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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 senateurge 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.

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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.

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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.

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San Francisco Bans Sale of Dogs and Cats in Retail Stores

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

San Francisco has become the latest jurisdiction to outlaw the sale of commercially bred dogs and cats in retail stores. San Francisco’s new ordinance, passed unanimously by the city’s Board of Supervisors on February 14, 2017, prohibits retail stores from selling commercially bred dogs and cats, and instead encourages stores to partner with animal shelters and rescue groups to display adoptive animals. It also bans the sale of puppies and kittens under eight weeks old.

The new law applies only to retail stores and does not make it illegal to breed dogs and cats; people still can purchase an animal directly from a breeder, where “the consumer can see the conditions in which the dogs or cats are bred or can confer with the breeder concerning those conditions.”

Although there are no retail stores currently selling commercially bred dogs and cats in San Francisco, this law will prohibit any from doing so in the future. Restricting retail sales in this way is intended to reduce the number of dogs and cats who are killed in shelter facilities each year by decreasing the commercial demand for animals bred in puppy and kitten mills—the large-scale breeding facilities which are major suppliers of animals sold in retail stores—and increasing demand for animals from animal shelters and rescue organizations.

Additionally, the legislation is designed to “promote community awareness of animal welfare and foster a more humane environment in San Francisco,” as well as reward humane business practices. According to an editorial in the San Francisco Examiner co-written by sponsoring supervisor Katy Tang:

“….this ordinance also acknowledges San Francisco businesses for their humane business practices. The large majority of pet stores in this country have stopped selling puppies and kittens and instead profit from selling pet-related products and offering quality services. Most also partner with local shelters to promote the benefits of adoption and regularly host events to help animals find new loving families. This is the model followed by San Francisco’s existing pet stores, and they should be recognized for doing the right thing and encouraged to continue.”

San Francisco joins a steadily growing list of cities that have passed bans on the commercial sale of dogs, cats, and in some cases, rabbits. Since Albuquerque became the first to pass such a ban in 2006, larger cities that have enacted similar legislation include Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, San Diego, Los Angeles, Austin and Las Vegas.

These laws are part of a growing national movement to combat puppy and kitten mills, which treat animals like a cash crop, keep them in poor conditions and deceive consumers. While some of these laws allow exceptions for small breeders, they are still a positive step toward 1) reducing the number of unadopted companion animals who are put to death in shelters each year, 2) reducing in the long run the number of animals who suffer in the substandard conditions that are the norm in breeding operations by eliminating the market for commercially bred dogs and cats, and 3) encouraging people to view animals as sentient beings rather than disposable commodities.

Until they are outlawed completely, the Animal Legal Defense Fund also uses litigation to improve conditions in puppy mills, including a recent landmark victory in Pennsylvania in which the court struck down regulatory exemptions that had significantly weakened the state law regulating large commercial breeding facilities. The decision restored the integrity of the law and reinstated a comprehensive set of requirements for commercial dog breeders, including a prohibition on metal wire flooring and ensuring mother dogs have unfettered access to exercise areas. The Animal Legal Defense Fund, with the Humane Society of the United States and law firm Locke Lord LLP, also recently settled a lawsuit against Chicago pet store chain Furry Babies, which is now required to disclose the specific source of its puppies, thereby giving consumers who do not wish to support the cruel puppy mill industry the ability to make an informed choice.

Further Reading:

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Act Now to Fight a Dangerous Bill Pushed by Dairy Industry

Posted by on February 27, 2017

We need your help to defeat a dangerous new bill in the U.S. Senate. The “DAIRY PRIDE” Act is a blatant attempt by the dairy industry to stifle the rise of plant-based products that many consumers choose as healthier and more humane alternatives by prohibiting such products from using “milk” or “cheese” in their names. The dairy industry is losing market share because consumers are gravitating toward cruelty-free products, like soymilk and cashew cheese, which are great sources of protein but contain no cholesterol or animal products.

The dairy industry claims this bill is designed to end “confusion” among consumers, but the idea that consumers would believe almond milk comes from a cow is absurd. The full name of the bill reveals its true motive: “Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, milk, and cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act.”

The bill would forbid makers of dairy alternatives from using “milk” or “cheese” in their name, even when that is what consumers expect for such products and when changing the name would only cause more confusion, not less.

Take action today to defeat this dangerous bill.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund fully supports truth in labeling, but the DAIRY PRIDE Act is designed to discourage people from purchasing healthy and humane alternatives to dairy milk products and to ensure the continuation of cruel factory farming despite consumers’ growing interest in products that don’t require animal cruelty.

The bill is currently in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. We’ve made it easy for you to contact the senators in this committee and urge them not to support this bill.

Legislators are using public resources to do the bidding of an animal-abusing industry that is terrified of the superior plant-based competition. We can’t let the dairy industry get away with this. Speak up to tell Congress to stop stifling competition from humane dairy alternatives.

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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:



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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

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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.


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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.

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

Posted by on February 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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We Stand Against Senseless Cownose Ray Killing Contest in Chesapeake Bay

Posted by on January 30, 2017

*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

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Federal Judge Rules in Favor of USDA in Foie Gras Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And HB 4353 states:

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

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

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

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Defend the Endangered Species Act

Posted by on January 23, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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Animals in Film: Capitalizing on Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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