Case Inspiring Change in Florida Dog Bite Law Featured in The Florida Bar Journal

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

In a victory for due process in dog bite cases, a Florida law passed last year allows guardians of dogs accused of causing serious injury to a person to mount a defense on behalf of the animal to save that animal’s life. An article published in the January 2017 edition of The Florida Bar Journal, “Padi-Waggin: The Tail of One Dog’s Journey from Death Row to Legislative Inspiration for Dog Bite Due Process,” tells the story of how the new legislation came to pass.

House Bill 91, signed into law by Florida Gov. Rick Scott in March 2016, replaced a previous statute that required the automatic killing of, paradoxically, any non-dangerous dog who severely injures a human, regardless of the circumstances of the incident and without giving owners the ability to appeal. The new legislation allows an “animal control authority” discretion in deciding if a dog should be put to death following a serious bite incident and enables owners to launch a more traditional due process appeal whereby they can introduce mitigating circumstances, such as provocation, to justify the dog’s actions.

The impetus for HB 91 was a 2015 case involving a Labrador mix named Padi, who bit a child and caused severe injury to the child’s ear (requiring stitches and reconstructive surgery). Under Florida’s old “dog death penalty” law, Padi would have been killed without considering if the attack was provoked. Although witnesses said that Padi was defending himself when the child cornered him under a desk, the law as written gave animal control no leeway to consider preceding circumstances.

According to the Bradenton Herald, accounts differ on whether the child lunged at Padi or if Padi lunged at the child first, but all parties generally agreed that Padi had gone into a corner of the office to avoid the child and the child followed.

Padi’s case received widespread attention as his guardian challenged the law in an effort to save the dog’s life. In December 2015, the Circuit Court for the 12th Judicial Circuit voided the statute on constitutional grounds, finding it “arbitrary and unduly oppressive,” and ordered the immediate release of Padi, who had been seized by animal control seven months prior. In its decision, the court noted that Florida’s laws allowed for the consideration of potentially intervening circumstances when a dog was declared “dangerous,” yet not in situations involving dogs like Padi, who have never been classified as dangerous. The court found this fact “illogical and inconsistent.” According to the opinion:

“In short, if Padi was subjected to a dangerous dog investigation under §767.12, then [d]efendant and Padi would be allowed certain enumerated defenses, such as provocation, in defense to a dangerous dog investigation and classification; however, such defenses are not authorized under §767.13(2).”

The court also found the statute unconstitutional because it provided animal control authorities “unbridled discretion” in its decision to categorize a dog as “dangerous” or not, with:

“…no guided authority to select the severity of consequences for a dog’s actions. The Florida Supreme Court has emphasized in numerous cases that unfettered authority granted to a government enforcement agency with no clear, specific legislative guidance is unconstitutional.”

Although the court’s decision only applied in three Florida counties, HB 91 changed the law throughout the state. The Bradenton Herald quoted the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Greg Steube, as saying this case “brought to the forefront a law that is really unfair…if a burglar breaks into your house and the dog bites the burglar, the dog would have to be put down.”

The new law also exempts canines from the “dangerous dog” category if that dog was reacting to certain circumstances that justify the attack, such as if the dog was being tormented, assaulted or abused; if the dog was defending or protecting a human in the immediate vicinity from an unjustifiable attack; or if the person who was seriously injured was unlawfully on the property at the time. If the dog is deemed “dangerous,” the animal control authority can return the dog to the legal owner with certain restrictions; if a dog is not declared “dangerous,” animal control may no longer automatically destroy the dog if the owner files an appeal during the mandatory impoundment period—even if the dog has killed another human being. In addition, if a dog has not been declared “dangerous” but the owner knows of the dog’s dangerous propensities and the dog causes severe physical injury or death of a human, that owner commits a misdemeanor under the new law.

Paul Gartenberg, Padi’s guardian and a veterinarian, is hopeful this case will have an impact beyond Florida; he also plans to use his skills outside the veterinary profession to teach children appropriate behavior around dogs. According to an interview in the Bradenton Herald:

“The Padi case has had a ripple effect as Arizona and other states have called Manatee County to rewrite state statutes, Gartenberg said. ‘It’s having an impact nationwide’ he said. Gartenberg hopes to write a children’s book ‘as soon as possible’ about the incident to prevent future ones. ‘I think that was the root of the problem: This child didn’t know how to interact with the dog,’ he said.”

Although breed-neutral laws regarding dangerous dogs and/or reckless owners will always be necessary, the Animal Legal Defense Fund believes these laws must at minimum allow for consideration of the circumstances of the incident and for owners to mount an appeal. These laws should also be augmented by other approaches, including public education campaigns to teach children and adults how to safely interact with dogs and encourage better understanding of animal behavior.

Further Reading:



No Comments  |  Leave A Comment

Michigan Appeals Court Dismisses Lawsuit in Fatal Shooting of Two Family Dogs by Police

Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on February 15, 2017

On Dec. 19, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a civil suit involving the fatal shooting of two family dogs by police officers who were executing a search warrant for drug-related activity in 2013. The dogs were owned by Mark and Cheryl Brown, who argued—in Fourth Amendment terms—that by unreasonably killing their dogs, the officers had unlawfully seized their property.

In March 2016, the district court granted defendants’ request for summary judgment and found in favor of the defendants, which included the Battle Creek Police Department (BCPD) and the three officers involved in the fatal shooting. On appeal, plaintiffs argued that the district court had erred, specifically contending that it was clearly established that a government official’s unreasonable killing of a dog is a seizure under the Fourth Amendment, and the seizure of the Browns’ dogs was unreasonable.

Setting Sixth Circuit precedent, the Court of Appeals held that “there is a constitutional right under the Fourth Amendment to not have one’s dog unreasonably seized”—and that law enforcement officers unreasonably killing one’s dog is just such a constitutionally prohibited seizure. In doing so, the appellate court highlighted the emotional attachment between companion animals and their people, which makes such a killing a particularly severe intrusion on Fourth Amendment interests. As a result, the court held that in order to be legitimate, such a killing must be justified by a similarly important government interest, such as officer safety. Further, the court determined that this right for people to be free from having their dogs unreasonably killed was clearly established prior to the Browns’ two dogs being slain.

Operating from that position, the court looked at the actions taken by the Battle Creek Police Department officers during the search, asking whether “given all of the circumstances and viewed from the perspective of a reasonable officer at the scene, [the dogs] posed [an] imminent threat [to the officers]….” Unfortunately, in reviewing the statements of the officers involved (who were the only witnesses to the shootings), the court determined that a reasonable officer would have felt imminently threatened by the dogs. As a result, the court determined that the shootings in this case did not violate the constitutional right to not have one’s dog unreasonably killed by law enforcement officers. While the court’s opinion does not exhaustively list the factors giving rise to the officers’ feeling of imminent threat, it appears connected to the officers’ perception of the home potentially containing dangerous people, not just to the dogs themselves.

Although police officers have the need and the right to protect themselves in the line of duty, the degree to which the facts in this case were read as indicating the dogs posed a threat to the officers is troubling. In particular, the second dog shot was, according to the officers’ own testimony, avoiding them when they breached the front door by moving away from the officers and retreating to the basement. While the court points to the officers’ sense that the basement needed to be cleared in order to confirm there were no dangerous people hiding there, and suggests that the presence of the dog may have prevented that, the court does not explain how the third shot inflicted on that dog—at a point where the dog had retreated, wounded, to a corner of the basement—was responsive to a sense of imminent threat.

Plaintiffs had also alleged that the City of Battle Creek was municipally liable because the BCPD failed to provide training to address the known risk of constitutional violations arising from dog shootings. The court’s determination that the shooting had not resulted in any constitutional violation, however, proved fatal to this argument: the claim requires an actual constitutional violation to proceed. Nonetheless, the Court of Appeals quoted the district court’s observation that “there isn’t much of a policy, practice, not just in Battle Creek but throughout the country, on how” law enforcement officers should interact with dogs.

This lack of policy is something the Animal Legal Defense Fund has been working to address, through guidance for law enforcement provided by our Criminal Justice Program, recommendations on model laws and policies regarding mandatory training of non-lethal methods for dealing with dogs, and our partnership on the documentary film, Of Dogs and Men, which premiered in September 2016 and provides practical solutions for keeping both police officers and dogs safe during high-stress encounters such as this one.

These goals need not be mutually exclusive. Sadly, police shootings of dogs are not as uncommon as one might think, with more than 10,000 companion dogs losing their lives at the hands of police each year, according to Department of Justice statistics. This trend can be reversed through proper training for law enforcement officers in non-lethal approaches to canine encounters. Given the increasing number of households that include companion animals, these tragic incidents are likely to continue without intervention and education.

Although in this case the court found the actions of the officers reasonable, the sad outcome for these dogs, who committed no crime, likely could have been prevented. With proper training we can hope to see a shift in what is considered “reasonable” in situations where an innocent animal’s life is at risk for engaging in natural canine behaviors like barking, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time—which should never include the dog’s own home.

Further Reading

No Comments  |  Leave A Comment

Help Us Fight Back – Critical Animal Welfare Reports Removed From USDA Website

Posted by on February 9, 2017

On Friday morning, animal protection in America took a significant step backward when news broke that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had removed critical animal welfare reports from its website. The Animal Legal Defense Fund immediately got to work on battling this devastating change which sacrifices the well-being of animals while shielding animal abusers from public scrutiny.

The removed USDA reports contained information on animals kept by research labs, zoos, puppy mills, circuses and animal transporters—and whether those facilities are violating the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Removing these reports keeps the illegal mistreatment of animals in the dark. Without the USDA’s enforcement records, countless animal protection organizations are severely hampered in their essential work to protect animals.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund intends to sue to compel the USDA to stop hiding this information. We won’t stand idly by while our federal government takes action to make animal law enforcement more difficult than it already is.

Your immediate support is crucial to our success.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund will not back down, but we are going to need you by our side for this. Your generous donation today means we can do whatever is necessary to ensure the USDA records remain publicly available and hold people accountable for unlawful treatment of animals. The tax-deductible donation you make today is critical.


No Comments  |  Leave A Comment

Californians: Permanently End Cruel Pig Exhibition at the California State Fair

Posted by on February 9, 2017

UPDATE February 16, 2017: Last week we enlisted your help to urge the organizers of the California State Fair to stop using taxpayer dollars for an illegal exhibition of pregnant and nursing pigs. We deeply thank you for your effort. We gave them a chance to do the right thing, but because the organizers have not agreed to permanently end this cruelty, we are following up on our promise and suing them for their inhumane treatment of these mother pigs.


The Animal Legal Defense Fund needs California residents’ help to end the cruel exhibition of pregnant and nursing pigs in farrowing crates at the California State Fair. The California State Fair usually features the cruel exhibition of pigs confined in farrowing crates that are so small that the pigs cannot even turn around or walk. They are forced to give birth and nurse in public, despite their instincts to stay isolated during this time. The pigs are never let out for exercise. These farrowing crates cause needless suffering by completely depriving the exhibited pigs of the ability to engage in any exercise.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund has sent a letter to the organizers requesting this cruel exhibit be cancelled for good. We are giving them a chance to do the right thing, but if they don’t comply we are prepared to sue them for their inhumane treatment of the pigs.

We ask Californians to please contact the Board of Regents of the University of California and California Exposition and State Fair (Cal Expo) to let them know that taxpayer-funded animal cruelty will not be tolerated.

Even though the exhibit has been cancelled in recent years because of health concerns, we need to make sure it never happens again.  Californians hold the power to end this shameful practice at the California State Fair. Please share this with your friends and family in California.

No Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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.

No Comments  |  Leave A Comment

We Stand Against Senseless Cownose Ray Killing Contest in Chesapeake Bay

Posted by on January 30, 2017

*UPDATE: Victory! Governor Hogan signed the cownose ray killing contest ban on May 4, 2017. Thank you for your support in protecting Maryland’s wildlife.

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

No Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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:

No Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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:

No Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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.

No Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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:

No Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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:

No Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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.

No Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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:

No Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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.

No Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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!

No Comments  |  Leave A Comment

Be a Partner in Protection!

Donate monthly to help animals.

or make a one-time gift »

ALDF's Online Store

Help fund our lifesaving work!


Stay Connected

Sign up for Action Alerts.

Join Us

Follow ALDF on these networks:

Stay Connected

Sign up for Action Alerts.