simply continue incentivizing voluntary reductions in methane emissions from the dairy industry—the legal equivalent of regulating major polluters by asking them “pretty please with sugar on top?” Thanks to your support and intense criticism from the Animal Legal Defense Fund as well as other organizations, the ARB’s latest proposal is a step in the right direction. It partially satisfies our request by requiring mandatory reporting of methane emissions by dairy facilities. This data would become public record so public interest groups can monitor animal agriculture emissions.
The Air Resources Board’s proposal is part of growing recognition by environmental leaders that greenhouse gas emissions by animal agriculture are a significant component of climate change that must be addressed. During the climate change talks in Paris in December 2015, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested that people begin shifting toward a vegetarian diet to combat climate change. Around the same time in November 2015, international affairs think tank Chatham House published a startling report finding that consumption of animal products must be significantly decreased to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Although the ARB is not proposing to add animal agriculture to the cap-and-trade market, which our petition recommended, it is proposing to regulate manure emissions from mega dairy facilities by requiring better manure management. Approximately half of all greenhouse gas emissions from the dairy industry in California comes from animal manure. Mega dairy and other animal agriculture facilities usually collect excessive manure in lagoons, which causes a chemical reaction that releases methane into the atmosphere. According to the Environment Protection Agency, the comparative impact of methane on climate change is more than 25 times greater than carbon dioxide. Dairy facilities can decrease methane emissions from manure by installing special equipment that captures methane from lagoons, scraping dry or slurry manure from the facility rather than collecting it in a lagoon, or utilizing pasture-based management of cow herds.
Animal agriculture facilities also release methane through enteric fermentation, i.e. animal flatulence and related processes. The ARB unfortunately is not currently proposing to regulate this type of emission, which constitutes about half of all methane emissions from animal agriculture in the state.
There are concerns that the ARB’s regulations will not go far enough, but the Animal Legal Defense Fund will remain involved in the fight for the strongest possible regulations while doing its best to ensure protection of animals and the environment. The ARB is expected to officially adopt a plan to regulate methane in the fall of 2016.
Captive Big Cats: Now You See Them, Soon (We Hope) You Won’t
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on April 20, 2016
Late last month, the Animal Legal Defense Fund partnered with Keepers of the Wild, a big cat sanctuary in Arizona, to formally urge Las Vegas magician Dirk Arthur to retire the big cats used in his Wild Magic show. In a letter, ALDF reiterated its offer “to help rehome these cats and ensure that they have the retirement they deserve after years of performing.” With SeaWorld’s recent announcement of its intention to discontinue using captive orcas in its shows, and alongside the imminent final use of elephants in Ringling Brothers’ circuses, now would seem a fine time for Mr. Arthur to transition to cat-less magic.
Another prominent Las Vegas magician, Rick Thomas, made the decision to retire his six tigers more than three years ago. After two decades working with tigers he had personally raised and trained, he elected to send them “out to pasture” at Keepers of the Wild’s sanctuary on Route 66 in Arizona, telling the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “They are an exotic animal. They are trained, never tamed. I wanted to give the tigers what I feel is a better life.”
Discussing the foolishness of using tigers in entertainment must include mention of the horrific injuries suffered by Roy Horn of Siegfried & Roy when a 600-pound tiger, later described by Horn as “a great cat” and used in the duo’s final reunion show, dragged him offstage resulting in Horn’s partial, sustained paralysis. The show’s 267 cast and crew members were laid off almost immediately, and the show never returned.
With all of this in mind, one would think that the practice of profiting from putting big cats in close proximity with human beings might not need any further nudging offstage. Don’t be deceived.
In the state of Kansas, the legislature was considering the removal of significant protections for animals and people in such situations. In 2005, 17-year-old Haley Hildebrand was killed by a tiger at a roadside zoo while being photographed with the animal. In response, Kansas passed “Haley’s Law” and became one of the first states to outlaw exhibitors from promoting photo opportunities and other dangerous public contact with tigers and similarly dangerous animals. But this bill would allow roadside zoos and other unscrupulous exhibitors to charge people to, for instance, take selfies while bottle feeding tiger cubs—a practice that’s been outlawed in Kansas for the past decade. Luckily this bill was stricken from the agenda, and we’ll keep a close eye on Kansas in case they try to introduce the bill.
Such public contact sessions with big cats are an unnecessary risk to the public and inconsistent with accepted standards of care for big cats—that’s why true sanctuaries never allow public contact with big cats, period. In the wild, tigers stay with their mothers for as long as the first three years of life, but roadside zoos often remove the cubs from their mothers almost immediately after birth to condition them to “perform” docilely. Later, when the big cats become too big to cuddle and too unmanageable for photo ops, they are too often left to languish in dreadful conditions, dumped or sold like used equipment.
Even trained professionals are at risk. Indeed, a senior keeper at Palm Beach Zoo was fatally attacked by a Malayan tiger in her care on Friday, April 15, 2016, demonstrating that there is no such thing as safe interaction with apex predators regardless of education and experience.
Every year we see more evidence that, as people learn about the realities of animals in entertainment, they progressively disapprove of the for-profit capturing, taming, training—even cuddling and bottle-feeding—of exotic animals, in any context. We’d love to wield a magic wand that would instantly end these outdated practices forever. In the absence of that, we’ll continue to employ education, litigation and legislation to help them disappear, one at a time.
Legally Brief: Neuter the Puppy Mills
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on April 5, 2016
Earlier this year, ALDF sent an undercover investigator to capture video at a puppy mill in McIntosh, New Mexico—Southern Roc Airedales—after receiving multiple complaints from the facility’s customers and visitors. The video showed deplorable conditions: uncollected feces, dirty drinking water green with algae, often frozen, all in a tragic shantytown shelter where temperatures fall below 30 degrees at night. Trash and debris litter the “breeding facility,” while dogs with dirty, matted fur visibly shiver in desolate pens. In sum, our investigator witnessed and recorded multiple, significant violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
And still, in this heartbreaking setting, perfectly indicative of the operation’s priorities and motivations, Southern Roc’s representative offered to sell our investigator an Airedale puppy for $1,000.
Sadly, the state of Southern Roc’s facility are all too typical. In fact, relative to other, larger puppy mills uncovered in the U.S., the conditions at Southern Roc’s operations are far from the worst. Contrary to common expectation, breeders in the US operate with little actual oversight or enforced regulation. Endorsements like “AKC registered” or “USDA licensed” mean next to nothing, especially about the quantity of dogs kenneled within an operation or about the quality of the care they receive after they enter the world.
While every major animal-advocacy and veterinary organization encourages adoption rather than purchase of companion animals, still more than one-fourth of dogs brought into American homes each year are purchased from breeders, most often as puppies. This represents a huge for-profit market as well as an opportunity for unscrupulous breeders to operate puppy mills with little heed for the well being of their “products.” And because puppy mills routinely churn out unhealthy, miserable dogs, their dissatisfied buyers too often end up dumping those dogs into the nation’s overcrowded shelters. The problem is egregious enough that over 100 cities and counties in the US have banned the retail sale of dogs and cats outright.
In this environment, ALDF is working to effect change on behalf of the Airedales at Southern Roc and, by extension, on behalf of all other dogs.
- In late February, using that undercover investigation video as evidence, ALDF filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) against Southern Roc and its owner, Southern Sollars, seeking enforcement of the AWA. The complaint cites Southern Roc’s lack of an AWA license, its inability to meet the minimum standards of care for a breeding facility, and customer complaints of dogs purchased with “intestinal infections, bacterial infections, hip dysplasia necessitating hip replacement, and exorbitant veterinary costs incurred to treat these ailments.”
- Also in February, ALDF filed a motion for summary judgment against the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, seeking to reinstate the stronger standards of care it stripped from the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s 2008 “Dog Law” after puppy mill operators complained about the law’s potential to drive up their cost of doing business. The “Dog Law” as originally written, requires nursing mothers and puppies to have unfettered access to outdoor exercise, but the amended law allows them to be caged continuously with only once-a-day access to an “exercise area.” And while the original law prohibits the use of wire-strand flooring, the amended law allows this notoriously painful material to be used. Mother dogs in such mills are generally bred twice a year, and they spend more than half of their lives in inadequate enclosures with painful flooring underfoot. We’re working to make sure Pennsylvania’s dogs get the protection intended by the law as written.
- In October, ALDF filed a class-action suit against Barkworks, a southern California pet store chain, alleging that the company had been orchestrating a scheme to defraud unsuspecting consumers by misrepresenting the health and origins of its puppies for sale. As with Southern Roc, Barkworks’ customers’ new puppies were falling seriously ill. Moreover, Barkworks had been telling those customers that its puppies were not from puppy mills and that they had been examined and treated by veterinarians prior to their sale. In the course of investigation, documents came to light showing that Barkworks had misrepresented known puppy mills as reputable breeders, going so far as to provide inaccurate breeder license numbers and addresses, fabricating breeding certificates, and lying outright about prior veterinary care.
ALDF’s legal experts are working every day to ensure that our nations animal protection laws are enforced and when they’re not, we take action. The passing of pet-store dog-and-cat sales bans in over 100 cities and counties nationwide suggests that, alongside us and common sense, history is on the side of stronger animal protection laws. Adoption and spay programs are gaining momentum while we’re working to ensure that laws that protect our animal companions are strong, and enforced.
Elephants in Captivity: Demanding an End to Cruel Confinement
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on March 15, 2016
Today, an Asian elephant named Lucky shuffles and sways in a zoo in San Antonio, Texas, where she has spent 53 long years. Since the death of her companion in 2013, Lucky has lived entirely alone in captivity, deprived of the reassuring touch of other elephants so fundamental to her wellbeing. While the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) requires that a female Asian elephant live with at least two Asian elephant companions, the zoo apparently plans to keep Lucky in forced solitude the rest of her life.
Appalled by this cruel confinement, in December 2015, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed a lawsuit against the San Antonio Zoo for violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA), alleging that the conditions of Lucky’s captivity have caused her psychological torment and physical injury. In late January, Judge Xavier Rodriguez of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas issued a ruling that will allow ALDF’s ESA lawsuit on behalf of Lucky to proceed, refuting the Zoo’s untenable argument that captive wildlife are not protected by the ESA.
Human beings have long celebrated the exceptional qualities of elephants—their capacity for self-awareness, empathy, and grief, their ability to communicate across vast distances, and their strong and enduring familial bonds. But it wasn’t until more recently that society began to ask important questions—questions about the effects of captivity on animals that roam up to fifty miles a day in the wild, about what goes on behind the scenes when elephants aren’t performing tricks for our amusement—and the answers, invariably involving horrific suffering, proved incompatible with our values.
As circuses and zoos have been confronted with the growing public and legal opposition to elephant captivity, the practice of exploiting these emotionally complex creatures for profit and entertainment has begun edging closer to extinction. One of the most notorious elephant profiteers, Ringling Brothers, recently announced an accelerated timeline for phasing out elephants from its shows. Originally slated for 2018, the circus recently announced its intent to phase out the elephant act in May 2016. Additionally, since 1998, 25 American zoos have either closed or announced plans to close their elephant exhibits, citing an inability to provide them with adequate care. Indeed, a study by the Seattle Times found that of the 390 elephants that died at accredited U.S. zoos in the past 50 years, the majority did so from injury or disease directly related to the conditions of their confinement.
Relief for Lucky cannot come soon enough. Like so many of her captive peers, Lucky has an abnormal gait and probable arthritis. Her best friend, Ginny, was euthanized by the Zoo in 2004 due to severe arthritis and foot infections, both common in captive elephants due to standing on hard, unnatural surfaces all day without adequate room to roam.
Fortunately, we have reason to be optimistic about Lucky’s chances in the ESA case, thanks to ALDF’s successful case against Cricket Hollow Zoo in Iowa. In early February, Judge Jon Stuart Scoles of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa issued an order agreeing with ALDF’s argument that the owners of an Iowa roadside zoo had violated the ESA by providing substandard care for their four tigers and three lemurs.
ALDF is proud to have contributed to the evolution of both the law and society’s treatment of captive elephants, and look forward to continuing to do so as advocates for Lucky—and, by extension, for every animal so cruelly confined, including:
- Lolita, a captive orca held in the smallest orca tank in North America at the Miami Seaquarium. In July 2015, ALDF and a coalition of partners brought a lawsuit against Seaquarium citing the conditions of her captivity as a violation of the ESA.
- Candy, the country’s loneliest chimpanzee who, like Lucky, has spent more than fifty years in captivity, forty of them in solitary confinement. In November 2015, ALDF filed suit against the Dixie Landin’ amusement park for isolating and neglecting Candy in violation of the ESA.
- Ricky, a female black bear held for 16 years in an undersized chain-link and concrete cage at a Pennsylvania roadside attraction, on whose behalf ALDF filed suit in December 2014. Two months later, the owner agreed to a settlement wherein Ricky would be released to live out her days in a sanctuary filled with rolling grassland in Colorado.
- Ben, a bear held at a North Carolina roadside attraction, on whose behalf ALDF filed a lawsuit in April 2012 against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), challenging its decision to renew the owners’ federal Animal Welfare Act license. The lawsuit resulted in a victory four months later when a Cumberland County District Court injunction ordered Ben released to a California sanctuary.
Elephant abusers, like most owners of captive wildlife, won’t do the right thing until the wrong thing stops being profitable. People can do their part by not patronizing those circuses and zoos that keep elephants in cruel confinement, and by supporting laws that regulate and restrict elephant captivity. When public awareness, legislative advocacy, and cutting edge litigation ultimately combine to make elephant captivity cost prohibitive, circuses and zoos will be quick to send the elephants to sanctuaries, where they may enjoy the natural habitats and lasting friendships so vital to their survival.
The 13th Successful National Animal Law Competitions
Posted by Lindsay Kadish, Guest Blogger on March 7, 2016
The Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) in collaboration with the Animal Legal Defense Fund was pleased to present the 13th annual National Animal Law Competitions (NALC) this month, hosted at Harvard Law School. This event brings students, animal law scholars and advocates, and state and federal judges together to explore a number of interesting and challenging legal issues within the field of animal law. The competition has three different components, including Appellate Moot Court, Closing Argument, and Legislative Drafting and Lobbying. Through these components, students have the opportunity to hone their written and oral advocacy skills in a quickly growing field that needs both litigators and policymakers.
Students from law schools around the country participated. We were gratified to receive feedback from all of the judges who praised the competitors’ professionalism, intelligence, and passion for the field. We at CALS were inspired by the dedication the students brought to the process, and congratulate them all on a job well done. NALC is a wonderful and unique learning experience and we are grateful to the many students, coaches, and judges who spent considerable time preparing for and participating throughout the weekend. Visit the website to see all the winners, as well as photos from the competitions. Congratulations to all!
There were many people who made this event possible, and CALS would like to extend a huge THANK YOU to:
- Animal Legal Defense Fund
- Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Program, especially Kristen Stilt, Chris Green, & Delcianna Winders
- Writers of the NALC problems: Delcianna Winders, Lora Dunn, & Chris Green
- NALC Brief graders: Russ Mead, Sonia Waisman, & Delcianna Winders
- NALC Bill & Fact Sheet graders: Lee Greenwood, Laura Hagen, & Carney Anne Nasser
- NALC Guest Judges
- Harvard SALDF student volunteers
- Harvard Law School event, AV, catering, and facilities staff
- Members of the NALC planning committee
- And, of course, the NALC 2016 competitors & coaches!
Freedom at Malheur
Posted by Stefanie Wilson, and Carter Dillard on February 9, 2016
As the last of the militia remaining in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge set up defensive perimeters and mock the FBI, their supporters around the country continue to invoke the one word most used to defend the militia’s action: Freedom.
For the militia, freedom means using the public lands at Malheur and the surrounding area for ranching, logging and mining. Theirs is the freedom to consume nature or the nonhuman world, to the exclusion of those who want to be free to restore Malheur’s natural ecosystems, the habitat of plants and animals, for all to enjoy by observing rather than destroying.
And whose freedom should win out?
The answer may lie in what Senator Frank Church of Idaho said in helping to pass the Wilderness Act of 1964, that “without wilderness this country will become a cage.” Church and other wilderness proponents saw nature as freedom from others, the self-control, ascendance and actualization Thoreau wrote of in Walden. It is freedom as the absence of other people’s influence, manifested as the nonhuman world around us, realized as a place we can go but should not change. It is the freedom environmentalists restoring wilderness, and animal rights activists liberating animals, fight for every day.
This freedom of wilderness stands opposite to the militia’s and others’ view of freedom as the ability to control and consume nature and the nonhuman world by ranching, logging, and mining, by trophy hunting the animals that live in nature, by profiting through caging and exhibiting those animals, and by promoting the “free” marketing and consumption of cruelly raised animals. This form of freedom, the “free-for-all” to do whatever one wishes to animals, nature, and the nonhuman world, ultimately fails because it results in all of us being caged. As Church feared, in a world of human influence, surrounded by the Bundy’s cattle, the empty mines, the logged forests and missing wildlife, and now degraded and quickly warming atmosphere, we are all less free.
Yes, Malheur is a struggle for freedom, but not in the way the militia’s supporters believe. What’s at stake is a truer form freedom, one that will take humans and animals out of the cage together.
Ag-Gag: Outlawing Voices Who Speak for the Voiceless
Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on February 2, 2016
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the federal agency responsible for the enforcement of laws pertaining to farming, agriculture, and food production, estimates that more than 9 billion animals will be slaughtered in the U.S. this year.
Despite increasing worldwide demand for meat and the accelerating pace of American slaughter lines, there are acknowledged staffing shortages among the USDA’s inspector corps that have existed for some time.
More than half a million people work in low-income jobs in American slaughterhouses and related facilities. Many are undocumented, and they labor with little job security in physically demanding and often dangerous conditions.
In October 2014, following years of intense lobbying by the meat industry, and in spite of opposition from citizens groups, the USDA elected to allow some poultry plant employees, rather than USDA inspectors, decide whether their products are safe for consumption. At the same time, the agency reduced the number of trained inspectors in plants nationwide.
Meanwhile numerous investigations within the animal agriculture industry have exposed a pattern and practice of animal cruelty and workplace violations. In response, and at the behest of the industry, eight states have passed laws that essentially criminalize whistleblowing and undercover activism, making it illegal to record and disseminate photographs or footage taken in agricultural operations. These are the “Ag-Gag” laws.
Agribusiness leaders want to hide the suffering of the animals they kill and of the workers who kill and butcher them. They want to hide the frantic pace of production that churns fecal matter into ground meat. They want to hide lagoons of hog offal that pollute groundwater with the insecticides, antibiotics, and vaccines used to fatten hogs, herds, and profit margins.
But ALDF is challenging the industry’s efforts to cover up its illegal activities in court, with cooperation from allied organizations in consumer rights, food safety, civil liberties, and whistleblower-protection agencies.
In 2013, ALDF led a coalition in filing the nation’s first challenge to an Ag-Gag law, representing activist Amy Meyer in a case against the state of Utah, charging that the law infringes on free-speech rights by criminalizing undercover investigations. Meyer, who had videotaped the operations at Dale Smith Meatpacking Company from the roadside, was the first person in the nation to be prosecuted under an Ag-Gag law, although the charges were dropped after a public outcry. In August 2014, despite a motion from the state to dismiss the case, the court allowed the lawsuit to move forward.
Last August, in another lawsuit brought by ALDF and a coalition of public interest organizations, including PETA, the Center for Food Safety, and the ACLU, a federal district court in Idaho struck down the state’s Ag-Gag law as unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Drafted by the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, the law made it a criminal offense to document animal welfare, worker safety, and food safety violations at any “agricultural production facility,” thus “gagging” speech that is critical of industrial agriculture. The statute defines “agricultural production facility” so broadly that it applies not only to factory farms and slaughterhouses, but also to public parks, restaurants, nursing homes, grocery stores, pet stores, and virtually every public accommodation and private residence.
In Wyoming, ALDF represented environmentalists in challenging two state laws criminalizing any individual who enters private or public open land without permission to collect what the state defines as resource data—including pictures of noxious weeds, samples of polluted water, videos of injured animals, or notes on the landscape—and then communicates that data to a federal or state agency.
Most recently, ALDF and a coalition of allied organizations filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a new North Carolina law that allows for civil suits against whistleblowers who seek to reveal wrongdoing at any workplace. That law, effective January 1, prohibits investigations not only in agricultural settings, but also in any private business, including hospitals, elder care facilities, veteran care facilities, and schools. The New York Times endorsed the lawsuit, writing that “[t]he secrecy promoted by ag-gag laws should have no place in American society.”
Nonetheless, big agribusiness knows that interest continues to grow among the American public in where its food comes from, who’s producing it, and how it’s being produced. In North Carolina, a state with an economy heavily dependent on hog production, 74 percent of voters “support undercover investigations by animal welfare groups on farms,” according to a May 2015 poll. In Idaho, an October 2015 poll found 53 percent of respondents agreed with the federal judge’s overturning of that state’s Ag-Gag law, while less than a third opposed his ruling.
Though not to be taken lightly, we see such laws as examples of the desperation increasingly felt by industries that rely on cruelty and neglect to thrive. With so much to hide, corporate meat producers feel forced to firewall their practices from government inspectors, from their own customers, and from the American public. No Ag-Gag law is immune from challenge.
This Land is Our Land – Not Militant Ranchers’
Posted by Stefanie Wilson, ALDF Litigation Fellow on February 1, 2016
On January 2nd, a group of self-styled “militiamen” occupied a federal building in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon to protest on behalf of two ranchers who were recently ordered to serve out prison terms after a jury of their peers convicted them of arson on federal lands. By now, most know that the Ammon Bundy and Co. destroyed cattle fencing that protected the refuge and the wildlife within from grazing cattle, drove tractors around and upon sacred Tribal sites, and engaged law enforcement in a fatal firefight. The full consequences of their month-long occupation of the refuge remains to be seen, as of this posting, a handful of holdouts remain. The refuge has been closed throughout and will remain so until further notice.
To be sure, citizens have the right to peacefully protest what they view to be unfair convictions and sentencing. But the driving force behind these protests is unfortunately misguided and far more disturbing. The militia were led by Ammon Bundy, the son of Clive Bundy – who owes $1 million to taxpayers for unpaid grazing fees. The Bundy’s are poster children for a political movement that advocates armed resistance against federal control over public lands.
Only there’s a fairly sizeable wrinkle in their ideology: that land that they wish to exert control over and use for their own commercial benefit is held in public trust for all of the American people.
The protection that the public trust was intended to provide to our natural resources has largely failed – in no small part because public lands ranchers like Clive and Ammon Bundy are a vocal and politically powerful minority. They produce less than 3 percent of American beef, yet they have access to approximately 24 percent[i] of land in this country for their own private financial gain, while taxpayers foot the bill.
As a result of this, much of the public lands in the American West is basically a taxpayer-subsidized gestation and feeding facility for a relatively small subsector of the beef industry.
Public lands grazing occurs on an estimated 229 to 260 million acres, approximately 85 percent of all of the lands managed by the federal government. Under the dubious guise of protecting livestock, the USDA’s Wildlife Services spends $8 million to kill more than 94,000 native wildlife such as coyotes and wolves each year – keystone species in these fragile ecosystems. Public lands grazing is also the driving force behind cruel and inhumane coyote killing contests – such as the one that ALDF successfully shut down in Burns, Oregon, where the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is located – as well as the cruel wild horse round-ups conducted by federal land management agencies (see ALDF’s in-depth coverage and what we’ve done about it).
Conservation biologists have long warned that livestock grazing is the “most insidious and pervasive threat to biodiversity on rangelands.”[ii] More than 175 plant and animal species are threatened by the effects of livestock grazing on public lands and it has contributed to the decline of almost one quarter of federally listed threatened and endangered species.
It’s no accident or coincidence that Bundy’s militia chose to occupy a wildlife refuge. By attacking the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, they have publicly admitted who (and what) they are really at war with: the wilderness and nature that belongs to all Americans and to future generations.
[i] Calculated from the 28% of lands owned by the federal government, and the 85% of that land permitted for grazing.
[ii] Reed F. Noss and Allen Cooperrider, Saving Nature’s Legacy 230 (1994).
Major Settlement in Case of Dog Shooting by Colorado Officer
Posted by Lora Dunn, ALDF Staff Attorney on January 26, 2016
On January 25, the owner of a therapy dog named Chloe who was shot and killed by a Colorado police officer in 2012 reached a landmark settlement over Chloe’s unlawful killing. Commerce City agreed to pay $262,500 to Gary Branson and his family, according to media reports. Officers were allegedly responding to a call about a dog running loose in the neighborhood on November 24, 2012 when they tried unsuccessfully to use a catchpole and a Taser to capture Chloe while her owner was out of town. Officer Robert Price shot Chloe five times at close range, and neighbors videotaped the incident. The officer was charged but acquitted of criminal aggravated animal cruelty in 2013, and the Branson family filed a federal civil suit against Commerce City alleging a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 violation for unlawful deprivation of their property for Chloe’s death.
This settlement is another victory for pet owners in a legal system that categorizes animals as property, a classification that seems like an odd fit when we’re talking about sentient beings. Yet the law does recognize that animals are inherently different from other property—you could smash a table to pieces or light your car on fire without legal ramifications, but doing the same to a dog triggers serious cruelty violations (all 50 states now have felony cruelty laws on the books). Beyond the criminal realm, in cases where animals are wrongfully killed, more courts are recognizing animals’ intrinsic value by awarding damages that exceed the sheer market value of the animal.
The shooting of dogs by police officers is a systemic issue nationwide, with the Department of Justice estimating that about 10,000 dogs are shot by cops every year in the United States. The documentary Of Dogs and Men, which was produced in association with ALDF and premiered at the Austin Film Festival in November 2015, examines this important issue by tracing the stories of families and their victim dogs and interviewing law enforcement. The film includes the story of Chloe from the Commerce City case, and an interview with owner Gary Branson.
While the Branson case may be among one of the larger settlements of its kind in a § 1983 case, it is by no means the largest: In 2012, a Maryland jury awarded $620,000 in a case where two sheriff’s deputies shot a chocolate Labrador named Brandi when they entered the dog owner’s home while attempting to serve a body attachment (similar to a warrant). The jury’s award was later reduced by the appellate court to just over $200,000. Brooks v. Jenkins, 220 Md. App. 444 (2014). In an earlier case, the worst possible plaintiffs (the Hells Angels) extracted more than $900,000 in damages after San Jose officers shot three dogs during the execution of search warrants at multiple locations.
The good news is that awareness is growing that a lack of police training on animal encounters is the root of the problem, and police departments are taking action to change the statistics. More and more departments are adding animal-specific training to their rosters thanks to the work of organizations like the National Sheriff’s Association and the International Chiefs of Police. Further, the Colorado and Texas legislatures have enacted mandated officer training as well.
What should you do if you witness a dog being injured or killed by law enforcement? Visit our resources on “Dogs Shot by Cops: Companion Animals and Law Enforcement” and find out more.