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Meet the Animals You’re Protecting Through Our Stop the Hunt Campaign!
Posted by on March 9, 2018
Stop the Hunt aims to end canned hunting and trophy hunting in the United States and across the world. Our Canned Hunt Permit Tracker lists permit applications submitted by canned hunting operations (also called “hunting ranches”). These operations profit off the importation or breeding of exotic and endangered animals by charging people money to kill them for sport. Our Stop the Hunt page also fights back against trophy hunting by opposing import permits. Every year, Americans travel to foreign countries to kill endangered animals and then apply for a permit to import the “trophies” (the bodies of the dead animals) back into the United States. Like canned hunting operations in the U.S., this practice does nothing to benefit animals.
You’re probably familiar with some of the animals killed by sport hunters such as zebras or lions. But there are a few other species routinely exploited by the trophy hunting industry that are not as well known. These animals are just as deserving of our protection. Read on to learn more about barasingha, red lechwe, Eld’s deer, bontebok, and the Arabian oryx.
Barasingha deer are gentle animals also known as swamp deer. Compared to their American counterparts, the white-tailed deer, they are quite hefty with mala barasingha weighing up to 600 pounds. Barasingha are herbivores, eating primarily grass, leaves, and aquatic vegetation. They live in large social groups numbering from 8 to 20 individuals. The male barasingha is known for his stunning antlers. The name “barasingha” comes from a Hindu word meaning “twelve-tined,” referring to the male’s voluminous, crown-like antlers.
Native to India and Nepal, they are frequently farmed (bred to be killed) by canned hunting operations across the United States. Sadly, their distinctive antlers make them targets of sport hunters for whom killing a stag with many antler points is something to boast about. Barasingha are classified as endangered, fewer than 5000 animals exist in the wild today.
Red lechwe are a species of antelope that live in Southern Africa. They love to spend time in the water and are well adapted to marshy areas. Red lechwe can run very quickly in knee-deep water because their fur is coated in a greasy substance that acts as a natural water-repellent. Their splayed and elongated hooves are well-designed to move easily through wet or muddy earth. However, on firmer ground, they have difficulty moving quickly. Red lechwe live in huge, single sex herds, numbering thousands of members. Male red lechwe have beautiful, distinctive antlers that resemble long spirals. Though they are classified as a threatened species, red lechwe are bred to be killed by sport hunters who pay thousands of dollars for the opportunity to hunt them in the United States.
Eld’s deer, also known as brow-antlered deer, are an endangered species from Southeast Asia. In their native home, Eld’s deer are threatened by hunters (both for bushmeat and for use in traditional medicines) and habitat loss. Eld’s deer are agile, graceful animals with long, thin legs. They are known for their curving antlers that extend nearly 40 inches long. Eld’s Deer are herbivores, eating mainly grass, fruits, and plants though they also enjoy farmed crops like rice and peas, if available. Females tend to live in small groups with their fawns while males are solitary.
The bontebok is an endangered antelope primarily found in South Africa. The bontebok is easily identified by her deep chocolate coat with a white stripe extending down the front of her face. Unlike many other species, both male (rams) and female (ewes) bontebok have ring-shaped horns that grow up to 18 inches. Though they are antelopes, the bontebok is not very good at jumping. Surprisingly, they are skilled at crawling underneath objects instead. Once abundant, hunting drove the species close to extinction. Today, bontebok are extensively farmed by canned hunting operations. The vast majority of bontebok live on these private farms instead of the wild. In other words, most of the bontebok alive today are bred to die.
Though the Arabian Oryx is sometimes called the Arabian unicorn, they are actually a type of antelope found in Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Arabian Oryx live in desert regions and thrive in harsh habitats with little water and humidity. Their bodies are perfectly designed to survive hot, dry conditions. Their white fur reflects the sun, and their splayed hooves are well-adapted to walking on sand. Black spots around their eyes act as permanent “sunglasses.” In 1972, there were only six wild Arabian Oryx left due to rampant hunting. Though still endangered 45 years later, there are roughly 1000 Arabian Oryx in the wild thanks to conservation efforts. Despite their fragile existence, like the other animals in this list, Arabian Oryx are imported, bred, and hunted for sport at ranches in the United States.
We continually update our Stop the Hunt webpage with new canned hunting operation applications so that advocates can join us in telling the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that canned hunting doesn’t benefit endangered species and should be denied under the Endangered Species Act.
Keep the USDA Transparent and Accountable
Posted by on March 6, 2018
The USDA is charged with ensuring the millions of animals in roadside zoos, puppy mills, and research labs across the country receive the basic care required by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Despite this mandate, the USDA fails year after year to fulfill its duty.
Now the USDA proposes action that could dramatically reduce government oversight of facilities like puppy mills. Under the proposal, USDA would decrease inspections at facilities that obtain certifications from industry groups (in other words an organization that represents the interests of roadside zoos could “certify” roadside zoos). These industries profit from abuse and will not be accountable to the public or the animals.
Click here to go to the regulations.gov page and submit a comment to the USDA urging it to reject self-policing. We’ve provided a sample to help you compose your message. But comments should be in your own words. So please take a few minutes to explain why you care about this issue before submitting.
“As a taxpayer, I expect our government agencies to enforce the law. I strongly object to the USDA’s proposed plan to decrease Animal Welfare Act (AWA) inspections in deference to industry groups – allowing entities like roadside zoos, puppy mills, and research labs to largely police themselves. To ensure transparency and accountability, Animal Welfare Act licensees must be regularly inspected by USDA officials.”
We are holding the USDA accountable – thanks to an Animal Legal Defense Fund lawsuit, a court recently ruled that the USDA can no longer automatically rubberstamp license renewals for facilities it knows frequently violate the AWA.
Urge Florida Senators to Say “No” to Puppy Mills
Posted by on March 1, 2018
UPDATE: Great news! Thanks to you and other compassionate Florida residents, cities and counties in Florida will continue to have the ability to pass laws prohibiting the sale of puppies and kittens in pet stores. The dangerous language in the tax bill, HB 7087, was removed prior to the bill becoming final.
Dozens of Florida cities and counties have enacted laws prohibiting the sale of companion animals in pet stores. Because virtually all puppies sold in stores come from puppy mills, these laws are a powerful way to take a stand against this cruel industry.
Pet stores that sell puppies know that public sentiment is turning against them, and they’re desperate to protect their profits. Language snuck into H.B. 7087, a tax bill, would strip Florida cities and counties of the ability to ban the sale of puppies in pet stores, and would void the existing bans in municipalities across the state.
Please take a few minutes today to call your senator and politely urge him or her to reject this language in H.B. 7087. You can find your senator and his or her contact information by clicking here.
Here’s a sample message to share with your senator:
“I am ____ (name of legislator)’s constituent. I care deeply about shutting down puppy mills, and the vast majority of dogs sold in pet stores come from puppy mills. I urge you to reject the language in H.B. 7087 that would preempt Florida municipalities from passing laws that prohibit the sale of puppies in pet stores and void the bans already effect in 58 municipalities across the state”
Iowa: Protect Egg-laying Hens in Iowa
Posted by on February 20, 2018
A dangerous bill in the Iowa legislature would force grocery stores to sell eggs from caged chickens. Many people don’t support the cruel treatment of farmed animals. As a result, many major food retailers, including Walmart and McDonald’s, have agreed to phase out the use of eggs from hens kept in battery cages – wire cages so small that hens can’t even stand up. Battery cages can hold up to 11 hens, leaving each bird less space than a sheet of printer paper.
Instead of respecting consumers’ wishes, the factory farm industry is pushing a bill that makes it illegal for grocery chains to sell exclusively cage-free eggs. We need your help to defeat this ridiculous proposal. Please take a few minutes to make a quick call to your legislators. You can find your legislators by clicking here.
A sample message: “I am _____ (name of legislator)’s constituent. I urge you to oppose House Study Bill 623 and SF 2242. The legislature should not force stores to sell products that consumers don’t want – products that are cruel, threaten human health, and hurt Iowa’s family farmers.”
Thank you for taking the time to speak out for Iowa’s farmed animals.
Take Action: Protect Louisiana’s Wild Horses
Posted by on February 15, 2018
The Army plans to remove the roughly 700 wild horses living in Louisiana’s historic Fort Polk and Kisatchie National Forest areas. These horses have lived there for decades, long before Fort Polk existed. We’re worried that the removal ultimately will end in the slaughter of most, if not all, of these horses.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is assisting a coalition of animal advocates that sued the Army over its planned eviction of the horses in 2016. Recently, the Army has taken steps to begin removal regardless of pending litigation. To protect the horses while the lawsuit proceeds, advocates filed a motion for a preliminary injunction asking the court to stop the Army’s removal plans.
But the decision makers need to hear from you too. Please send a short message to key officials, including Louisiana legislators, and urge them to intervene on behalf of Fort Polk’s wild horses.
Wild horses are part of the fabric of our country and should be protected.
Switzerland Bans Practice of Boiling Lobsters Alive Without Stunning First
Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on February 13, 2018
Citing research that suggests they feel pain, the Swiss government has passed a groundbreaking law banning the common practice of dropping lobsters and other crustaceans into boiling water without stunning the animals first. As of March 1, 2018, they will have to be stunned either by electric shock or mechanical destruction of the brain before being cooked alive. The new legislation also bans transporting or stocking live crustaceans on ice or ice water on the basis that the practice is inhumane, again citing evidence that these animals feel pain and can suffer, mandating instead that the animals should “always be held in their natural environment” (i.e. saltwater).
A spokesperson for the Swiss government told the Washington Post that the new law was driven by “the animal rights argument,” and that they initially put forth a motion to ban all lobster imports to the country, but the federal government “thought this measure was not applicable due to international trading laws.” So they decided to amend the existing law to improve “the animal protection aspect.”
The treatment of lobsters and other crustaceans is beginning to come under greater scrutiny due to mounting evidence that they likely feel pain and have the capacity to suffer. In June 2017, Italy’s highest court banned keeping lobsters on ice before killing them, ruling that it causes unjustifiable suffering, but stopped short of prohibiting the practice of boiling them alive. Echoing the status quo in the U.S. when it comes to farmed animals, the Italian court ruled the latter practice was legal because it is “common.”
And in February 2017, a Sydney, Australia, seafood store was convicted of animal cruelty for its inhumane treatment of lobsters. In both the U.S. and Australia, no matter how horrendously they are treated, it is rare for criminal cruelty charges to be brought in cases involving animals who are considered “food.” This is especially true when those animals are non-vertebrates, making this case particularly notable.
In the U.S. and elsewhere, the law typically provides scant protection to lobsters and other crustaceans. Whether they are covered under state animal cruelty laws often depends on how the specific legislation defines the term “animal,” as well as any exemptions or other limiting language as to animals raised and used for food (including “common” or “accepted” industry practices). Even if crustaceans are not expressly excluded from the applicable statute, it is highly unlikely a prosecutor would pursue cruelty charges involving a lobster or crab due to societal norms.
A 2013 People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) undercover investigation into cruelty at a Maine lobster plant is illustrative. Video revealed lobsters and crabs being ripped apart while alive and fully conscious, and the organization filed a complaint requesting the owner of the facility be investigated for possible violations of the state’s criminal animal cruelty statute. Although Maine’s animal cruelty statute covers “every living, sentient creature” besides human beings, the district attorney declined to pursue charges, asserting “it is far from clear that the Legislature intended to include lobsters and crabs within this definition…the opposite intention is more likely.”
Switzerland’s new legislation reflects a growing awareness of the cognitive and neurological capacities of aquatic animals. Although these animals have in the past proven difficult to study due to their different anatomies – lobsters and other crustaceans lack the brain structure typically associated with pain sensation – scientists are starting to realize comparing their brains to ours has inherent limitations that can obscure our understanding of the animals’ ability to suffer.
According to NBC News, reporting on studies conducted by biologist Robert Elwood, whose research was used as a basis for Switzerland’s new law:
In the past, some scientists reasoned that since pain and stress are associated with the neocortex in humans, all creatures must have this brain structure in order to experience such feelings. More recent studies, however, suggest that crustacean brains and nervous systems are configured differently. For example, fish, lobsters and octopi all have vision, Elwood said, despite lacking a visual cortex, which allows humans to see.
A 2009 paper on which Elwood was lead author, “Pain and stress in crustaceans?” considered evidence that crustaceans might feel pain and stress in a manner similar to vertebrates, concluding that:
…there is considerable similarity of function, although different systems are used, and thus there might be a similar experience in terms of suffering. The treatment of these animals in the food industry and elsewhere might thus pose welfare problems.
Some of the arguments made in the paper were summarized by NBC News:
For one thing…crustaceans possess ‘a suitable central nervous system and receptors.’ They learn to avoid a negative stimulus after a potentially painful experience. They also engage in protective reactions, such as limping and rubbing, after being hurt. Physiological changes, including release of adrenal-like hormones, also occur when pain or stress is suspected. And the animals make future decisions based on past likely painful events. If crabs are given medicine — anesthetics or analgesics — they appear to feel relieved, showing fewer responses to negative stimuli. And finally, the researchers wrote, crustaceans possess ‘high cognitive ability and sentience.’
A more recent study, conducted by Elwood and co-author Barry Magee -showed that a close relative of the crab species commonly used for food responds to electric shocks and then goes on to avoid them. The study found that: “These data, and those of other recent experiments, are consistent with key criteria for pain experience and are broadly similar to those from vertebrate studies.”
As reported by the BBC, the scientists concluded: “the findings suggest the food and aquaculture industry should rethink how it treats these animals.”
Biological anthropologist Barbara King, author of “Personalities on the Plate: The Lives and Minds of Animals We Eat,” summed up the concerns of many scientists and animal advocates when she told the Washington Post there is a long history of underestimating animal pain. Although she is convinced lobsters can feel pain, she added:
“Whether we know or don’t know, it’s our ethical responsibility to give them the benefit of the doubt and not put them into boiling water.” King said there are debates about whether people should eat lobsters at all, “so in my view, it’s a pretty low bar to make sure that if we do eat them, we don’t torture them first.”
Indeed, the Swiss government seemed intent to give crustaceans the benefit of the doubt, issuing the following statement: “it must be assumed that these animals are sentient and therefore must not be allowed to suffer unnecessarily” [emphasis added].
Science can be an important tool to preventing animal cruelty by providing evidence for animals’ ability to feel pain and pleasure, which will hopefully be used to inform and improve our laws. Switzerland has set an example by reforming its animal protection laws to conform to current scientific findings about animals’ capacities to feel pain and suffer.
- Weintraub, Karen. “The Swiss Consider the Lobster. It Feels Pain, They Decide.” New York Times. January 12, 2018.
- Agence France-Presse. “Switzerland rules lobsters must be stunned before boiling.” The Guardian. January 10, 2018.
- Morelle, Rebecca. “Further evidence crabs and other crustaceans feel pain.” BBC World Service. January 17, 2013.
- Viegas, Jennifer. “Lobsters and crabs feel pain, new study shows.” NBC News. March 27, 2009.
- Levenda, Kelly (2013). “Legislation to Protect the Welfare of Fish.” Animal Law. Vol. 20. P. 119.
- Aquatic Animal Law Initiative, a project of the Animal Law Clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School and the Center for Animal Law Studies, in collaboration with the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
Defending California’s Horses
Posted by on February 8, 2018
Wild horses have lived in Devil’s Garden Plateau in California’s Modoc National Forest for over 140 years. Devil’s Garden is a federally protected wild horse territory, meaning the horses within it are granted special protections. These protections stretch back nearly 50 years. In 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. As the title suggests, the law mandated the protection of wild free-roaming horses and burros, noting they are “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.” Despite this sentiment, wild horses have fallen under repeated attack.
2017 – A Legal Victory for Devil’s Garden Horses
In 2012, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) significantly reduced the size of the Devil’s Garden territory, leaving many horses unprotected from roundups. Wild horse roundups are dangerous and sometimes fatal. The horses are forced into corrals using helicopters, breaking up families. After the horses are collected, they are sent to a facility where many are sold for slaughter in other countries. In 2016, more than 200 Devil’s Garden horses were permanently removed from the range in a roundup. The Animal Legal Defense Fund challenged the USDA’s decision to reduce the Devil’s Garden territory, and filed a lawsuit on behalf of the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), Return to Freedom, and a wild horse advocate. In August 2017, the court ruled in our favor.
Back in Court
Despite their long residence in Modoc National Forest, the federally protected horses that live here are in danger again. Livestock owners filed a separate lawsuit in the Eastern District of California to force the Forest Service (an agency within the USDA) to permanently remove any so-called “excess” wild horses in Devil’s Garden. Why do they want these horses gone? Ranchers claim that the wild horses compete with the cows and sheep they are raising for food for resources like land and water. Unsurprisingly, agricultural companies that raise animals for food often contend that their interests trump the interests of wildlife and conservation.
This week, the Animal Legal Defense Fund stepped in to protect our important 2017 legal victory. A coalition, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund, AWHC, and an animal advocate, represented by public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks LLP, filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit. The coalition aims to prevent a needless cull of the wild horse herd and ensure that the government does not strike any unfair deals with the agricultural company owners. As long as wild horses are threatened, the Animal Legal Defense Fund will fight to defend them.
Take Action: Oppose HR 4879/HR 3599 and Support Animal Protection
Posted by on January 31, 2018
Many critical laws protecting animals, including those regulating factory farms and preventing the sale of dog meat, are in danger. Representative Steve King (R-IA) is trying to pass HR 4879/HR 3599, the so-called “States’ Rights Elimination Act,” which would undo many of the legislative victories you’ve achieved for animal protection.
HR 4879/HR 3599 takes away your state’s ability to enact animal welfare laws protecting animals and consumers from food produced in unsafe conditions. Rep. King tried to pass similar legislation a few years ago, and animal advocates like you fought back. Congress needs to hear from you again.
Please take a few minutes to make a short, respectful phone call to your U.S. Representative and two U.S. Senators at (202) 224-3121. A sample message: “I am _____ (name of legislator)’s constituent. I am calling to ask you to oppose HR 4879/HR 3599, sponsored by Representative King, and instead support legislation that protects animals.”
To make sure your message is heard, click here to send a follow-up email message in support of states’ rights to protect animals and consumers.
Thank you for helping us protecting our state and local animal welfare laws.
Urge the USDA to Shut Down Cruel Breeding Facility
Posted by on January 24, 2018
That’s how hot the raccoon enclosure was at a fur farm in New Sharon, Iowa this past July. Raccoons, desperate to cool themselves off, lay panting on their sides, lethargic, and drooling. Over 1,000 animals, including ferrets, skunks, and raccoons, suffer in egregious conditions at Ruby Fur Farm.
Ruby Fur Farm breeds these animals to sell them as research test subjects and “unique” pets. The business has a long history of ignoring the minimal care that the Animal Welfare Act requires. In the past two years alone, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors filed 14 negative inspection reports against Ruby Fur Farm.
Recent reports documented a pattern of failure to provide veterinary care, citing an immobile skunk with green discharge coming from her face (she died two days later), a lethargic ferret covered in ticks, and a skunk with a prolapsed anus. USDA documents also reveal that the breeding facility routinely denies ferrets, skunks, and raccoons veterinary care, humane living conditions, and even clean food and water.
But the appalling conditions are only half the story. Unbelievably, the USDA has spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to buy these animals for use in USDA research facilities. While the USDA’s own inspectors issue reports detailing Animal Welfare Act violations, the USDA rewards Ruby Fur Farm with lucrative contracts.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund submitted two letters, one to the USDA urging it to revoke the farm’s license, and one to the USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) requesting that it immediately investigate the USDA’s contracts with the farm in light of the its serious Animal Welfare Act violations.
The OIG must act to address USDA’s clear misuse of taxpayer dollars to purchase sick and abused animals from Ruby Fur Farm for use in research. Further, any research done using these animals is likely invalid—introducing the uncontrolled variables of animal neglect and compromised health status into USDA studies. In other words, the USDA is wasting money, research hours, and government resources by purchasing animals from the farm.
The USDA’s contracts with the facility clearly run afoul of regulations governing federal acquisitions and contracts.
Join us in urging the USDA to revoke Ruby Fur Farm’s license, issue the maximum penalty allowable against the breeding facility for its violations, and end all procurement contracts.
Fins or Fur — How the Law Differs
Posted by on January 22, 2018
Many were horrified when they saw the brutal video of a shark who was caught and dragged behind a high speed boat that surfaced on social media in July. The three boaters laughed as the helpless and injured fish slammed against the rough water as he was dragged behind the boat by his tail.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund immediately reached out to the local law enforcement and offered our full support — and applaud the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for bringing animal cruelty charges against the three offenders.
These charges leave no doubt that the mistreatment of an aquatic animal can be taken seriously — while also raising important questions concerning these creatures’ treatment under the law.
A conservative estimate is that one trillion fish are caught and killed for food or sport in the wild each year. It is now more or less indisputable that aquatic animals like fish feel pain and suffer as other animals do but have fewer legal protections.
The federal Animal Welfare Act does not protect fish (or birds, farm animals, rats and mice bred for labs, and reptiles, among others). Fish are also not included in the Humane Slaughter Act or federal laws governing the treatment of animals used in research; not only that, but fish are not counted in the United States Department of Agriculture’s yearly report on animal usage in labs despite the fact that they make up an estimated seven percent of animals used in labs.
A number of states have language in their animal cruelty laws to exempt fishing as legally permitted (along with other “regular” animal-harming activities like hunting, biomedical research, and pest control).
As the shark case shows, though, when cruel behavior toward fish violates an animal cruelty statute and community norms, it is possible for charges to be brought.
Like other states, Florida’s animal cruelty statutes neither specifically include nor exclude fish. Fishing is such a major industry for the state that Florida prides itself as the “fishing capital of the world.” It is even legal to “harvest” some types of sharks. Fishing is regulated and overseen by the same government agency, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, that brought charges against the shark torturers.
Commission chairman Bo Rivard said in a statement, when the charges were announced in December, that the shark dragging resulted in charges because it was so shockingly cruel; so far outside the range of usual behavior toward animals. All three of the men were charged with two counts of felony aggravated animal cruelty. Two of the three face additional misdemeanor charges.
“As we’ve said since this video and other images came to light, these actions have no place in Florida, where we treasure and conserve our natural resources for everyone,” Rivard said. “It is our hope these charges will send a clear message to others that this kind of behavior involving our fish and wildlife will not be tolerated.”
While the shark case is unusual, this is not the only example of legal protection for aquatic animals. For example in early January, Nevada became the 12th state to ban the sale of shark fin soup, and other products made from sharks, or the bodies of a number of other animals. These bans are generally enacted because the way the fins are procured — by catching the sharks, cutting off their fins while the animals are alive and then throwing their bodies back into the ocean — is so unmistakably cruel, as well as for conservation reasons.
“The practice of cutting the fins off of living sharks and dumping (the carcass) back in the ocean is not only cruel, but it harms the health of our oceans,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a signing statement, when California enacted its ban in 2011.
The Center for Animal Law Studies, which is a collaboration between the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Lewis and Clark Law School, started the Aquatic Animal Law Initiative last year — a first of its kind enterprise to focus on issues relating to the legal protection of aquatic animals.
But legal protections for fish — in statute and enforcement — are as yet still unusual.
“The number of fish killed each year far exceeds the number of people who have ever existed on Earth,” writes Ferris Jabr, in a thought-provoking recent piece in Hakai Magazine. “Despite the evidence of conscious suffering in fish, they are not typically afforded the kind of legal protections given to farm animals, lab animals, and pets in many countries around the world.”
The schism makes a little more sense in the context of animal law’s evolution as a whole. We are still working within a legal system that considers animals to be mere property. Little by little that is beginning to change.
It’s happened less with aquatic animals than land based-creatures thus far, yet there have been advances in this arena, too. Here’s proof: Three men in Florida, the fishing capital of the world, are facing serious criminal charges for how they treated a shark.
URGENT: Tell the USDA to Provide Basic Protections for Farmed Animals
Posted by on January 12, 2018
Ten months ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was scheduled to implement rules that would provide basic protections for farmed animals at organic farms – like giving chickens access to the outdoors and fresh air. But after continuous delays the USDA now plans to abandon the rules entirely.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund, as part of a coalition, is submitting formal comments to the USDA opposing the withdrawal of these rules. But we need your help to show the USDA that caring consumers want basic protections for farmed animals. And we have to act now – the USDA is only accepting comments through January 17.
Many consumers mistakenly believe that animals at organic farms are treated better than animals at non-organic farms. But that’s not the case. Companies exploit this misconception by letting consumers believe that the animals are treated more humanely as part of the increased cost for products.
Use the form below to submit a comment to the USDA politely urging them to implement minimal welfare standards for animals at organic farms.
Unique comments have more impact. So please take a few minutes and add a few sentences about why you care about protecting farmed animals and consumer rights.
“I am writing to urge the USDA not to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule. As a consumer, I expect organic farms to be held to higher animal welfare standards. Without this rule, millions of consumers will be deceived by corporations hoping to exploit compassion by charging more for organic products. Please put this rule into effect immediately, and don’t prioritize corporate interests over those of farmed animals and American consumers.”
Furthering the Field of Animal Law at the Association of American Law Schools Annual Meeting
Posted by on January 10, 2018
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 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!
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: saferkindercommunities.com.
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.”
- “Dealing with Aggressive Dogs: Community Solutions That Consider Each Dog, Not Their Breed.” Animal Legal Defense Fund.
- Fortin, Jacey. Pit Bull Restrictions Lifted in Montreal as New Mayor Makes Good on Pledge. The New York Times. Dec. 23, 2017.
- “Montreal to lift controversial pit bull ban.” CBC News. Dec. 8, 2017.
- “Projet Montréal plans to act quickly to repeal ‘wrong-headed’ pit bull ban.” CBC News. Nov. 20, 2017.
- Marchand, Laura. “Projet Montréal has vowed to repeal the pit bull ban. What would happen next?” CBC News. Oct. 26, 2017.
Cold Weather Canine Victims Need Justice
Posted by on January 8, 2018
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.
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.
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
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!