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Massachusetts Farmers Charged with More than 150 Counts of Animal Cruelty
Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on May 15, 2017
In what has been called the largest farmed animal cruelty case in New England, on March 30, 2017, a statewide grand jury indicted the owner of a farm in Westport, Massachusetts, and 26 tenants who rented space on his property on 151 counts of animal cruelty involving mistreatment of 1,400 animals.
After multiple visits by state inspectors, past cruelty charges (but no convictions), and repeated complaints from local residents about what some dubbed the “Farm of Horrors,” many are struggling to understand how a horrific case of this magnitude could have gone on for so long. According to an internal investigation, many say the fault lies with an apathetic culture at the Westport Health Department (the local department most responsible for ensuring proper treatment of farmed animals) and negligent town employees who did not take animal cruelty seriously, and in fact appear to have proactively ignored it.
The charges follow a July 2016 investigation into Westport Tenant Farm by Westport Police, Massachusetts Environmental Police, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and the Animal Rescue League of Boston (ARLB). The investigation, which began after police received a 911 call about animal cruelty at the property, revealed hundreds of animals – including cows, pigs, goats, sheep, horses, dogs, rabbits, and chickens – living in deplorable conditions with many lacking basic food and water. Some animals were found housed with rotting carcasses and many were suffering from severe malnutrition, untreated wounds, and contagious diseases.
According to a press release by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, some animals “were living in such deep manure waste that their hooves had rotted off and they were suffering from painful eye, intestinal and skin ailments.” Lieutenant Alan Borgal of the ARLB said the situation at Westport Tenant Farm was “unparalleled” to anything he had seen in his 37 years as an animal law enforcement officer: “The sheer number of animals in dire need of care, and the cruel and unsanitary conditions we found were deplorable.” As reported by the Boston Globe, this included “cows trapped in barbed wire” and “emaciated dogs kept on short chains in pens littered with broken glass.”
The scope of this case and the tremendous number of animals involved created unique issues for law enforcement. As reported by NBC 10 News, Detective Jeff Majewski of the Westport Police Department said: “It’s not your typical crime where there was one crime scene, one suspect. You’re talking about 23 different crime scenes, 26, 27 different suspects, and then 1,400 pieces of evidence.” Despite these challenges, Attorney General Maura Healey has vowed to pursue justice for the animal victims in this case, saying “as a result of our investigation, the owner of this farm and its tenants will be held responsible for the inhumane treatment of these animals.”
Richard Medeiros, the farm’s owner, was charged with 21 counts of animal cruelty and his 26 tenants were charged with between one and 11 counts each. Each count carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison.
This was not the first time problems were observed at this property. Medeiros, along with 12 tenants, was also charged with animal cruelty in 2010 after “authorities discovered malnourished dogs, cows with open wounds, and dead calves on the farm.” However, Medeiros was acquitted of those charges and, according to a Westport internal investigation, there is no record of any follow-up action after the several known problems that led to the 2010 charges.
Yet, according to those on the scene of the 2016 investigation and rescue, animals had been suffering for months and probably years on the farm, which leaves many wondering how these horrendous conditions, which clearly deteriorated over a prolonged period of time, could have reached such a crisis point without the authorities taking action. Why had the farm been able to pass inspections as things got progressively worse for the animals trapped there?
Last year, following a comprehensive review of interviews, documents, and video relating to the case, the Boston Globe concluded that:
“…town officials failed to discover the deplorable conditions because of their own lax oversight of local farms. Some Westport officials…were steeped in a centuries-old farming culture skeptical of intrusive regulations, and appeared to pay little mind to repeated warnings.”
Due to the fact that Medeiros and his tenants have now been charged with animal cruelty twice in the past seven years, that these animals’ documented conditions were clearly dire for many years, and that several previous complaints about animal mistreatment on the property had gone unaddressed, Westport officials are trying to figure out what went wrong.
It appears that multiple Westport Department of Health employees filed incomplete and falsified inspection reports dating back to April 2015, when a complaint was filed with the Westport Board of Health regarding “dire animal conditions” at the farm by a state animal inspector following a visit to the property. Yet, the town’s former senior health agent did little if anything to address the situation, and in fact, according to an internal investigation, appears to have actively covered it up. The Herald News said of a “scathing” report that resulted from the investigation, written by Westport Town Administrator Timothy J. King in September 2016:
“The Westport Department of Health and its agents did not take cruelty and neglect of farm animals very seriously, neglecting to follow up on cases of suspected abuse and failing to keep detailed and accurate records of local barn inspections…The report also validates what several animal advocates have been saying since the abuse case became public; that town officials dropped the ball and allowed the abuse to happen…But the problems ran deeper than a few individuals.”
King concluded the problem could not be attributed to a few lax employees, but rather was the result of a department-wide lack of care regarding farmed animal mistreatment. King’s report found that although the barn inspections “are seen as a great opportunity to ensure that farm animals are being properly and humanely treated…the general attitude of the Board of Health was that complaints about animal cruelty and neglect were not their responsibility.” He further noted the inspections at Westport Tenant Farm should have triggered referrals to the appropriate agencies for further action, but did not.
After this internal investigation uncovered a pattern of willful inaction by Health Department employees, the town is implementing changes to prevent a situation like this from happening again. One of those changes will be hiring additional animal inspectors and creating a new oversight policy for them. Following the July 2016 investigation and rescue at Westport Tenant Farm, two inspectors were fired for having filed clean inspection reports in January 2016 – reports which bore no resemblance to the actual conditions at the property. Westport is also involved in a civil action to prevent animals from being returned to the farm.
Among the recommendations made by King in his report were to increase supervision and accountability and improve communication and complaint procedure protocols. But the first recommendation offered was aimed at the organizational culture of the department that shirked its responsibility. He wrote:
“The Health Department culture needs to change so that staff have a heightened awareness and sensitivity about the importance of ensuring the prevention of animal neglect and mistreatment of farm animals.”
In the midst of widespread outrage over the town’s culpability in this case, the Westport Board of Selectmen also created a Tenant Farm Plan of Action to guide improvements moving forward, which includes conducting a performance review of the town departments and employees involved in oversight of animal health and welfare, and creating a new Animal Action Committee to determine what can be done to improve this oversight.
Situations like this highlight the importance of sheltering animals who are rescued from large-scale cruelty cases, which can be a steep challenge due to logistics from transporting and medically treating rescued animals to finding permanent placement when there is limited space at sanctuaries and shelters and, in cases where animals can be adopted to families, not enough homes. Although many of the animals found at Westport Tenant Farms had to be euthanized due to the severity of their injuries and/or illnesses, the ASPCA was able to rescue others and give them temporary shelter until they could be permanently placed with shelters and sanctuaries in Massachusetts and nearby states. Some are still awaiting placement. As reported by the Boston Globe, the effort to rehabilitate and relocate the rescued animals, which began six months prior, had cost $1.4 million by December 2016.
Among the rescued animals were 21 goats fortunate enough to be placed with Tamerlaine Farm Animal Sanctuary in New Jersey, which encourages people to get to know farmed animals as individuals. One of the goats, named Huckleberry Finn:
“…doesn’t get too close to people. He arrived with a tag on his ear that said Slaughter Only. His caretakers removed it. ‘It’s our job to show people how important they are,’ [sanctuary president and co-founder Gabrielle] Stubbert said. ‘They’re just as important as your dog or your cat or any animal that you cherish and love and is part of your family.’”
Stories of egregious abuse carried out against animals in factory farms routinely surface as a result of undercover investigations – from cruel confinement, to stressful transport, to the terror and pain of slaughter (though the federal Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act mandates that animals be rendered insensible to pain prior to slaughter, a multitude of investigations have shown this law is routinely violated; it also does not cover birds, who constitute more than 90% of the animals slaughtered for human consumption). Yet cases like this remind us that it is not only factory farms that are problematic. As the horror at Westport Tenant Farm shows, even on small farms we cannot assume authorities will act to stop animal abuse. Of course, consumers can choose not to support the largely-unregulated cruelty inherent in modern animal agriculture by choosing cruelty-free options.
- Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. “Westport Farm Owner, 26 Tenants Indicted in New England’s Largest Animal Cruelty Case.” Press Release. March 31, 2017.
- Levenson, Michael. “27 indicted in largest animal cruelty case in New England.” The Boston Globe. March 31, 2017.
- Fraga, Brian. “Report: Westport health department failed town on tenant farm issue.” The Herald News. March 31, 2017.
- “Westport farm owner, tenants indicted on animal cruelty charges.” NBC News 10. March 31, 2017.
- Guerra, Cristela. “Animals allegedly abused at Westport farm find greener pastures.” The Boston Globe. December 9, 2016.
- A panel on the role of sanctuaries in the animal law and protection movement, as well as a panel on criminal animal law, will be included at the upcoming Animal Law Conference (registration opens June 1, 2017).
The Sixth Extinction
Posted by Stephen Wells, Executive Director on May 15, 2017
Wildlife around the world is under siege. Thousands of species of wildlife from frogs to tigers are being pushed to the brink. We are, in fact, living in what scientists have come to describe as the “sixth extinction,” – the sixth time in the history of our planet that species have disappeared at such a rapid pace. On May 20, experts will come together at the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Third Annual Animal Law Symposium in Los Angeles.
The causes of the five previous mass extinction events have been traced to dramatic changes in climate, like ice ages, or sudden catastrophic events, like the asteroid strike that doomed the dinosaurs. But the sixth extinction is unique because it is being driven by one species: homo sapiens. Human beings’ singular ability to shape and reshape our world and to learn how to control the natural world to suit our needs, has been a boon to our kind but the biggest threat to all others.
But if we are the driving cause of the sixth extinction, we can also drive the solutions. How do we stem the sweeping tide of habitat loss and extinction that threatens wildlife across the planet? At the symposium, wildlife and legal experts will explore how people are learning to co-exist with our wild neighbors; the plight of wildlife, including endangered wildlife, in captivity; and how animal agriculture may be the single biggest cause of habitat loss and the single biggest contributor to anthropogenic climate change – the ultimate threat to species survival.
We have an obligation as the most powerful species on earth to recognize and address our impacts on our fellow earthlings. At this symposium, the audience, including legal professionals, law students, and animal advocates, will gather the tools they need to fight for legal and policy changes aimed at stopping the sixth extinction. And even how our personal choices can make a big difference. To learn more about the 2017 Animal Law Symposium in Los Angeles visit animallawsymposium.org.
After Judge Denies Maine Governor’s “Pardon,” Last-Minute Appeal Temporarily Saves Dog Sentenced to Death
Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on May 8, 2017
In an unprecedented case that has gained national attention, the fate of a four-year-old husky named Dakota remains uncertain after she received a gubernatorial “pardon” – perhaps the first of its kind – in her case. Ultimately, the case will likely end up in Maine’s highest court, known as the Law Court.
The death order was issued against Dakota on March 21, 2017, after she attacked two smaller dogs, one fatally. Dakota was declared a dangerous dog in 2016 after getting loose and killing a neighbor’s Shih Tzu terrier, who was named Zoey. Pursuant to Maine’s dangerous dog statute, her owner at the time, Matthew Perry, was ordered to keep Dakota confined in a secure enclosure, muzzled, and restricted by a short leash under his direct control when off the premises. However, Perry gave Dakota away to a person living in another town who let her run at large, according to the Bangor Daily News. In February 2017, she returned to Perry’s neighborhood and attacked a pug named Bruce Wayne on the same property where the original incident occurred.
Following the second attack, Dakota was picked up as a stray and brought to the Humane Society Waterville Area (HSWA). She was then adopted out to a new owner, Linda Janeski, on March 18, three days before a hearing at which the death order was issued. According to Lisa Smith, director of the HSWA, Janeski was chosen as the adopter because she had been around Dakota as a puppy. Janeski’s daughter was dating Perry when he got Dakota, and Perry kept the dog when they broke up. Janeski has alleged that Perry mistreated Dakota and locked her in the basement to kill rats.
Janeski agreed to keep Dakota confined in accordance with the earlier court-ordered restrictions, but neither she nor the shelter reportedly were aware of the second attack or the hearing that had been scheduled for March 21 to determine Dakota’s fate under Perry’s ownership at the time of the second incident. Janeski learned that Dakota had been sentenced to death when, less than a week after she brought the dog home, an animal control officer came to her door and ordered her to have the dog killed within 48 hours. When the officer learned Dakota was still alive after this time period, he issued a search warrant for the Janeski residence and animal control officers seized Dakota and took her back to the HSWA.
In seeking due process, Janeski requested a second hearing to be heard as Dakota’s new owner and contest the death order, which had been issued under a presumption of Perry’s ownership of the dog. A stay was granted and a new court date scheduled for April 11, 2017.
Before the second hearing, the HSWA wrote a letter to the Kennebec County District Attorney’s Office on Dakota’s behalf that described her as well-behaved and sociable, stating:
“While at the shelter she was a model resident, extremely friendly, social with other dogs, and easy for staff to handle. We observed no aggression of any kind and trained staff deemed the dog did not display any concerning behaviors…We have found her to be an excellent dog, extremely people friendly, and generally dog friendly.”
On March 30, it appeared Dakota’s life would be spared and she would be given a second chance with her new owner when Maine Governor Paul LePage issued the dog a “warrant of full and free pardon” after receiving a copy of this letter. Believed to be the first such intervention by a governor on behalf of an animal condemned to death, Gov. LePage’s pardon reflects the evolution of animal law. However, questions were immediately raised about the validity of this pardon due to uncertainty about whether Maine’s constitution grants its governor the authority to pardon animals, who are classified as property under the law in all 50 states.
Although the governor’s unusual action could be seen as signaling a softening in the rigid legal paradigm that defines animals strictly as property, Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney called the pardon “irrelevant,” claiming the governor did not have the power to issue a pardon in this case because Dakota had not been convicted of a crime.
Further signaling the importance of this case, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) sent a letter to the court in advance of the second hearing expressing its interest and offering assistance because of the broad public interest in the case and possible implications it may have on the work of the DACF’s Animal Welfare Program. In his letter on behalf of the state agency, Assistant Attorney General Mark Randlett stressed the following points:
- DACF seeks to ensure that animal owners are afforded due process and a fair chance to defend themselves and their animals;
- The purpose of the animal welfare laws is to safeguard the humane and proper treatment of animals. DACF has a strong interest in holding the original owner(s) responsible and ensuring that animals do not suffer due to owner neglect.
- The intent of the dangerous dog statute is to protect the public by deterring owners of dangerous dogs from letting them run loose. It is not intended as a punishment for a dog, in this case Dakota; and
- Dakota is less of a public safety risk given the reliability of the SAFER behavioral testing conducted on Dakota at the Waterville Area Humane Society.
These points – perhaps especially that a dog should neither suffer nor be punished due to an owner’s neglect – reflected the concerns of many watching this case.
Yet despite the state agency’s letter, the HSWA letter vouching for Dakota, and the governor’s pardon, at the April 11th hearing Waterville District Court Judge Valerie Stanfill denied the new owner’s request to withdraw the death order. In so ruling, Judge Stanfill found that Maine’s dangerous dog statute did not give her the discretion to impose any other punishment besides death for the dog and a fine for the owner. She also ruled that Janeski lacked standing under state law to intervene in the case because Perry owned Dakota at the time of the second incident.
Responding to criticisms of the harsh sentence, Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney pointed out that Maine’s dangerous dog statute is very clear regarding an animal who has attacked and killed another animal and then initiates a second serious attack. She claimed that both she and the judge followed the statute exactly as written, and the only alternate remedy would be for the state legislature to change the law.
The next day, after Dakota reportedly had already been taken to a veterinarian’s office to be given a lethal injection, word of an appeal filed by her former owner, Matthew Perry, came through at the last minute and temporarily spared the dog’s life. The appeal, filed in Augusta District Court on April 12, argues that the court not only erred in issuing the original death order, but also that it was wrong to keep the order in place after Dakota received a pardon from the governor. Linda Janeski, the dog’s current owner, filed a second appeal on April 14, 2017.
While those appeals were pending, on April 18, 2017, a new attorney for Matthew Perry filed a motion for reconsideration in the trial court that argued additional evidence was available that should be considered by the trial court as well as presenting additional reasons why the governor’s pardon properly applied to the dangerous dog order at issue. Perry’s attorney also filed a motion requesting a stay of appeal with the Law Court to allow the trial court to consider the motion to reconsider before the appeal proceeded. The trial court has yet to issue any order regarding whether it will reconsider its prior order.
As the motion to reconsider demonstrates, the governor’s pardon will play a key role in this case. Although some believe a pardon cannot be applied to an animal, others point to the broad power and wide leeway given to the governor to grant pardons under the Maine Constitution, which does not contain any species limitation and provides a broad grant of authority to the governor in a variety of contexts. The relevant section states:
“The Governor shall have power to remit after conviction all forfeitures and penalties, and to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons, except in cases of impeachment, upon such conditions, and with such restrictions and limitations as may be deemed proper, subject to such regulations as may be provided by law, relative to the manner of applying for pardons. Such power to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons shall include offenses of juvenile delinquency.”
Janeski’s attorney, Bonnie Matinolich, has also expressed due process concerns with regard to the rigidity of the dangerous dog statute in a context where the outcome is irreversible.
The irreversible outcome – the state taking away an animal’s life under the objections of the animal’s owner – suggests there should be room built into these laws for extenuating circumstances to give judges greater discretion and to allow potentially impacted parties a better opportunity to build a case. Dakota was ordered killed within 48 hours of the March 21 order, and the same timeframe applied after the second decision on April 11. Although her new owner intended to file an appeal (and has now done so), Dakota only narrowly escaped being killed due to the appeal from her former owner, which, although filed within 48 hours, was almost too late to stop the sentence from being carried out.
As with criminal cases involving humans, a just outcome requires balancing the rights of the victim (and the victim’s family) with the rights of the accused. While many believe Dakota deserves another chance with a new and hopefully more responsible owner, it is important to remember the victims in this case and the tragic death of Zoey, who was loved and did not deserve to die in this manner. According to District Attorney Maloney:
“…one owner had to hold Zoey in her lap in the car, hurt and crying, for one hour while they drove from Waterville to Portland to get her help. When they got to Portland, Zoey had died, she said. I can’t even imagine going through that,’ said Maloney, who is a dog owner herself. ‘And then for it to happen a second time.’”
Although everyone can agree this appalling situation should never have happened, some would argue the fault lies less with Dakota than with her former owner, who clearly did not keep her contained, and may also have mistreated her. The allegations that the former owner locked Dakota in a basement and made her kill rats would, of course, explain why Dakota might attack a small dog, or any other small animal. Yet, in cases of owner negligence, although the owner may receive a fine, it is the dog who is punished with the ultimate penalty of death.
While Zoey can sadly never be brought back to her family, is taking Dakota’s life the correct action to ensure this will never happen again? Although the Maine legislature seems to have answered that question affirmatively with its statutory language, more could be done to encourage greater responsibility and understanding when it comes to owners managing their dogs’ behavior, such as orders that prohibit irresponsible owners from obtaining additional dogs and forfeiture authority to rehome dogs to responsible individuals.
The legal owner, who in contrast to a dog is responsible for complying with the rules of human society, should be held to a higher standard for the dog’s actions rather than punishing the dog, who may only have acted inappropriately due to the failure of the owner, especially when the stakes are as high as taking a life. A similar principle is well-established regarding parental responsibility for children’s actions, until a certain age when they are deemed capable of understanding social norms and laws. Dogs never reach this point. In 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled the execution of those who were under 18 at the time of their crime unconstitutional, in part based on scientific understanding of brain development. Even beyond childhood, the law regarding younger criminal offenders continues to evolve based on advances in cognitive neuroscience. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled executions of mentally disabled offenders are prohibited by the Eight Amendment as “cruel and unusual punishment,” in part due to a societal consensus on their lesser culpability. Similarly, it is only fair to take a dog’s cognitive capacity into account, and the degree to which they are dependent upon their guardian to learn how to live in a human world and abide by its rules when asking the question: how should courts and legislatures ideally handle cases involving animals who attack or kill other animals?
Some animals may be incapable of being rehabilitated, but when in the hands of the state, this decision should not be made lightly or by rote because of both due process concerns for the owner, who has both legal and strong emotional interests that should be considered, as well as the individual animal’s intrinsic value and interest in being alive (which is not yet recognized by the courts).
But Dakota is not such a hopeless case. The glowing behavior report given by shelter staff and the promise of a new owner who could enforce the rules that Dakota’s former owner did not, are significant extenuating factors that demonstrate Dakota is, in fact, not a danger to the public.
As for the governor’s pardon, the rationale given by District Attorney Maloney that Dakota cannot be pardoned because the dog was not charged with a crime may seem logical at first. Animals, as property, cannot be convicted of a crime. Yet as we delve deeper we may realize the absurdity of Dakota being ordered to be put to death without being charged with a crime. This may seem like quibbling over semantics, but in matters of life and death it is worthy of examination. If animals cannot commit crimes, should they be punished in such a severe and irreversible manner for triggering a dangerous dog law they are not even aware of (but their owners should be)? There is an inherent contradiction in sentencing an animal to die – the most severe penalty in our legal system – while at the same time claiming she cannot be pardoned because she has not been convicted of a crime.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund will watch closely to see how Maine’s highest court resolves these issues if it hears the case. A statewide Animal Welfare Advisory Council has also begun reviewing Maine’s dangerous dog laws, but it remains to be seen what, if any, changes will be made in the next legislative session. Meanwhile, Dakota remains at the shelter awaiting her fate, unaware of the controversy swirling around her. Regardless of the outcome, this case shines a spotlight on the essential problem with many dangerous dog laws: They are often overly harsh, so rigid as to hinder adequate due process, and punish dogs for displaying natural behaviors rather than holding accountable the owners who are responsible for them.
- Amour, Madeline. “Panel to examine Maine law on dangerous dogs.” CentralMaine.com. April 15, 2017.
- Amour, Madeline. “Dakota the dog saved by appeal in final hour.” Portland Press Herald. April 13, 2017.
- Amour, Madeline. Judge refuses to stop euthanization order for Dakota the dog.” Portland Press Herald. April 11, 2017.
- Amour, Madeline. “State agency offers assistance in case of Winslow dog sentenced to death but ‘pardoned’ by LePage.” Centralmaine.com. April 10, 2017.
- Amour, Madeline. Experts say LePage’s pardon of Winslow dog reflects evolution in animal law. CentralMaine.com. March 31 2017.
- Harrison, Judy. “Fate of pardoned dog in limbo after court hearing delayed.” Bangor Daily News. March 31, 2017.
- Amour, Madeline. “LePage raises legal question with pardon for dog ordered euthanized.” Portland Press Herald. March 30, 2017.
- Shepherd, Michael. “LePage pardons dog that was sentenced to die. Bangor Daily News. March 30, 2017.
- Letter from Humane Society Waterville Area on Dakota’s Behalf to DA Maloney.
- Dakota Pardon.
- Maine Dangerous Dog Statute.
Berkeley, California, Becomes Second U.S. City to Ban Sale of Fur Clothing
Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on April 20, 2017
On April 5, 2017, the Berkeley City Council approved an ordinance banning the retail sale of fur apparel products within city limits, finding that “the sale of fur products in the City of Berkeley is inconsistent with the City’s goal of being a community that cares about animal welfare.” The ban was spearheaded by local animal advocacy group Berkeley Coalition for Animals (BCA), which worked closely with the Council on the ordinance.
With the passage of this legislation, Berkeley became the second city in the nation to prohibit the sale of clothing made from animal fur. West Hollywood, known for its animal-friendly legislation, was the first to pass a fur ban in 2011, which became effective in 2013. Although unlike West Hollywood, Berkeley does not have a thriving local fur economy, the ordinance is intended to ensure this remains so, and to reflect the city’s humane values. In recommending the ordinance to Berkeley’s mayor and members of the city council, sponsoring Councilmember Kriss Worthington wrote:
“With the availability of countless varieties of adequate fabrics, there is no need for this brutal industry…Although virtually no Berkeley businesses sponsor the fur industry’s exploitation, this proposed law would ensure they never do. In turn, the City of Berkeley will adopt West Hollywood policy that eliminating fur ‘will foster a consciousness about the way we live in the world and create a more humane environment in the City.’”
Berkeley’s ordinance contains exemptions for used fur products sold at secondhand stores and pelts or skins of animals preserved through taxidermy. Before the vote, exemptions were also added to allow the sale of cowhide with hair and sheep or lambskin with fleece; the rationale given by the councilor who introduced these exemptions was that cows and sheep are already killed for meat, unlike animals raised solely for their fur. An exemption for nonprofits was removed before the vote.
West Hollywood’s fur apparel ban, which Berkeley’s ordinance is modeled upon, survived a federal challenge mounted in 2013 by Los Angeles-based retailer Mayfair House, which alleged the law was unconstitutional and that the city overstepped its authority in banning fur apparel sales and that such trade should be regulated by the state. The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an amicus brief in this case, asking the court to uphold the city’s constitutional authority to protect animals within city limits, and supporting the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In July 2014, a federal court agreed and dismissed the fur retailer’s action.
In 2015, West Hollywood’s fur ban was redrafted in ways that both tightened and weakened the legislation. The ban was extended to include the display of fur items by merchants intending to sell them online or at a location outside West Hollywood, but an exception was added to allow the sale of fur obtained by lawful trapping. The trapping exemption was added so that the municipal fur ban would not clash with California’s Fish and Game code, which allows for the display and sale of fur lawfully taken by people with a state trapping license.
In stating the need for a municipal ban, Berkeley’s draft ordinance cited the lack of federal and state regulation of fur product sales, with the exception of laws prohibiting the sale of dog and cat fur. It also clearly stated its unequivocal opposition to the fur industry:
“The City Council finds that animals who are slaughtered for their fur, whether they are raised on a fur farm or trapped in the wild, endure tremendous suffering. Animals raised on fur farms typically spend their entire lives in cramped and filthy cages…Methods used to kill animals for their fur include gassing, electrocution, and neck-breaking. Furbearing animals are also caught and killed in barbaric body-grilling traps…Considering the wide array of alternatives for fashion and apparel, the City Council finds that the demand for fur products does not justify the torture and confinement of animals.”
In February, supporters of the ban marched and formed a rally at UC-Berkeley organized by BCA. Following the success of this grassroots campaign, BCA will continue to work with the Berkeley City Council and other groups to pass local resolutions and legislation “to promote animal rights and the protection of animals from the viewpoint of animals.”
- Raguso, Emilie. “Fur goods now illegal to sell in Berkeley.” Berkeleyside. March 31, 2017.
- Ordinance to Ban the Sale of Fur in Berkeley. March 28, 2017.
- Berkeley Coalition for Animals’ campaign: Fur Free Berkeley.
- Asch, Andrew. “Change for WeHo’s Fur Ban.” California Apparel News. August 20, 2015.
- “WeHo Tightens (and Loosens) Its Ban on the Sale of Fur.” WEHOville. August 18, 2015.
- “Fur Flies and West Hollywood (“WeHo”) Fur Ban Is Upheld By Federal Court.” The National Law Review. July 3, 2014.
- Animal Legal Defense Fund. “Fur Flies in West Hollywood Showdown over City Ban” Press Release. November 15, 2013.
- West Hollywood City Hall. Code compliance: West Hollywood Fur Ban Information.
Los Angeles: Help Us Ban Exploitation of Animals for Entertainment
Posted by on April 20, 2017
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is urging Los Angeles residents to speak up in support of a new ordinance. On Tuesday, April 25, the Los Angeles City Council will vote on an ordinance which would prohibit the use and exhibition of wild or exotic animals for entertainment or amusement in LA, including circuses, other wild or exotic animal shows, and rentals for house parties. We need your help to make sure that this ordinance succeeds.
With this ordinance, Los Angeles is poised to make history as one of the first major cities to prohibit the needless use of exotic animals for public amusement. San Francisco passed a similar bill in 2015 and New York City Council is currently considering this legislation as well. If Los Angeles’ bill passes, it will go a long way toward halting animal exploitation.
If you are a resident of the City of Los Angeles, please send an email to your council member urging support for the ordinance, and follow up with a phone call to your council member. You can simply say:
Hello, I’m a constituent calling to urge my lawmaker to support the ordinance banning the display of exotic animals. This ordinance would offer critical protection to wild and exotic animals by prohibiting their display to entertain or amuse the public in Los Angeles.
If you already know your representative’s name, find their contact information below and call now, or click here to locate your district if you do not know the name of your representative.
Learn more about banning animals in entertainment
Animals forced to perform lead lives of misery and indignity. Travel, confinement, and being forced to perform tricks deprive wild animals like tigers and elephants of anything that might satisfy their complex physical, behavioral and emotional needs. What few protections these animals have under state and federal law are not adequately enforced, making LA’s proposed ordinance a critical tool to provide these creatures the care they deserve.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund will continue working to end exploitation of animals for entertainment, but we need your help today to make sure this bill becomes law. The motion to draft such an ordinance, made by Councilmember David Ryu, has already been unanimously approved (3-0) by the City of Los Angeles’ Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee and passage by the full City Council is the crucial next step.
Gilbert Cedillo – District 1 (Northeast Los Angeles including Highland Park, Echo Park and Chinatown)
Paul Krekorian – District 2 (SF Valley including North Hollywood, Studio City and Van Nuys)
Email: Paul councilmember.Krekorian@lacity.org
Bob Blumenfield – District 3 (SF Valley including Woodland Hills, Tarzana and Canoga Park)
Phone: 213- 473-7003
David E. Ryu – District 4 (ordinance sponsor) (Central Los Angeles including Hollywood, Koreatown and Los Feliz)
Phone: 213- 473-7004
Paul Koretz – District 5 (Westside including Westwood, Palms and Bel Air)
Phone: 213- 473-7005
Nury Martinez – District 6 (SF Valley including Sun Valley, Van Nuys & Lake Balboa)
Phone: 213- 473-7006
District 7 – Vacant
Marqueece Harris-Dawson – District 8 (Western-South Los Angeles including Baldwin Hills, Crenshaw and West Adams)
Phone: 213- 473-7008
Curren D. Price, Jr. – District 9 (DTLA & South Los Angeles)
Phone: 213- 473-7009
Herb J. Wesson, Jr. – District 10 (Central Los Angeles including Mid-City, Koreatown, and Wilshire Center)
Phone: 213- 473-7010
Mike Bonin – District 11 (Westside including Marina del Rey, Pacific Palisades, and West Los Angeles)
Phone: 213- 473-7011
Mitchell Englander – District 12 (Northwest SF Valley including Northridge, Granada Hills and West Hills)
Phone: 213- 473-7012
Mitch O’Farrell – District 13 (Central Los Angeles including Silverlake, Atwater Village and Westlake)
Phone: 213- 473-7013
Jose Huizer – District 14 (Northeast Los Angeles including Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock and Glassell Park)
Phone: 213- 473-7014
Joe Buscaino – District 15 (Port of LA, San Pedro and Harbor City)
Phone: 213- 473-7015
Eugene, Oregon, Passes Ordinance Banning Dogs Downtown
Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on March 31, 2017
On March 8, 2017, the Eugene City Council passed a trial ordinance banning dogs from the city’s downtown area, purportedly to improve public safety. The ban does not apply to service dogs, dogs who belong to people living or working in the area, dogs used by law enforcement, and dogs in motor vehicles. The ordinance also exempts the space in front of a homeless services facility that provides free meals. The service dog exemption does not include dogs who offer emotional support or comfort. The ban takes effect in April and will expire on Nov. 1, 2017, unless the council votes to extend it.
The ban passed by a 6-2 vote with those in favor citing increasing complaints about encounters with aggressive dogs downtown. Last summer, a city employee and her dog were attacked by another dog in the downtown area, injuring the employee and killing her dog. However, dissenting councilors criticized the ban as an indirect attempt to manage Eugene’s homeless population, deter loitering, and displace people deemed undesirable, who often are accompanied by dogs, from downtown spaces. Critics have called the ban impossible to enforce and discriminatory against homeless people. A person found in violation of the ordinance could be fined up to $250.
Besides the major practical difficulties with identifying those dogs who are subject to the ban, the ban leaves homeless individuals who have dogs with few options other than being forced to abandon their animal or simply relocate to another neighborhood without a dog ban. The exception for dogs in vehicles may also encourage visitors and other non-residents to leave their dogs in cars in warmer months, when temperatures inside a vehicle can soar and turn deadly for animals and children within minutes.
Although some jurisdictions have passed breed-specific laws that either prohibit certain breeds outright (typically “pit bull type” dogs) or impose special requirements and restrictions on owners of those breeds, bans affecting all dog types are rare. This is the second dog ban that has been passed in the liberal college city of Eugene. The new ordinance is modeled after an identical dog ban that has been in effect for 20 years on the commercial strip next to the University of Oregon. The relevant section of the current city code (not including this new ban) states:
…no dog owner shall permit a dog to be on Alder Street, including the sidewalks thereof, between and including the southern sidewalk of East 12th Avenue and the northern sidewalk of East 14th Avenue, nor on East 13th Avenue, including the sidewalks thereof, between and including the eastern sidewalk of Pearl Street and the eastern sidewalk of Kincaid Street…this section does not apply to a dog owner who maintains a lawful residence within the restricted area, to a dog assisting law enforcement personnel, to a dog assisting an individual with a disability, or to a dog inside a motorized vehicle.
Sweeping ordinances that prohibit non-resident dogs from entire neighborhoods are out of step with current social trends that recognize the importance of companion animals in many people’s lives. As such, legislative and policy measures that make social spaces more, not less, accommodating to responsible dog guardians have been on the rise. For example, the Department of the Interior recently launched a pilot program at its Washington, D.C. headquarters allowing employees to bring their dog to work on select days, making it the first federal agency to explore implementing a dog-friendly office policy. And in January 2017, with a unique and groundbreaking amendment to its divorce law, Alaska became the first state to require that courts consider the well-being of an animal when deciding his or her legal ownership in divorce and dissolution proceedings. Because animals are defined as property under the law, this statute represents significant progress for companion animals in the legal system, reflecting their value as family. Unfortunately, overbroad and irrational anti-dog legislation like Eugene’s new ordinance is a step in the wrong direction.
Aggressive, unruly, and potentially dangerous dogs with negligent or inattentive handlers are undoubtedly a serious public safety issue that must be addressed, and everyone has the right to feel safe while using public spaces. However, fairness-based measures rooted in logic that do not target all dogs – for example, enforcement of existing leash laws, which cities like Eugene already have on the books – could more effectively and equitably accomplish this goal. Enacting sweeping prohibitions on non-resident dogs in public spaces, including those who are well-behaved and accompanied by responsible guardians, seems misguided.
Finally, to the extent that this ordinance is aimed at homeless persons who have aggressive dogs, it is worth noting that irresponsible dog guardianship is not limited to the houseless, and it would be a mistake to create policy based on a faulty generalization that homeless individuals cannot be loving and responsible caretakers to their animals. However, they do have more obstacles in this regard. Anti-dog policies in general, including those in rental housing, shelters and public transit, make it more difficult for socio-economically disadvantaged individuals to responsibly care for a companion animal. Love should never be a liability, but for people facing tough times, devotion and commitment to their companion animal can be a hindrance to finding shelter and rental housing because much of it, like Eugene’s new ordinance, prohibits dogs.
- Hill, Christian. “Eugene council bans dogs from downtown but snuffs out anti-smoking measure.” The Eugene Register-Guard. March 9, 2017.
- The Associated Press. Eugene council bans dogs from downtown. OregonLive. March 9, 2017.
- Hill, Christian. “Many oppose dog ban during Eugene hearing.” The Eugene Register-Guard. February 28, 2017.
- Bekoff, Marc (reviewing sociologist Leslie Irvine’s book). “My Dog Always Eats First: Homeless People and Their Animals.” Psychology Today. January 22, 2013
- Rein, Lisa, and Karin Brulliard. “In a first for the government, dogs will be welcome at the Interior Department.” The Washington Post. March 23, 2017.
First Criminal Charges Filed under California’s Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act
Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on March 28, 2017
In February 2017, the first criminal charges were brought under California’s Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, also known as Proposition 2. The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office filed more than 50 charges against an Ontario, California egg facility, Hohberg Poultry Ranches, after investigations revealed chickens were being kept in cages so overcrowded the animals were unable to turn around—conditions outlawed by the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act.
The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act passed via state ballot initiative by a 64% majority of California voters in 2008. The law, which came into effect in January 2015, requires that egg-laying hens have the ability to fully spread their wings without touching another bird or the side of an enclosure. In addition to 39 counts of violating the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, prosecutors also charged Hohberg Poultry Ranches with 16 counts of animal cruelty under California’s state animal cruelty code, Penal Code 597(b).
The charges stem from a 2016 investigation conducted by the Inland Valley Humane Society, the Ontario Police Department, The Humane Society of the United States, and the Animal Cruelty Prosecution Unit of the San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office, following a complaint that hens were being kept in “inhumane” and “deplorable” conditions. According to Deputy District Attorney Debbie Ploghaus, who oversees the Animal Cruelty Prosecution Unit:
“Upon serving the search warrant, we found approximately 28,800 hens in unsanitary conditions that clearly violated the Farm Animal Cruelty Act. In some instances, we found dead hens decaying in the same cages beside living hens laying eggs for human consumption.”
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Hohberg Poultry Ranches received a warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration in 2012 after serious human health violations were found during inspections. San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos, who brought the charges, said:
“While we are obviously concerned about the health of our citizens, at the end of the day, we also have a lawful obligation to ensure that animals in our county are being treated humanely. The overcrowded conditions these animals were forced to live in were cruel. It was a horrible existence.”
District Attorney Ramos, who created the Animal Cruelty Prosecution Unit just under a year ago, in April 2016, told local news station ABC7 the egg facility was in clear violation of the law, saying of the cramped conditions endured by the birds: “I think it’s horrendous. They start trying to get out and they start pecking one another. It’s just a horrendous situation.”
The owner of the facility, Robert Hohberg, pled not guilty to all charges at his March 7 arraignment in San Bernardino Superior Court. If convicted, he could face up to 180 days in jail for each cage size violation and one year for each animal cruelty count.
California became a leader in U.S. efforts to prevent the most egregious forms of cruelty to farmed animals with the 2008 passage of the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, which mandated that animals be housed in conditions that allow them enough space to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. The law has thus far withstood multiple challenges from the agriculture industry, most recently in November 2016, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit brought by six states that argued provisions in California’s law violated the Commerce and Supremacy Clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is also working to ensure the California animal agriculture industry is held accountable to the state’s improved housing standards for farmed animals. On March 15, 2017, we sued the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) for violating the California Public Records Act by unlawfully withholding records regarding living conditions of egg-laying hens in factory farms. We requested these records in August 2016 to determine factory egg farms’ compliance with California’s Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act and the Shell Egg Food Safety Regulations that were instituted after its passage. California residents who voted to pass the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act have a compelling interest in ensuring the law is enforced, and there is little information currently available regarding egg producers’ compliance with the new standards.
Beyond California, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is leading the charge to reform factory farming through the courts, in part by advocating for greater transparency and against Ag-Gag laws, which are designed to prevent the public from learning about animal cruelty by criminalizing whistleblowers who reveal animal abuse. You can read about Ag-Gag laws and our ongoing work to overturn them here.
Although the mistreatment of farmed animals is often hidden from public view, consumers are increasingly aware of the substandard conditions in which animals raised for food are routinely kept prior to their slaughter, due in part to undercover investigations by animal protection organizations. In November 2016, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved Question 3, An Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals, which is similar to California’s Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, but goes further. California’s law bans the sale of eggs from hens kept in cages too small for them to stand up, lie down, or turn around, but Massachusetts is the first state to ban the sale of meat products as well as eggs from animals confined in this manner. Once it goes into effect in 2022, this new legislation—which passed by a landslide with 78 percent of voters in favor of the law—will be stronger than any similar law in the U.S.
However, even the strongest laws are meaningless without enforcement, and prosecutors have historically been reluctant to pursue cruelty charges involving farmed animals. The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office’s willingness to bring these animal cruelty charges and hold the agriculture industry accountable to the minimal standards enacted by California voters sends a clear message that times are changing. The Animal Legal Defense Fund named District Attorney Michael Ramos one of the Top 10 Animal Defenders for 2017.
- San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office. “Charges filed against Ontario egg ranch.” San Bernardino District Attorney Blog. Feb. 9, 2017.
- Rocha, Veronica. “Ontario egg farm is charged after thousands of hens are found in ‘inhumane’ conditions.” Los Angeles Times. 7, 2017.
- McMillan, Rob. “Animal cruelty charges filed against Hohberg’s Poultry Ranches in Ontario.” ABC7. Feb. 7, 2017.
- Animal Legal Defense Fund. “Animal Legal Defense Fund Sues California Department of Food and Agriculture to Release Records about Conditions of Egg-Laying Hens.” Press Release. March 15, 2017.
- Pallotta, Nicole. “Federal Appeals Court Dismisses Challenge to California Sales Ban on Eggs Sourced from Extreme Confinement of Hens.” Animal Legal Defense Fund Blog. Dec. 1, 2016.
- Valenzuela, Beatriz. “San Bernardino County DA creates unit to prosecute animal cruelty.” The Sun. April 28, 2016.
Legally Brief: The Mother of Animal Law
Posted by on March 24, 2017
March is Women’s History Month—an appropriate time to express our thanks and reverence for the vision, courage and diligence of the “mother of animal law.” Over three decades have passed since Joyce Tischler founded the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the success and growth we enjoy today is all thanks to Joyce
Working as a young lawyer in the San Francisco Bay Area of the 1970s, Joyce sought and found a handful of compassionate colleagues with an interest in protecting animals and advancing their legal rights—together they formed Attorneys for Animal Rights, which shortly changed its name to the Animal Legal Defense Fund. From the very beginning, Joyce helped set the Animal Legal Defense Fund apart, not only in its mission to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system, but also in its consistent success in filing cutting-edge lawsuits. Groundbreaking has always been the right word to describe Joyce and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. In 1981, seeking to put theory into practice, she spearheaded a lawsuit against the U.S. Navy, which had been secretly shooting and killing feral burros with plans to kill over 5,000. Initially citing the need for an Environmental Impact Statement, Joyce negotiated continuously over the next eight months, ultimately saving the lives of every burro who had been under threat.
With Joyce’s leadership, the Animal Legal Defense Fund has filed groundbreaking and major impact lawsuits and laid the foundation necessary for animal law to be taken seriously in law schools, law firms and bar associations across the country. She has challenged hunting and trapping using the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), sought enforcement of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), engaged in animal custody battles, argued against the right to kill animals pursuant to will provisions and challenged the U.S. Patent Office’s rule allowing the patenting of genetically altered animals.
Now serving as the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s general counsel, she is responsible for in-house legal matters and spends her time out of the office writing, lecturing and promoting the field of animal law. While her leadership and persistence in the field has been recognized formally and repeatedly by her professional peers, we’d like to underscore our appreciation for all of her roles—fighter, nurturer, organizer, litigator—all of them vital to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, all of them devoted to making life better for animals.
I have had the pleasure and privilege of working shoulder to shoulder with Joyce for the past 18 years to continue to grow the incredible organization she founded and to fulfill its mission, “to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system.” I can imagine nothing better than spending the next 18 years working with the “mother of animal law” to win justice for all animals. Thank you, Joyce, for your commitment, strength and integrity!
Take Action: Ask Governor Hutchinson to Veto Arkansas Ag-Gag Law
Posted by on March 17, 2017
UPDATE – March 24, 2017:
Thank you to everyone who took action to defeat this bill. Unfortunately, Arkansas Governor Hutchinson signed HB 1665 into law, but we’re not done fighting. Read our full statement here.
A bill in Arkansas that would endanger animals is very close to becoming law. We need your help to show Governor Hutchinson that his constituents and other Americans oppose Ag-Gag laws. House Bill 1665 is designed to deter whistleblowers, journalists and undercover investigators from publicizing information, including conditions for animals on factory farms. This cruelty should not be allowed to continue in secret. Arkansas’ law would allow factory farm employers to sue whistleblowers directly, who could be liable for tens of thousands of dollars.
Ag-Gag bills, which are pushed by lobbyists for corporate agriculture companies, are an attempt to escape scrutiny over unsafe practices and animal abuses by threatening liability for those who expose these improper and, in many cases, illegal practices. Arkansas’s version is written so broadly that it would also ban undercover investigations of all private entities, including restaurants and daycare centers. This law would silence conscientious employees who wish to report wrongdoing.
Help us urge Arkansas’s Governor Asa Hutchinson to veto this bill. There are many ways you can help, no matter where you live:
- Everyone: Tweet at Governor Hutchinson.
Always be polite! Don’t insult, don’t “yell” in all caps or use foul language. Consider using these tweets:
@AsaHutchinson Please veto HB 1665. It infringes on free speech, endangers animals, workers & children. AR is better than that.
@AsaHutchinson Please veto HB 1665. Ag-Gag laws are failing nationwide for a reason. They’re unconstitutional, dangerous, and un-American.
- Everyone: Comment on Governor Hutchinson’s Instagram.
Always be polite! Don’t insult, don’t “yell” in all caps or use foul language. Consider using these comments:
Please veto HB 1665. This bill hurts the most vulnerable members of our society and tramples on free speech.
Please veto HB 1665. This law is unconstitutional and similar ones have been challenged across the country. Arkansas should be better than this.
Please veto HB 1665. This law panders to big industry instead of protecting those who are most at risk.
- Everyone: Comment on Governor Hutchinson’s Facebook.
Politely urge him to veto HB 1665.
Sydney Seafood Store Convicted of Animal Cruelty for Inhumane Treatment of Lobsters
Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on March 15, 2017
A popular seafood store in Sydney, Australia, was charged with animal cruelty for its treatment of lobsters, resulting in the first animal cruelty conviction in New South Wales (NSW) involving crustaceans. 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.
The conviction of Nicholas Seafood resulted from an inspection by the NSW Royal Society for the Prevention of Animals (RSPCA) after it obtained video showing a worker butchering a lobster alive with no attempt to render the animal unconscious beforehand, in violation of NSW’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The video shows a lobster struggling to escape during the dismembering process, remaining alive after the animal’s tail is cut off—which according to the RSCPA does not kill but causes immense pain—and before being put through a band saw.
The RSPCA issued a fine, but Nicholas Seafood decided to take the matter to court, resulting in the conviction of an Act of Animal Cruelty and a $1,500 fine. The company has said its staff have now been properly trained to kill the lobsters in a manner considered “humane” according to government guidelines.
Whether crustaceans are covered under animal cruelty laws depends on how the specific legislation defines “animal.” There is no national animal protection law in Australia, but each state or territory has its own law protecting animals. Some restrict the definition of animal to vertebrates, but others, including NSW, include crustaceans in that definition. Crustaceans were added to NSW’s Prevention of Animal Cruelty Act in 1997 “after it was medically proven they feel pain.” In contrast to the vertebrate species included in the law, crustaceans are only covered when being prepared as food.
In addition to about half of Australian states and territories, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland include crustaceans in their national animal protection legislation. United Kingdom animal advocacy group Crustacean Compassion is currently campaigning for crabs, lobsters and other crustaceans to be included under the definition of “animal” in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 of England and Wales.
The historical justification for excluding non-vertebrates from animal cruelty laws is predicated in part on the belief that they are unable to feel pain, a belief which has begun to crumble under the weight of mounting scientific evidence to the contrary. As research has begun to show that lobsters and crabs experience pain and suffer distress, interest in their wellbeing has increased.
In the U.S. too, whether crustaceans are covered by criminal animal cruelty laws depends on how each state’s applicable statue defines “animal.” Even if crustaceans are not expressly excluded, it is highly unlikely a prosecutor would pursue cruelty charges against a seafood company. 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.”
Despite the general lack of legal protections for aquatic animals, there is reason to be optimistic. Along with the groundbreaking outcome of the Nicholas Seafood case, public awareness is growing about the capacities of crustaceans and other aquatic animals such as fish, who also have little to no protection under the law despite their widespread (and increasing) use in intensive farming and research.
In another positive development, the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark Law School recently launched a new, first-of-its-kind Aquatic Animal Law Initiative (AALI), which works to protect and promote the interests of aquatic animals by advocating on their behalf through the legal system and providing education about their cognitive, emotional and physiological capacities. As the first entity to focus on questions broadly relating to the legal protection of aquatic animals, we can expect the AALI to play a significant role in steering policy, law and public opinion about these vastly misunderstood animals in a more humane direction.
- Zhou, Naaman. “Sydney fishmonger convicted of animal cruelty over lobster treatment.” The Guardian. Feb. 15, 2017.
- RSPCA New South Wales. “Crimes Against Crustaceans: Nicholas Seafood Convicted of Cruelty to Lobster.” Media Court Release. Feb. 15, 2017.
- McKee, Jillian. “One of Sydney’s biggest seafood stores convicted of animal cruelty charges for torturing a lobster.” The Daily Telegraph. Feb. 14, 2107.
- RSPCA Australia. “Are crustaceans protected by animal welfare legislation?” Aug. 4, 2014.
- Betts, Stephen. “Prosecutor won’t charge Linda Bean, lobster plant for animal cruelty.” Bangor Daily News. 30, 2013.
- 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.
Stop a New Ag-Gag Bill – Contact the Arkansas Tourism Bureau
Posted by on March 14, 2017
UPDATE – March 24, 2017:
Thank you to everyone who took action to defeat this bill. Unfortunately, Arkansas Governor Hutchinson signed HB 1665 into law, but we’re not done fighting. Read our full statement here.
A proposed new Ag-Gag bill is being considered by Arkansas lawmakers, and we need your help to stop it from becoming law. Factory farms want to keep their cruel practices hidden from the public, and industry lobbyists push Ag-Gag laws to accomplish that goal.
We successfully sued Idaho and had its Ag-Gag law ruled unconstitutional. And we continue to fight in Utah and North Carolina challenging the constitutionality of their states’ Ag-Gag laws. Help us stop Arkansas’ Ag-Gag bill before it becomes law.
Take action now to let the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism know that if this bill passes, you won’t be visiting.
Your help is urgently needed. House Bill 1665 has already quickly passed the Arkansas House and moved out of committee in the Senate.
The law would allow factory farm employers to sue whistleblowers directly, making them vulnerable to expensive lawsuits, all for trying to do the right thing. Such intimidation will effectively keep those who witness animal cruelty from speaking up. Arkansas’s version of Ag-Gag is written so broadly that it would also ban undercover investigations of virtually all private entities, including daycare centers and restaurants. This law would silence conscientious employees who wish to report wrongdoing.
Florida: Urge Your Legislators to Protect Orcas
Posted by on March 13, 2017
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is leading a coalition of animal protection, environmental and marine conservation groups proposing Florida legislation that would ensure no additional orcas will be held in captivity in the state.
The Florida Orca Protection Act would grandfather in existing orcas but outlaw the holding of any additional orcas in captivity in Florida. The act would also prohibit breeding captive orcas or transporting them out of state, unless to a seaside sanctuary. It’s a commonsense law that just codifies SeaWorld’s previous commitment to phase out breeding orcas immediately and orca performances by 2019.
This is the first Florida legislative session since the tragic death of Tilikum—featured in the documentary Blackfish—who died at SeaWorld Orlando in January. Don’t let his sad life and lonely death be in vain.
FLORIDA: Urge your state legislators to support the Florida Orca Protection Act
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is committed to using the legal system to free all remaining captive orcas. Until then, we’ve made it easy for you to email your legislators and ask them to support the Florida Orca Protection Act and make it illegal to hold any additional orcas in captivity in Florida.
Arkansas Residents: Stop the Ag-Gag Bill
Posted by on March 7, 2017
UPDATE – March 24, 2017:
Thank you to everyone who took action to defeat this bill. Unfortunately, Arkansas Governor Hutchinson signed HB 1665 into law, but we’re not done fighting.
We need your help to stop House Bill 1665, a proposed new Ag-Gag bill being considered by Arkansas lawmakers. This law is designed to deter whistleblowers, journalists and undercover investigators from publicizing information, including conditions for animals on factory farms. The law would allow factory farm employers to sue whistleblowers directly, who could be liable for tens of thousands of dollars.
The bill has already passed the house and is headed to the senate—urge your state senators to oppose House Bill 1665.
Ag-Gag bills, which are pushed by lobbyists for corporate agriculture companies, are an attempt to escape scrutiny over unsafe practices and animal abuses by threatening liability for those who expose these improper and, in many cases, illegal practices. Arkansas’s version is written so broadly that it would also ban undercover investigations of all private entities, including nursing homes and daycare centers. This law would silence conscientious employees who wish to report wrongdoing.
Please, contact your senators today. You hold the power to prevent this dangerous bill from becoming law. Please share this with your friends and family in Arkansas.
This action is only available to Arkansas residents.
Act Now to Protect Animals in Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges
Posted by on March 6, 2017
UPDATE – March 22, 2017
Thank you to all of our supporters who took action on this issue. Unfortunately, the bill has passed, and we expect it to be signed by President Trump. We are disappointed in this outcome, but remain committed to defending the Endangered Species Act and supporting other legislation that offers animals the protections they deserve.
Alaska’s wildlife is under attack and we need you to be their voice. Just seven months ago, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service enacted a rule to prevent the State of Alaska from allowing horrific methods of wildlife control including steel-jawed leghold traps and neck wire snares, shooting hibernating bears with their cubs, killing wolves and their pups during denning season and shooting grizzly bears from airplanes. Now that important rule is under threat.
A new proposal would allow people to kill wolves and bears using these cruel and indefensible methods again. The attempt to roll back basic protections for Alaskan wildlife is being fueled by trophy hunters.
Take action today to defeat this dangerous proposal.
We’ve made it easy for you to contact your senators and tell them you do not support H.J. Res. 69 and S.J. Res. 18, the congressional joint resolution that would permanently repeal protections for Alaskan bears and wolves.
Thank you for your support.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund Files First Brief in “MonkeyGate” Appeal
Posted by on March 3, 2017
Standing for Government Transparency and Animal Protection
The Animal Legal Defense Fund has filed its initial appellate brief with the Florida Second District Court of Appeal in its appeal of the July 2016 ruling in the “MonkeyGate” case. The brief is the latest development in the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s multi-year campaign to void the decision to approve two new primate breeding facilities in Hendry County, Florida. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of local landowners, alleges that Hendry County illegally approved site development plans for the SoFlo Ag and Panther Tracts primate facilities in violation of the state’s Sunshine Law.
The county approved these facilities in closed-door conferences without public notice or public meetings. The crux of the lawsuit alleges that Hendry County staff engaged in policy-based decision-making, which is subject to the Sunshine Law, by classifying these primate breeding facilities as “animal husbandry” for agricultural zoning purposes. However, the definition of “animal husbandry” only includes domestic animals like pigs and chickens, not wild and exotic primates bred and used as test subjects in biomedical research. As such, the approval of the primate breeding facilities in agriculture zoning amounts to rewriting the zoning code, which is exactly the type of policy-based decision-making that requires a public hearing with reasonable public notice under the Sunshine Law.
The Hendry County primate facilities house thousands of long-tailed macaques and other primates for breeding and sale to biomedical research companies. Some primate breeding facilities in Hendry County have been the subject of investigations revealing horrific conditions and cruelty. It’s reasonable to expect macaques at the new facilities would be subject to similar abuse. Long-tailed macaques are inquisitive and intelligent animals who live in social groups. They’ve even been seen using stone tools to prepare their food—like cracking open oysters and sea snails. They have been the victims of the animal testing industry for decades.
The SoFlo Ag facility is only a few hundred feet away from residential areas, posing a risk to both property values and residents’ enjoyment of their property. Additionally, macaques can transmit deadly infections to humans, meaning their presence in Florida threatens human health and safety. Considering all these factors and the requirements of the Sunshine Law, the Animal Legal Defense Fund believes that the public has the right to participate in the decision whether to build these facilities in the community.
Citizens must be given a chance to be heard when the government makes decisions that will affect their homes and day-to-day lives. Hendry County’s disregard of the Sunshine Law in approving these primate breeding facilities should not be tolerated.