Top Constitutional Law Scholar Supports the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Idaho Ag-Gag Lawsuit

Posted by on February 7, 2017

The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s campaign to defeat Ag-Gag laws—which criminalize whistleblowers who expose rampant animal suffering throughout the animal agriculture industry—is supported by constitutional law scholars at the top of their field. Perhaps none is so highly regarded as Erwin Chemerinsky, founding Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law.  National Jurist magazine recognized Dean Chemerinsky as the most influential person in legal education in both 2013 and 2016.

Dean Chemerinsky recently filed an unopposed motion to participate in the oral argument for Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Wasden, the constitutional challenge to Idaho’s Ag-Gag law, currently before the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He will argue that the Animal Legal Defense Fund has correctly construed the U.S. Constitution in its challenge to Idaho’s Ag-Gag law.

During his distinguished career, Dean Chemerinsky has written eight books, including Constitutional Law: Principles and Policies, a constitutional law treatise, and Constitutional Law, a casebook used nationwide by law students taking constitutional law courses. He has authored more than 200 law review articles and was the second most cited law professor from 2009 to 2013, being cited over 3,000 times by various academics and courts. On top of his experience in legal writing and academia, he has argued numerous important constitutional law cases before the Supreme Court of the United States.

By participating in the oral argument, Dean Chemerinsky brings an unmatched wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise in constitutional law to the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s legal positions. It cannot be denied that this is an important and well-conceived case, given Chemerinsky’s willingness to be formally involved.  In his amicus brief submitted to the district court, he argued that Idaho’s Ag-Gag law impermissibly discriminated based on free speech; thus, it violated the First and 14th Amendments. Judge Winmill, who permanently enjoined the Idaho Ag-Gag law, agreed and specifically mentioned Chemerinsky’s brief in his opinion striking down the Idaho Ag-Gag law as unconstitutional. Animal Legal Def. Fund v. Otter, 118 F. Supp. 3d 1195, 1211 (D. Idaho Aug. 3, 2015). The Animal Legal Defense Fund is confident that Chemerinsky’s perspective will also be useful to the federal court of appeals. “It is a huge boost to morale and to our general sense of the righteousness of our efforts to have Dean Chemerinsky’s help,” says Justin Marceau, the Animal Legal Defense Fund Professor of Law at the University of Denver. “Chemerinsky is an intellectual giant, almost without rival, and for those who take the Constitution seriously, his views on its meaning matter.”

The oral argument has not yet been scheduled, but is being considered for the May 2017 Seattle oral argument schedule.

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We Stand Against Senseless Cownose Ray Killing Contest in Chesapeake Bay

Posted by on January 30, 2017

ACTION ALERT: Marylanders should plan to attend the January 31 public hearing and contact their legislators, urging them to cosponsor bills HB 211 and SB 268 to ban the contests in Maryland once and for all. Click for details on how to take action.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund opposes senseless and inhumane killing contests. That goes not only for the many throughout North America targeting coyotes—but also for those targeting the gentle and vulnerable cownose ray—relatives of sharks who migrate every year from the waters off Florida to birth their young and breed anew in the Chesapeake Bay.

Using bows and arrows, participants shoot the rays from boats and afterward club the still-living fish in the head. Since the contest is held in pupping season, contestants frequently kill newborns alongside adults. Video footage of the contest shows how needless and inhumane the annual event is.

Supporters of the contest insist that killing rays benefits oysters, blaming the rays for dwindling oyster harvests. But the National Aquarium in Baltimore says the science no longer supports that theory, and rays “play a part in the ecology of the Bay, and it’s a real danger to over-harvest them.”. [1] Dr. Dean Grubbs, a research scientist at Florida State, has published research explaining that disease, overharvesting, over-sedimentation and habitat loss have caused the decline in oyster populations [2]. Indeed, Grubbs cites prior research showing that less than 3% of cownose rays examined in the Chesapeake Bay had oysters or any other hard-shelled bivalve in their stomachs.

Under its misguided “Save the Bay, Eat a Ray” campaign, the State of Virginia spent tax dollars trying to market cownose ray as food in the U.S., Europe and Asia. It failed. These rays are apparently difficult to prepare and—no joke—taste like urine. Not even the killing contestants eat them: video footage shows them dumping the rays back into the water or tossing them into dumpsters, where they slowly suffocate [3].

So if there’s nothing to gain, why the killing contests? It is mere bloodsport, purely “entertainment.”

But humanely and ecologically unjustifiable entertainment. According to researchers, cownose rays are among the most vulnerable to population pressures of all cartilaginous fish, in part because they have extremely low birth rates: females don’t pup until they’re several years old, and even then give birth to just one pup a year. That contestants kill newborns puts more pressure on this vulnerable life cycle.

Whether it’s coyotes or rays, the sad truth is that the law in most places permits these killing contests. And where the Animal Legal Defense Fund cannot bring litigation, we have to think about legislative solutions.


That’s why the Animal Legal Defense Fund joined a coalition of partners in an effort to Save the Rays. Our coalition will endorse legislation soon to be introduced by Maryland Delegate Shane Robinson and Senator Ronald Young. That legislation will ensure that no one may sponsor, conduct or participate in any contest, competition, tournament or derby with the objective of catching or killing cownose rays in state waters for prizes or other inducement, or for entertainment.

When the legislation is introduced, we’ll ask our friends in Maryland to join us in lobbying Annapolis so that rays receive the same humane treatment we seek for all animals, whether by land or by sea.

Additional reading:
• Save the Rays coalition Fact Sheet and FAQ.
Delegate Robinson’s Christmas Day op-ed in the Baltimore Sun

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Federal Judge Rules in Favor of USDA in Foie Gras Case

Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on January 27, 2017

On Dec. 14, 2016, a federal judge granted summary judgment to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a lawsuit brought by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Compassion Over Killing, Farm Sanctuary, the Animal Protection and Rescue League and three individuals to compel the agency to declare foie gras a diseased product unsuitable for human consumption, thereby removing it from the food supply. Foie gras is produced by force-feeding geese and ducks until their livers swell to be many times their normal size, creating the “fatty liver” prized by gourmands unconcerned with the animal suffering necessary to obtain this product.

The practice of force-feeding is not only cruel but also purposely induces liver disease, hepatic lipidosis, in birds victimized by the foie gras industry. Because the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) requires that diseased birds be removed from the food supply, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and others in 2007 submitted a petition for rulemaking to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)—the division of USDA charged with ensuring poultry products entering the nation’s food supply are safe, wholesome and correctly labeled—arguing that foie gras is an adulterated and diseased product that is “unsound, unhealthful, unwholesome, or otherwise unfit for human food.” 21 U.S.C. § 453(g)(3). The petition also alleged that foie gras consumption can trigger secondary amyloidosis in people with chronic inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

The FSIS denied this petition in 2009, prompting plaintiffs to file a lawsuit alleging that action was arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law. The case was dismissed in March 2013 for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed in December 2015, finding that the agency’s decision not to initiate rulemaking was reviewable under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).

Following that decision, both parties moved for summary judgment, raising three issues:

“(1) whether Plaintiffs have Article III standing; (2) whether the interests of the animal rights organizations fall within the zone of interests that the PPIA protects; and (3) whether the denial of the petition was arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law.”

On the first two points, although the individual plaintiffs were found to lack standing to sue, the animal protection groups were granted organizational standing, as explained below. On the “zone of interests” question, the USDA had argued the groups’ interests in the treatment of birds raised for foie gras did not fall within the statutory purposes of the PPIA. The judge disagreed, finding the organizational interests of the animal protection groups were broader, and did fall within the “zone of interests” protected by the PPIA.

The court also held that the animal protection groups had standing. Standing—or the right to bring a lawsuit to court—is a perennial challenge to those attempting to advocate for animals within the legal system. To clear the hurdle of standing, individuals and organizations must show they themselves have suffered an injury; because of their legal status as property, showing an animal has been injured is not enough. Organizations can assert standing under two theories: 1) in a representative capacity, where there has been an injury to one or more of its members or 2) on its own behalf, where there has been an injury to the organization itself. The animal protection groups in this case asserted only the second type of standing, and needed to show that the government’s actions frustrated their mission, and that they spent resources counteracting that frustration. The court concluded that the Animal Legal Defense Fund (and thus the other organizational co-plaintiffs) met both requirements because:

“ALDF’s mission is to prevent animal cruelty, which includes eradicating the practice of force-feeding poultry…FSIS frustrated ALDF’s mission by declining to initiate rulemaking that would ban force-fed foie gras from the food supply in the United States, which in turn would have dramatically reduced the market for force-fed poultry. This forced ALDF to continue expending resources to counteract the practice, including writing press releases and initiating letter-writing campaigns to educate the public about the danger to both human and animal health of force-feeding poultry, and filing other administrative petitions aimed at banning the practice.”

On the merits, however, the judge disagreed with the animal protection groups’ claim that the agency’s denial of their petition was arbitrary, a decision that is consistent with the broad deference typically given to agencies by the courts in cases brought under the APA. The ruling hinged on the interpretation of the science brought to bear, with the government arguing a qualitative distinction between fatty livers caused by disease and livers fattened by force-feeding, with only the former being unfit for human consumption. Plaintiffs argued this was not a scientifically valid distinction but the judge ruled he must defer to the agency’s scientific conclusions, especially if they are not completely implausible; he also found lack of sufficient evidence for plaintiffs’ claim of a connection between consumption of foie gras and onset of secondary amyloidosis.

Animal agriculture is not a gentle industry, but foie gras has come under special scrutiny for its egregiously inhumane production methods. California banned foie gras in 2004 with the passage of a law prohibiting force-feeding of birds as well as sales of products obtained from this practice. The law had an eight-year phase-in period and came into effect in 2012. In 2015, following industry attempts to overturn the ban, enforcement of the sales portion was enjoined on preemption grounds. That case is currently on appeal and oral arguments were heard in December 2016. Although foie gras can currently be sold in California, pending the appeals court decision, it still cannot be produced in the state. Foie gras production is also illegal in Australia, Argentina, Israel and several European countries, including Germany and the UK. In 2014, India became the first country to ban the import of foie gras.

Further Reading:

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New Michigan Law Empowers Animal Shelters to Deny Adoptions to Convicted Animal Abusers

Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on January 24, 2017

On Dec. 28, 2016, Michigan Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley signed into law House Bills 4353 and 4355, two of the four bills in the legislative package collectively known as “Logan’s Law.” The new amendatory acts, which passed the legislature with strong bipartisan support, allow Michigan animal shelters to deny adoptions under certain circumstances and to consider prior criminal history before adoption.

Logan was a Siberian husky victimized by an unknown assailant in 2012. The perpetrator, who was never found, threw battery acid on Logan’s face while he was sleeping in his outdoor kennel overnight. Logan lost his eyesight and suffered serious burns but seemed to be recovering with veterinary care and medication. However, six months after the attack Logan, who was 11 years old, died from complications resulting from his injuries.

To honor his memory, Logan’s human family, Matt and Nancy Falk, spearheaded the new legislation in an effort to keep animals up for adoption out of the hands of convicted animal abusers. At the end of March, animal shelters will be empowered to conduct criminal background checks on potential adopters using Michigan’s Internet Criminal History Access Tool (ICHAT), which is maintained by the Department of State Police, and can deny adoption to anyone who has been convicted of an animal abuse offense within the last five years.

Both bills amend Public Act 287 of 1969, Michigan’s law regulating pet shops, animal control facilities and animal shelters (although the new law does not apply to pet shops). The Animal Legal Defense Fund submitted testimony in support of the bills in May 2015.

Although earlier versions of the bills would have required shelters to conduct a criminal background check, and prohibited adoption of animals by individuals with recent animal cruelty convictions, the language was watered down to allow rather than require, in what Rep. Paul Muxlow, sponsor of HB 4355, called “a compromise.” HB 4355 states:

“Before allowing an individual to adopt an animal, an animal control shelter or animal protection shelter may [emphasis added] conduct a search using ICHAT to determine whether that individual has a prior criminal history for an animal abuse offense.”

And HB 4353 states:

“An animal control shelter or animal protection shelter may [emphasis added] consider an individual’s criminal history when deciding whether to allow that individual to adopt an animal. An animal control shelter or animal protection shelter may [emphasis added] choose not to allow an individual who has been convicted of an animal abuse offense to adopt an animal unless a period of at least 5 years has elapsed since the date of his or her conviction…”

Although not required by the new amendments, Michigan animal shelters will now have access to the ICHAT system to screen potential adopters for relevant criminal histories, and presumably even without it being expressly prohibited most shelter staff would choose not adopt an animal to an individual with a recent animal cruelty or neglect conviction.

Although HB 4353 and HB 4355 may not stop all potential abusers from obtaining an animal, their passage is an important first step in protecting shelter animals and ensuring they are placed in safe, loving homes. Matt Falk shared the news of the bills’ passage in December 2016 on Facebook, expressing gratitude to everyone who helped make it happen. His last thank you was for Logan: “I need to thank the one that has inspired me to take on this whole thing…. Logan! What a great dog he was. So thanks for being you Logi. You did not die in vain.”

Further Reading:

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Defend the Endangered Species Act

Posted by on January 23, 2017

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is one of the key laws we use to secure stronger protection for animals under the law. Our recent groundbreaking victory removing tigers, lions and lemurs from a deplorable roadside zoo was based on the ESA, as are several of our ongoing cases. Our mission to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system, as well as the very survival of entire animal species, depends on the continued strength of the ESA. We want to expand protections granted under this important federal law, not weaken it.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund promises to defend the ESA. Sign your name to join us.


Over the years, the ESA has faced many challenges, like attacks led by major industries that place profit over animals’ lives and habitat protection. As more and more animals are threatened, the Animal Legal Defense Fund remains committed to fighting for the Endangered Species Act.

Add your name to the petition—and show your support!

The ESA helps us protect endangered species and dramatically improves the lives of the individual animals who desperately need our help. I hope you’ll join us and make a pledge to protect this indispensable law.

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Animals in Film: Capitalizing on Suffering

Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on January 23, 2017

Amid growing public concern about the abuse of animals used in the entertainment industry comes another disturbing instance highlighting the fact that there is only one way to ensure a film production is humane: keeping animals off the set. The film A Dog’s Purpose has come under scrutiny after a video surfaced last week showing a distressed German shepherd being forced into churning water meant to simulate rapids on the set of the film. The video was widely circulated and public condemnation was swift, including calls for a boycott of the film. Amid this firestorm of negative publicity, the premiere of the film, scheduled for last weekend, has been cancelled. The film is still scheduled for nationwide release on January 27.

Ironically, films like this capitalize on the tender feelings and strong bond many movie-goers have with their dogs. Mainstream films reflect the dominant culture, and stories featuring a sympathetic dog as a main character have become more common as the status of companion animals in American society has evolved to a point where most Americans consider them family rather than property.

While the popularity of these movies capitalizes on that bond, their treatment behind the scenes reveals an uncomfortable contradiction. The law still classifies animals as property, and this disconnect allows them to be treated like props behind the screen while being idealized as family members on it. The film industry has had it both ways – profiting off audience’s love for animals while simultaneously mistreating them.

However, the tide is turning and forcing animals to perform unnatural acts for our entertainment is increasingly being rejected. Growing public scrutiny and declining profits have caused amusement industry giants like SeaWorld and Ringling Brothers to discontinue their use of animals (and in Ringling’s case, to shut down completely). Behind-the-scenes videos like this, showing a panicked dog being forced to “perform,” demonstrates that it is not only captive exotic animals who suffer in the entertainment industry. Companion animals are also subject to abuse and mistreatment.

But aren’t these animals protected, perhaps even pampered on set? Far from it. A recent PETA investigation into Birds and Animals Unlimited, a major supplier of “animal talent,” including to A Dog’s Purpose, as well as popular film and TV productions like Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and Pirates of the Caribbean, uncovered horrific conditions and overt neglect of animals in their care. As with all industries that use animals, abuse thrives in the absences of transparency and oversight. Many moviegoers assume that the animals they see on screen were free from harm because the American Humane Association (AHA) – the only industry body that certifies the humane care of animals in Screen Actors Guild films – reassuringly says so at the end of each film in which animals appear. However, the AHA’s approval has been given to many films in which animals were, indeed, harmed.

To name just two examples, in 2013, The Hollywood Reporter released an exposé revealing that “King,” a Bengal tiger used in the Oscar-winning film Life of Pi, nearly drowned during the film’s production. Yet this film still received a “No Animals Were Harmed” rating from the AHA. And in 2012, we learned that 27 animals were killed during production of The Hobbit – a film that mind-bogglingly also received AHA approval. In addition, AHA does not address the conditions in which animals forced to perform in movies live off the set, nor the training methods used to make them perform.

People are fascinated by animals and will always want to see them on film. Thanks to sophisticated modern technology, this is possible without a single animal suffering. There is simply no reason to force live animals to perform on screen when we have such rich replacements at our fingertips. For example, the wondrous and award-winning live-action film The Jungle Book (2016) – a cinematic triumph filled with amazing and lifelike animals – was filmed completely with computer-generated imagery (CGI) except for the human actor who played Mowgli.

We can hope the public relations disaster that has befallen the makers of A Dog’s Purpose serves to stoke reform in the film industry. Future producers may decide the cost of using live animals is too high when humane (and visually stunning!) alternatives are available. Opportunities abound to feature realistic awe-inspiring CGI animals in film while keeping live animals off the set. Just look at The Jungle Book. A critical and commercial success grossing over $966 million, it ably demonstrated a movie can be filled with animals yet use none in production.

Further Reading:

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Alaska Legislature Becomes First to Require Consideration of Animals’ Interests in Custody Cases

Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on January 20, 2017

With the adoption of an amendment to its divorce law, Alaska has become the first state to empower judges to take into account the “well-being of the animal” in custody disputes involving nonhuman family members. The bipartisan HB 147, which was signed by Gov. Bill Walker in October 2016 and becomes effective Jan. 17, 2017, will be the first law in the nation to expressly require courts to address the interests of companion animals when deciding how to assign ownership in divorce and dissolution proceedings. It is also the first to explicitly allow joint ownership of a companion animal.

With the new amendments in HB 147, Alaska also becomes the 32nd state to allow companion animals to be included in domestic violence protective orders, and permits a court to order that the abuser pay financial support for a pet in the care of the human victim, if that abuser has a legal obligation to care for the pet.

While the amendments regarding domestic violence protection and costs of care are important steps forward for companion animals in Alaska, the provision requiring consideration of animals’ well-being when deciding their legal ownership is groundbreaking and unique. Even though judges throughout the US can already choose, in their discretion, to consider an animal’s best interests, no other state legislature has required judges to do so when adjudicating property distribution upon the dissolution of a marriage.

To those of us who share our lives with animals, it may seem obvious that their interests should be one of the factors under consideration in custody cases. However, because animals are classified as personal property under the law, this has not typically been the case. In fact, the word “custody” is a misnomer in these cases, which are legally about “property distribution.”

Although the increase in custody battles over companion animals demonstrates their evolving social importance as family members, courts typically resolve these disputes based on one criterion: the property status of the animal. In other words, which party is the more rightful “owner” under the law? This issue can get murky when a couple has been jointly caring for an animal for years and sharing veterinary expenses, food and other custodial costs (as well as intangible “costs” like time spent with the animal), despite who may have initially paid any fees in acquiring the animal.

In custody disputes involving companion animals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund has long advocated through our amicus (or “friend of the court”) briefs for judges to take into account the interests of the animal when determining custody (as with children). Although not generally mandated by legislatures to consider an animal’s well-being or treat the animal differently from other property that must be fairly divided after a breakup, a handful of cases have acknowledged that people have a special relationship with their companion animals that sets them apart from other types of property.

Alaska’s new law codifies the inconsistently applied acknowledgement that animals are fundamentally different from other forms of property. Rep. Liz Vasquez, the bill’s sponsor, said: “Pets are truly members of our families. We care for them as more than just property. As such, the courts should grant them more consideration. It’s only natural.”

As few laws exist that bring the interests of an individual animal before the court, Alaska’s new statute represents significant progress for animals in the legal system. It remains to be seen if other states will adopt similar legislation, but Alaska has taken an important step in recognizing our evolving social relationship with companion animals, and their value beyond mere property.

Further Reading:

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2016 Highlights

Posted by Stephen Wells, Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director on January 19, 2017

Legally Brief

2016 was another busy year for the Animal Legal Defense Fund in our efforts to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. Three cases in particular highlight the importance and the broad range of our continuous work on behalf of animals.

In February, the Animal Legal Defense Fund victoriously sued Cricket Hollow Zoo, now known as Cricket Hollow Animal Park, on behalf of four tigers and three lemurs provided substandard care. This landmark victory is the first successful use of the Edangered Species Act (ESA) to obtain a court-ordered removal of animals from captivity due to substandard conditions. This case also established that isolation of social animals can be considered a violation of the ESA. Six months after our win, African Lions were granted ESA protection and we immediately filed another lawsuit on behalf of Jonwah and Njjarra–two African lions held at Cricket Hollow. We secured their release to The Wild Animal Sanctuary, where Jonwah received lifesaving veterinary care to address a critical digestive problem that had likely developed as a result of her substandard care.

In June, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the legal owner of an emaciated dog, Juno, did not have a protected privacy interest in the blood drawn, that was done as part of a routine exam evaluating Juno’s health. The Animal Legal Defense Fund had led a coalition to file an amicus brief in the case, State vs. Newcombe. In its ruling, the Court recognized animals’ unique nature: while legally considered property, they are “sentient beings capable of experiencing pain, stress and fear,” according to legislation that we helped enact in 2013. As explained in the ruling:

“Oregon law prohibits humans from treating animals in ways that humans are free to treat other forms of property … A person can be as cruel or abusive as she wants to her own stereo or folder, and can neglect the maintenance of a car to the point where it will not operate, without legal consequence. The same is not true of an animal that a person owns or has custody of or control over.”

In September, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s “derivative contraband” strategy to prevent the forced return of seized animals to neglectful guardians. Luke, a pit bull puppy, was seized by law enforcement after suffering a shattered shoulder allegedly at the hands of his legal owner, who was charged with animal cruelty. At trial, the acquitted owner demanded that the state return Luke. We worked with the prosecutor to develop the unique legal argument that ultimately succeeded in preventing Luke’s return to a neglectful environment.

These victories changed life for individual animals, and will impact so many others in the future. Ultimately, none of this could have happened without the steadfast support of our members. As the new year opens, we are already finding new opportunities to achieve legal victories for animals, and we look forward to having you by our side along the way.

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Why I applied to law school instead of veterinary school

Posted by Kelly Levenda, Student Programs Attorney on January 17, 2017

kelly-150During the first week of December, Animal Legal Defense Fund founder Joyce Tischler presented the History of Animal Law at Harvard Law School. She discussed her path to founding the Animal Legal Defense Fund and its early cases, legal theories and victories. These included halting a U.S. Navy plan to kill more than 5,000 wild burros, bringing four Animal Welfare Act lawsuits to protect animals used in experimentation and the first legal challenges of cruel agricultural practices, like force feeding ducks to create foie gras and iron deprivation and confinement of calves who are slaughtered for veal. I heard Joyce give a similar talk eight years ago at the University of Chicago Law School, and it was a turning point for me.

I had just received my undergraduate degree in pre-veterinary animal science from one of the top agricultural science schools, but I did not apply to veterinary school as I had originally planned. During my undergraduate studies, my eyes were opened to the cruelties that animals suffer when they are farmed. This includes having their bodies modified (such as removing their testicles, tails, horns or parts of beaks) without painkillers, being kept in intensive confinement where they cannot turn around, extend their wings or lie down comfortably and calves being taken away from their mothers shortly after birth. After witnessing some of these injustices firsthand as part of my degree, I could no longer stomach veterinary school, and was committed to spending my life fighting to protect animals a different way.


During my last semester of college, I came across the Animal Legal Defense Fund website. I was thrilled at the idea of using the law to advocate for and protect animals. I saw that Joyce Tischler was speaking on the history of animal law a few weeks later. Hearing this talk was what inspired me to apply to law school to study animal law. I took advantage of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s resources and opportunities for students. I was able to receive an Advancement of Animal Law Scholarship, clerk and complete a fellowship for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, attend the Animal Law Conference and obtain Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) project grants so that the chapter I was leading could hold events. Now I’m an attorney at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and I manage the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund program. I am fortunate to be able to assist the future attorneys, legislators and judges who will be influential in changing the law to better protect animals.

Are you thinking of attending law school and want to help animals? Check out our resources to guide you:

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Live Animal Mascots: A Tradition of Exploitation, Not Conservation

Posted by Stephen Wells, Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director on January 13, 2017

Legally Brief

Since 1936, Louisiana State University has kept a series of live tigers as mascots, all named Mike. The most recent tiger, Mike VI, was euthanized in October after a four-month battle with cancer. LSU also promotes Mike as a tourist attraction, and has already begun searching for Mike VII.

blog_tigermascotAll tigers are classified as endangered species. They need meaningful conservation, not exploitation for entertainment. LSU’s archaic tradition should be laid to rest, rather than perpetuating America’s tiger surplus by helping a commercial breeder stay in business just for the sake of obtaining a live mascot for use as an entertainment prop.

In 2007, LSU acquired Mike VI from an Indiana breeder-dealer whose federal license to exhibit and deal animals was permanently revoked in 2010 when federal officials found dozens of serious violations of the minimum standards of care prescribed by the federal Animal Welfare Act. Mike VI, like most tigers in America, was a “generic tiger,” meaning he was intentionally cross-bred—a practice embraced by many unscrupulous exhibitors around the country that took advantage of a since-closed legal loophole to skirt U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service protection and regulation.

The university’s athletics website proudly describes what a typical Saturday afternoon for the LSU mascot has been like:

Mike’s ride through Tiger Stadium before home games in a travel trailer topped by the LSU cheerleaders is a school tradition. Before entering the stadium, his cage on wheels is parked next to the opponent’s locker room … Opposing players must make their way past Mike’s cage to reach their locker room.

These tigers have spent their lives in captivity just to be an accessory to the sports season.

LSU’s site also recalls a day from the life of Mike IV:

Pranksters cut the locks on Mike IV’s cage and freed him in the early-morning hours. Mike roamed free…before being trapped in the Bernie Moore Track Stadium where veterinarian Dr. Sheldon Bivin used tranquilizer guns to capture and return the Bengal Tiger to his home.

These are the stories about Mike’s captivity that the university is eager to advertise.

Studies show that people who see exotic animals forced to live in artificial settings not only learn nothing at all about the species, but also walk away with reduced interest in legitimate conservation efforts.

We strongly encourage LSU, and every university with a live animal mascot, to only utilize costumed human mascots—who are more entertaining, less likely to pose a threat, and do not require subjecting apex predators to lives of deprivation of their complex needs. Southern University in Baton Rouge has elected to use only human mascots since its last live mascot, a jaguar named Lacumba, was found dead in the cage in which she was confined in 2004.

Keeping a live animal mascot—especially an endangered species—has everything to do with catering to the whims of fans and boosters, and nothing to do with legitimate conservation. Any 21st-century institution of higher learning should know better than to condone and actively participate in the commercial trade and exploitation of exotic animals. We’ve learned from history time and again that “tradition” is not a sufficient reason to continue exploitative practices. The time has come for LSU to turn away from a tradition of exploitation, and to contribute to legitimate tiger conservation.

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Animal Law at the 111th Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Annual Meeting

Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on January 12, 2017

The Animal Legal Defense Fund attended the 111th Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Annual Meeting in San Francisco, Jan. 4-7, 2016, where “thousands of law faculty, deans, administrators, and scholars gather each year to connect and collaborate with colleagues, discuss critical and emerging legal issues, and attend programs focused on fresh perspectives on law and legal education.” Under the theme “Why Law Matters,” the conference featured over 250 sessions on varied topics, including animal law.


At our booth in the exhibit hall we connected with the legal community and shared information about the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s academic resources with law professors interested in teaching animal law, career services counselors whose students are curious about opportunities in the field, and anyone with an interest in protecting animals.

We hosted our 10th Annual Animal Law Reception at AALS on Friday evening, which gave conference attendees and local law professionals an opportunity to mingle with colleagues from the animal law community, meet Animal Legal Defense Fund staff and learn more about our work. During the reception, Executive Director Stephen Wells presented an overview of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s mission and recent victories for animals, followed by a screening of our Advances for Animals in 2016 video.

The field of animal law has undergone tremendous academic growth since we first attended AALS in 2005. At that time, around 50 law schools had offered a course in animal law. Today, that number has grown to more than 160 schools. And since then, two law schools — Lewis & Clark and Harvard — have launched full-fledged animal law programs. A pioneer in the field since 2008, Lewis & Clark Law School’s robust Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS), in collaboration with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, offers the world’s first LLM degree in animal law, a summer animal law program, and more than 30 courses in animal law, while the newer Harvard Animal Law and Policy Program offers academic fellowships, courses and more. In addition to the two animal law clinics currently operating at Lewis & Clark and the University of Buffalo, Michigan State University College of Law, already home to the Animal Legal & Historical Web Center, will launch its new Animal Welfare Clinic later this year.

As the only organization dedicated to protecting animals through the legal system, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is proud to continue fostering the growth of the field of animal law. Keep an eye on our event page or sign up for our law professional or law student e-newsletters to stay in the loop on animal law events happening in your area!

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Sign Now: Tell the SEC to Stop Tyson Foods’ Lies

Posted by on January 9, 2017

We need you to join our fight against the cruelty of factory farms. In September 2015 the Animal Legal Defense Fund released undercover footage from a Tyson Foods plant that revealed flagrant violations of state and federal law. We’re working hard to hold Tyson accountable and we need your help as we urge the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to expedite their investigation of Tyson’s deceptions.

Sign now—urge the SEC to hold Tyson to the law.


Tyson Foods entices investors with false promises of superior animal treatment and care for its workers. Its practices reveal a drastically different reality including shocking animal cruelty and safety violations.

Tell the SEC to expedite their review and bring enforcement action against Tyson to the greatest extent of the law.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is committed to exposing the horrors of factory farming and holding companies accountable to the law.

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Animal Legal Defense Fund Files Anti-SLAPP Motion Against Landry’s Defamation Suit

Posted by on January 8, 2017

National nonprofit questions the captivity and conditions of four endangered white tigers

Contact: Natalia Lima,, 201 679 7088

HOUSTON – The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a motion asking a Harris County judge to dismiss a baseless lawsuit filed by Landry’s Inc. and the Downtown Aquarium Inc. that claims the animal protection organization defamed Landry’s restaurant simply by publicly commenting on the long-controversial mistreatment of four white tigers, Nero, Marina, Coral and Reef. The tigers—who have never had adequate access to sunlight, fresh air or natural surfaces—have been housed indoors at the Downtown Aquarium and restaurant for 12 years.

The motion was filed by Houston law firm Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos Alavi & Mensing P.C., or AZA, under the Texas Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) statute. This law allows judges to dismiss meritless lawsuits filed against those who speak out about a “matter of public concern.”

The Animal Legal Defense Fund announced its concerns about the four tigers in September when it delivered a 60-day notice of intent to sue—as required by the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA)—on behalf of Cheryl Conley, a Montgomery County woman who says she witnessed violations of the ESA at the downtown facility. Before the 60-day-notice period expired, Landry’s pre-empted the organization and Ms. Conley by suing for defamation.

“This is a blatant attempt to silence free speech,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “Baseless lawsuits like this are often used in an attempt to intimidate and silence advocates—which is exactly why Texas has an anti-SLAPP law. Our primary concern is the health and wellbeing of the tigers—and we will not be deterred.”

AZA lawyer Adam Milasincic argues that Landry’s and its CEO and owner Tilman Fertitta, star of a reality TV show “Billion Dollar Buyer,” are public figures which makes discussions of the tigers’ confinement a public concern even beyond the concern about the tigers’ welfare.

“This suit’s intention is to dissuade animal advocates from starting a public dialogue about the care and environment these tigers are entitled to under federal law— including the protected right to thrive ,” says Mr. Milasincic.

The anti-SLAPP law allows not only for dismissal of meritless lawsuits, but for fines against those who use them to silence free speech. Ms. Conley filed a separate anti-SLAPP motion requesting dismissal. Her lawyer Ashish Mahendru of Mahendru P.C. calls Mr. Fertitta a “Billion-Dollar bully.” Mr. Mahendru’s motion asks for fines and for Landry’s to be forced to “shut down the tiger enclosure as a sanction for the malicious use of the judicial system to silence its critics. Otherwise, it’s not simply the tigers who are condemned to imprisonment. It’s also the rights of noble citizens like Cheryl Conley that are being violated.”

The lawsuit is Landry’s, Inc. and the Downtown Aquarium, Inc. v. Animal Legal Defense Fund et al. No. 2016-79698 in Harris County’s 334th District Court.

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Animal Legal Defense Fund Urges Securities and Exchange Commission to Expedite Investigation of Tyson Foods

Posted by on January 8, 2017

Contact: Natalia Lima,, 201 679 7088

SAN FRANCISCO—Tyson Foods has come under fire in recent years after several high-profile exposés and investigations. The Animal Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s preeminent legal organization for animals, is now urging the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to expedite an investigation of the chicken producer in relation to the organization’s 2015 undercover investigation of a Tyson Foods slaughter plant.

The SEC is charged with protecting investors, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund is urging the agency to stop Tyson Foods from enticing investors with false promises of superior animal treatment and care for its workers. Although the company attempts to portray itself as prioritizing responsible farmed animal care and worker safety, its practices reveal a drastically different reality.

Undercover video footage, obtained in a Tyson Foods Carthage, Texas processing plant, clearly shows the extremely fast speed at which chickens are hung and slaughtered. Employees are expected to hang 35 chickens per minute, which greatly increases the possibility of equipment jamming in processing plants—an issue which is captured multiple times on video, killing hundreds of birds through suffocation. The speed also makes it impossible to handle the birds in a humane fashion and creates safety concerns for Tyson Foods employees.

“Our investigation proves that the cruel treatment of chickens by Tyson Foods is not isolated incidents, but a systematic, companywide problem,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “Tyson Foods is putting profits over not only ethical standards, but state and federal laws.”

The Animal Legal Defense Fund first filed a complaint with the SEC in September 2015 asking for an investigation and enforcement of legal violations revealed by the undercover footage. In September 2016 the organization sent a follow up request to the SEC, which was routed to the agency’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy for further review.

Investors place increasing weight on issues of corporate social responsibility due to the impacts such issues have on consumer purchasing decisions, and thus stock price. The Animal Legal Defense Fund urges the SEC to hold Tyson Foods accountable for deliberately deceiving investors through false and misleading statements.

To view video footage and get more information about the Animal Legal Defense Funds’ undercover investigation of Tyson Foods, visit

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Advances for Animals in 2016

Posted by on January 6, 2017

From the first major victory in an Endangered Species Act lawsuit brought on behalf of animals in captivity, to a cutting edge legal strategy that saved a puppy from an abusive situation, to an undercover investigation that’s still sending shockwaves through the factory farm industry—thanks to your generous support—the Animal Legal Defense Fund spent 2016 fighting for animal protection on every front.

Today—and everyday—we thank you for your unwavering support. These are your victories.

We still have a lot of work ahead of us in 2017—and we’re so glad we have you by our side. Thank you for your support in 2016—and thank you for your support in the coming year.

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