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California: One More Step to End Sales of Puppy Mill Animals

Posted by on September 25, 2017

UPDATE: On Oct. 13, 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 485 into law, making California the first state to ban retail sale of puppy mill animals. Thank you to everyone who took action to support this important law.


If you’d like to read the full text of AB 485, the bill is posted here.


We need you to call Governor Brown today and urge him to sign the bill.  Please call him at (916) 445-2841 and simply say:

Hello! I’m a constituent from [Your City] and I want to urge Governor Brown to sign AB 485 to protect both animals and consumers in California from the puppy mill industry. Thank you for your time.

You can also send an email to or a fax to (916) 558-3160.

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Joint Comment Letter Opposes National Chicken Council Petition

Posted by on September 21, 2017

Chickens in cages

The Animal Legal Defense Fund joined several other animal protection groups to submit a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture opposing a petition from the chicken industry requesting that chicken slaughter plants be allowed to slaughter chickens at higher line speeds. Currently, some chicken slaughter plants are already allowed to slaughter chickens at very high speeds of more than 140 or 175 birds per minute. The National Chicken Council petition requests that all slaughter plants be allowed to seek a “waiver” to run at any line speed they desire.

It’s common sense that when an action is performed more quickly, the rate of mistakes increases. Granting the petition would endanger worker safety, threaten food safety, and increase the number of birds who are inhumanely handled or die by means other than slaughter. When chickens move through the line too quickly, some of the chickens may miss the stunner and throat cutter. As a result, these chickens enter scalding tanks and are boiled alive. A 2015 undercover investigation inside a Tyson Foods, Inc. slaughter plant by the Animal Legal Defense Fund revealed that extremely high line speeds contributed to the suffocation of chickens caused by equipment malfunctions, endangered Tyson Foods employees, and led workers to mistakenly hang dead birds on shackles for slaughter and processing.

Granting the petition would negatively impact billions of chickens and turkeys. You can read the letter in full here.

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Case Update: Fighting USDA for Animal Welfare Records

Posted by on September 21, 2017

In early 2017, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suddenly removed public access to thousands of animal welfare reports concerning enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), a federal law that regulates research labs, puppy mills, zoos, circuses, and more. The Animal Legal Defense Fund pledged to sue the USDA, and we did.

A court recently decided to dismiss our lawsuit. Last week we filed an appeal of that decision.

Our lawsuit argued that removing access to the database violates the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but the judge dismissed on the grounds that FOIA does not provide a remedy to enforce the USDA’s obligation to publish records.

The judge also dismissed our claims under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), which allows courts to set aside agency actions if they are “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” Without addressing whether the USDA’s action was arbitrary or capricious, the court dismissed our claim on the basis that FOIA provides an adequate remedy.

In other words, the court decided that the Animal Legal Defense Fund should submit traditional FOIA requests to the USDA if we want to see any records. Our appeal argues that forcing animal protection organizations to rely on individual FOIA requests is a significant burden. Records that were previously immediately accessible at no cost now require every animal protection organization to manage voluminous FOIA requests that take months, even years, to process. Not to mention the possibility of large fees.

We want you to have the latest information on this case because we know how important it is to you, and to the animals we fight for using the evidence from animal welfare records.

We won’t ever give up on fighting for the animals.

Join Our Fight For Transparency

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The Border Wall: Disastrous for Wildlife

Posted by on September 14, 2017

Two black bears

The United States is rich in biodiversity, but the wildlife and ecosystems we share with Mexico are continually endangered by climate change and human encroachment on wildlife habitats. In January, the federal government announced that it would replace the San Diego border wall  with a staggering 30-foot wall — potentially made of impermeable concrete—as well as building multiple sections of new prototype walls near the Otay Mesa border crossing. These projects are the first of the government’s recently funded border wall construction.

In an effort to evade compliance with vital environmental laws and regulations, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security invoked the waiver components of a 2005 immigration law known as the REAL ID Act with regard to the San Diego wall construction as well as an area of wall near Calexico, California. The agency asserts that this law provides it a waiver for compliance with numerous laws enacted to protect both our environment and endangered species, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Migratory Bird Conservation Act. But the scope of the Real ID Act’s waiver provision was very limited, authorizing waiver only for very specific portions of wall that were required to be “expeditiously constructed” within a few years of the passage of that 2005 law.

The waiver of these decades-old environmental laws threatens the animals living in habitats that transverse the U.S.-Mexico border. To protect our ecosystems and the animals that call them home, the Animal Legal Defense Fund joined litigation brought by a coalition of wildlife protection groups that include Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The lawsuit argues that the agency’s attempt to waive the laws is illegal—and it is overreaching with its interpretation of the act.

This Is a Critical Case to Protect Environmental and Animal Laws

These wall construction projects—which are now slated to begin as early as November—are the first attempt to use the REAL ID Act of 2005 to waive environmental protection laws to allow construction of the border wall. The determination of the legality of the agency’s effort to waive animal and environmental protection laws will have implications—as this project proceeds—across the more than one thousand miles of the proposed border wall. Further, this decision will impact how the federal government is required to treat animals and the environment in future policy decisions.

The Wall’s Victims

The border wall would divide animal families, interfere with breeding and migratory patterns, and potentially result in the extinction of many of the more than one hundred endangered or threatened species that call the border area their home. To thrive, animals need access to the full range of their habitats. Barriers that isolate groups of animals also lead to inbreeding, which decreases genetic diversity and ultimately puts species at risk of extinction. Unimpeded migration is essential to gene flow.  Additionally, many animals will suddenly find their natural migration routes impassable. Species across the animal kingdom are genetically programmed to migrate to find more hospitable weather and food or to mate. Disrupting or permanently severing natural migration routes would be disastrous for countless species, some whom travel thousands of miles every year.

The Specific Animals Impacted

The impact on the San Diego area alone includes wetlands, meadows, and coastal land. Just a few of the species jeopardized by construction include the western snowy plover, a threatened shorebird, as well as the endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly and California least tern.

A full wall extending across the border between the United States and Mexico would additionally compromise dozens more endangered or threatened species. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, over 100 endangered, threatened, or near-threatened species would be impacted. Animals including Mexican gray wolves, jaguars, and ocelots may go extinct as a result.

For example, Sky Islands, a region that straddles the Arizona-Mexico border, is home to over 7000 different animal and plant species, including black bears and mountain lions. It is one of the most biologically rich areas in the country. Some fencing already exists in the region, and additional construction would further imperil the Sky Islands. The endangered Sonoran Pronghorn is another victim of humanmade barriers, and its future is uncertain. The Sonoran Pronghorn exists at a critically low number, and they require the ability to migrate across country borders to survive. Additional construction in the Sonoran Desert would fatally compromise their ability to forage for food and find mating partners.

Respect Our Laws

The federal government must respect its own laws and consider the impact that construction will have on our environment. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is committed to protecting our native wildlife and will continue to fight to keep their habitats safe.

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Join us at the Animal Legal Defense Fund Student Convention!

Posted by on September 12, 2017

Law students: We are excited to invite you to Animal Legal Defense Fund’s first ever Student Convention! The Convention will take place on the Friday leading up to the Animal Law Conference on October 13, 2017 in Portland, Oregon. At the Convention, you will meet and receive advice from leaders in the animal law field on how to make animal law a part of your career. From criminal to solo to pro bono turned non-profit, there is a way to do what you love in a way you’ll love. The Convention also includes a keynote by Animal Legal Defense Fund founder, and “the Mother of Animal Law,” Joyce Tischler.

You will learn about factory farming and the law from your peers through the Law Student Scholarship Panel. During the SALDF Summit, you will meet Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapter members from different schools across the world to share ideas and discuss your chapters’ successes and any issues you have encountered. We will also let you know about our resources and opportunities for law students, such as our clerkships, our Advancement of Animal Law Scholarships, SALDF project and travel grants, and more!

The Convention is free for law students! Please RSVP by October 1, 2017 to secure your spot as space is limited. We hope to see you there!

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California Supreme Court Reverses Protections for Elephants Confined at Los Angeles Zoo

Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on September 8, 2017

Asian elephants at the zoo

“All is not well at the Elephants of Asia exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo. Contrary to what the zoo’s representatives may have told the Los Angeles City Council in order to get construction of the $42 million exhibit approved and funded, the elephants are not healthy, happy, and thriving.”– Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Segal

The above is an excerpt from an opinion issued after a six-day trial in July 2012, in which Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Segal harshly criticized the Los Angeles Zoo for its treatment of Billy, Jewel, and Tina, the three elephants in its care. Though he declined to send the elephants to a sanctuary, Judge Segal issued an injunction aimed at improving their well-being. In May 2017, the California Supreme Court unanimously overturned that injunction.

The 2012 injunction prohibited the use of “bull hooks and electric shock in the management, care, and discipline of the elephants” and required the zoo to provide at least two hours of exercise a day on soft ground to protect the animals’ feet and joints. The Animal Legal Defense Fund, along with other groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), submitted amicus briefs in support of retaining the injunction.

The injunction was reversed on procedural grounds rather than on the merits of the case. As explained by the Los Angeles Times: “The highly technical ruling said a taxpayer lawsuit, which relies on rules of civil law, cannot be used to stop criminal conduct. The suit that led to the injunction against the zoo accused it of violating a criminal law against animal cruelty.”

The original complaint was filed in 2007 by taxpayers against the City of Los Angeles (which owns and operates the Los Angeles Zoo) and John Lewis, the zoo’s director, to enjoin what they argued was abusive, damaging and wasteful behavior by the Los Angeles Zoo regarding its Elephants of Asia exhibit. The plaintiffs’ theory was that the city’s criminal mistreatment of the animals, particularly its violation of California Penal Code section 596.5, which specifically prohibits the abuse of elephants, amounted to an illegal and wasteful use of public funds.

The July 2012 Injunction and Opinion

In an eloquent 56-page opinion accompanying the 2012 injunction, Judge Segal agreed with the plaintiffs on major points regarding the elephants’ inadequate living conditions and roundly criticized Los Angeles Zoo officials for being “delusional” about the animals’ well-being. He singled out the senior elephant keeper in particular for having “shocking gaps in her knowledge” and “surprising misconceptions” about elephant behavior.

A central point in the trial, argued by zoo employees but corroborated by none of the elephant experts who testified, was whether the animals’ repetitive head-bobbing – a stereotypic behavior widely recognized by ethologists as an indicator of frustration, boredom, and stress in captive animals – was in fact a sign of happiness. One of the many incorrect assertions made by the senior elephant keeper during her testimony was that this disturbing head-bobbing, which is not seen in wild elephants, is similar to a dog’s excited tail wag, a particularly preposterous assertion given the preponderance of evidence to the contrary. Judge Segal did not mince words when he called her belief an “anthropomorphic fantasy.” He also said it was “particularly disturbing” that someone with such misguided and uninformed opinions was the senior employee in charge of caring for the elephants and essentially controlling their lives in captivity.

In contrast, the court credited the testimony of Dr. Joyce Poole, a renowned elephant expert, for her extensive knowledge and experience and called her the most credible witness regarding elephant behavior. She testified that head-bobbing and other stereotypic behaviors seen in Billy, Tina, and Jewel, like swaying and rocking back and forth in place, is never seen in wild elephants as an expression of excitement or happiness, and that to the contrary these behaviors unequivocally show the zoo is not meeting the animals’ needs.

Judge Segal agreed, writing movingly about the substandard conditions these highly intelligent and sensitive animals are forced to endure:

“Thus, the Elephants of Asia exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo is not a happy place for elephants…Captivity is a terrible existence for any intelligent, self-aware species, which the undisputed evidence shows elephants are. To believe otherwise, as some high-ranking zoo employees appear to believe, is delusional. And the quality of life that Billy, Tina, and Jewel endure in their captivity is particularly poor.”

Although he poignantly concluded that the elephants’ existence was “empty, purposeless, boring, and occasionally painful,” Judge Segal stopped short of ruling conditions at the zoo were abusive. In reaching this conclusion, he noted that section 596.5 of the penal code did not define “abusive behavior,” and that this lack of clarity made it difficult to know which behaviors were prohibited by law and what standard to use in deciding whether the zoo’s treatment of the elephants rose to the level of abusive behavior. Although agreeing that life for Billy, Tina, and Jewel at the zoo was essentially miserable, he concluded that the zoo’s conduct was not cruel beyond the “ordinary” circumstances of captivity:

“This case raises the question of whether the recreational or perhaps educational needs of one intelligent mammal species outweigh the physical and emotional, if not survival, needs of another. Existing California law does not answer that question.”

He did however, rule that the use of bullhooks (a fireplace poker-like device used to strike elephants), electric shocks, and other methods of discipline were abusive and inappropriate under penal code section 596.5. Though the zoo argued it had voluntarily stopped using these methods, the court was skeptical of this claim given the timing and manner of the stated cessation (which occurred only during litigation). Noting that statements of the zoo director during trial did “not inspire confidence in his commitment,” Judge Segal determined the injunction was necessary to ensure compliance, since the zoo could resume these methods as soon as litigation ended.

He also found plaintiffs had met their burden to prove that the zoo was in violation of penal code section 597t, which requires confined animals have an adequate exercise area. Rather than sending the elephants to a sanctuary, which Judge Segal wrote was a “bit much,” the court’s remedy was to increase their exercise time in their current area and mandate the soil be rototilled to make it softer.

Although the ruling unfortunately did not send Billy, Tina, and Jewel to one of the two reputable sanctuaries suggested by plaintiffs, the injunction was a positive step. In light of the California Supreme Court’s reversal, advocates are now left hoping the zoo will voluntarily adhere to these provisions, which it has said it will do. The use of bullhooks to control elephants was banned in California in 2016, and the zoo has said it no longer uses electric shocks and will continue to adhere to the exercise provisions mandated by the now defunct order.

Do Elephants Belong in Zoos?

It would be difficult, if not impossible, for a captive setting to replicate an elephant’s natural habitat, in which they walk up to 18 hours a day, maintain complex social relationships, and live in extended family units. However, reputable sanctuaries do a much better job replicating natural conditions than even the most well-equipped zoo, which simply cannot provide adequate space or come close to approximating the richness and complexity of elephants’ lives in the wild. With almost every natural instinct thwarted, and denied autonomous social interaction with other members of their species,[1] these cognitively and emotionally sophisticated animals suffer tremendously in zoos.

It is also important to note that while the historical transformation of the modern zoo has included replacing iron bars with more “naturalistic” exhibits, these changes lack substance and are more set design for the audience than meaningful improvements for the animals. Putting captive animals in more natural-looking settings is in part savvy marketing intended to assuage the unease of zoo-goers, who have become increasingly uncomfortable seeing wild animals in captivity.

Judge Segal’s opinion starkly and sadly drove this point home with regard to the exhibit in which Billy, Tina, and Jewel are on display. Although the trees give a natural impression to zoo-goers, the average visitor likely does not realize those trees are surrounded by electrical wires so the animals can’t even enjoy them or partake in natural behaviors:

“…[T]he available surface area for the elephants is much smaller than the total exhibit space because significant portions of the exhibit are closed to [them]. Elephants enjoy rubbing against and playing with trees, and like to knock them over and eat them. The trees and planters in the exhibit, however, are surrounded by electrical wires that prevent the elephants from getting to them or walking near them…[I]n fact there are no areas of grass that are not ‘hot-wired’ with electrical wires…[T]he hot wiring in the elephant exhibit is all over the exhibit and is used to protect certain areas of the exhibit from the elephants, and to keep or ‘guide’ the elephants away from things like trees, plants, and grasses.

Which makes life for the elephants in the Los Angeles Zoo even worse. It is undisputed that elephants by nature are attracted to and have evolved to need and use trees, bushes, and grass…It is one thing to place electric fencing between elephants and something they are not interested in. It is another thing to place such electric hot-wiring between the elephants and something they like, need, and use as part of their natural behavior. Thus, rather than providing the elephants with trees to rub against and knock down as part of ‘an enriched environment that stimulates and elicits species-specific behavior’ (Exh. 72 at 4), the Los Angeles Zoo’s elephant management system tempts the elephants with trees that elephants naturally use to rub against and knock down, but frustrates the elephants by keeping those trees in visual and sensory range but beyond access behind electrically-charged wires.”

It is difficult to read this and not empathize with the frustration the elephants must feel, surrounded by trees they are punished for trying to touch. And sadly the inadequate conditions at the Los Angeles Zoo are fairly typical for large, well-established zoos, and far surpass conditions at the many roadside zoos across the nation – which brings all elephant captivity into serious question.

What’s Next?

In May 2017, before the California Supreme Court’s decision, David Casselman, the attorney who brought the lawsuit against Los Angeles Zoo, was a featured speaker at the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s 2017 Animal Law Symposium in Los Angeles. He gave a moving presentation about his experience litigating this case and shared some of the evidence introduced during trial, including the cruel methods used to force Billy as a young elephant to lie down on command. In a disturbing video, we see Billy in chains, one attached to a front leg and one to the opposite back leg, that are slowly pulled in opposite directions until he is forced to support himself on one front leg and one back leg. Billy tries hard to resist and stay on his feet, but this position is extremely uncomfortable and tiring. Eventually as the chains continue to be tightened, and the trainer pokes the sensitive skin behind his front leg with a bullhook, the young animal has no choice but to submit and lie on the ground, defeated. Zoo representatives tell the public that Billy lies down voluntarily.

Mr. Casselman, a founding partner at Casselman Law Group, is an inspiring example of a dedicated attorney who has worked tirelessly to advance protections of animals under the law through significant pro bono legal work. Mr. Casselman not only worked on this case at no charge for many years, but also co-founded the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary, a conservation project serving many species, including Asian Elephants like those at the Los Angeles Zoo. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, he said of the decision:

“This is heartbreaking,” he said. “I thought we had done something here to move the ball forward and instead the Supreme Court has allowed the zoo to take a step into the dark ages.”

Despite the disappointing reversal of an injunction that provided only modest improvements for Billy, Tina, and Jewel, there is reason to hope for the future when it comes to elephants in captivity. More attorneys are stepping forward to help animals, including through the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s growing Pro Bono Program. In addition, the public has become more critical of the notion that captivity could ever be an adequate environment for large mammals such as elephants, who walk many miles per day and maintain strong, multi-generational familial ties and complex intra-familial relationships in a natural environment.

Efforts to help the elephants confined at the Los Angeles Zoo continue. In April 2017, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, working with local group Voice for the Animals, introduced a motion to the council to move Billy from the zoo into a sanctuary, saying: “We cannot and must not treat animals in this manner.” Billy’s condition is thought to be worse than Tina and Jewel because he lives alone, separated from the female elephants by a fence.

While zoos are being more heavily scrutinized, circuses have been the subject of intense criticism, and efforts to ban the forced performances of elephants and other wild animals have been gaining momentum. Recently, in June 2017, the New York City Council voted to prohibit the use of wild animals in circus performances, adding it to the growing list of major cities that have banned the use of wild animals in entertainment, including San Francisco in 2015 (whose strong law includes film shoots). In April of this year, the Los Angeles City Council approved a similar ban. In March 2017, members of Congress introduced H.R. 1759, the Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act (TEAPSPA), which would amend the federal Animal Welfare Act to prohibit the use of exotic or wild animals in performances. In January 2017, amid declining profits and increasing negative publicity, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, after an almost 150-year run, permanently closed its doors, following a 2015 announcement it would stop using elephants in its performances by 2018.

Although zoos receive more public goodwill than circuses, as seen by the facts of the Los Angeles Zoo case discussed here, zoos can be anything but appropriate places for elephants and other wild animals. The Animal Legal Defense Fund has filed a lawsuit against the San Antonio Zoo for its treatment of a 57-year-old elephant ironically named Lucky. Despite the zoo’s motion for summary judgment, a federal judge recently allowed the case to proceed. In the June 2017 decision, Judge Xavier Rodriguez rejected the zoo’s argument that its purported compliance with the Animal Welfare Act shields it from liability under the Endangered Species Act. The zoo must now defend its treatment of Lucky in a full trial, which is scheduled to start in October 2017.

While this article contains excerpts from the 2012 decision, anyone interested in this case or the issue of elephants in zoos generally is encouraged to read the entire opinion, as it is eye-opening.

Further Reading

[1] Although zoos sometimes bring another elephant or elephants into an exhibit as “companions” for a solitary elephant – often in response to public criticism about keeping these social animals in isolation – elephants do not automatically bond with other unknown elephants; the mere presence of a strange elephant is not a panacea for loneliness, and indeed can create additional stress depending on the personalities of the individual elephants. At the Los Angeles Zoo, Billy, who was captured in Malaysia and brought to the zoo in 1989, is kept separate from the two female elephants.

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Special Feature: A Young Voice in Animal Law

Posted by on September 7, 2017

The bonds that we make with individual animals can play a critical role in how we view and treat others. Whether the childhood dog you grew up with as a friend helped you understand animal emotions, or a pig in an undercover video brought factory farming to the front of your mind, these bonds inspire us, change us, and motivate us to advocate for animals. Student Animal Legal Defense Fund members are great examples of this in action. So often, students will share stories with Animal Legal Defense Fund staff of how one single animal inspired them to attend law school to practice animal law. We would like to honor these stories and these connections as the topic of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s first annual New Voices in Animal Writing Contest. Please see the link for rules and the deadline.

Thomas Ponce is a high school student, animal advocate, and an honorary SALDF member given his involvement in animal protection and interest in pursuing a career in animal law. While Thomas isn’t a law student yet, we wanted to share his special story. At an early age, Thomas Ponce understood that animals were feeling and thinking beings. This knowledge was reinforced and expanded when he connected with a shark who he desperately wanted to save from being killed for food while vacationing with his family.

The Day I Saved a Life

By Thomas Ponce, age 12

We’ve all seen Hollywood’s depiction of sharks, the media’s over-dramatization of shark attacks and felt that pit in our stomach at the sight of a shark. Movies like Jaws, Day of The Shark, Shark Night, Deep Blue Sea etc., give us the impression of a mindless killing machine out to kill all human beings. Well, I’ve seen another side of the shark and I’ve seen it up close and personal.

It all started on December 16, 2011, my birthday. My family took me to Venice Beach, which is also known as Shark Tooth Beach. This was the trip I had been waiting for. I had seen this location on the Discovery Channel over a year ago and had wanted to go ever since. Having the opportunity to find fossilized shark teeth that have been in the waters for over millions of years was something I was ecstatic about! When we arrived at our destination, I was amazed at all the sights, sounds and smells. The water was crystal clear and blue and the sand was so warm between my toes. The occasional breeze whisked my mind away to a beautiful tropical paradise. It was a perfect day to go sifting for shark teeth. I walked into the water up to my knees, sifter in hand, and began sifting. I dug my scooper into the sand, beneath the water, and pulled up many small teeth. I found great white teeth, bull shark teeth, tiger shark teeth and a few I was unsure about. It was amazing. Then it happened. I hit the jackpot! I discovered in my scoop the largest tooth I had ever seen. It was four inches long and black in color. Its edges were serrated and you could still see the gum line. The great white teeth I found paled in comparison to this massive tooth. It was a Megaladon tooth! My dream had come true, I had found one! This was the best birthday present I could have ever gotten, or so I thought.

As we were leaving the beach a friendly local had told us about a pier close by that was a perfect place to watch the sunset. I was determined to see the green flash that everyone talks about when the sun sets. We headed back to our hotel to change and then went straight to the pier. The view from the pier was miraculous. The skies were clear and the weather was perfect for being outside, not too hot and there was a cool breeze coming off the water. As we watched the sunset, the sky turned orange and pink as the sun went down. It was absolutely breathtaking! In the water we saw dolphins swimming and a man painting sea turtles at the edge of the pier. It was a night right out of a novel.

As we were leaving the pier I saw a fisherman pull a baby bonnet-head shark up on his line. He pulled him onto the pier, hooting and hollering about his catch and how he was “going to eat tonight.” The fisherman then started sharpening his very large knife, readying himself to gut the shark right then and there. The shark flapped and shook, grasping to hold onto life. It was horrible to see. I knew I had to do something, so I approached the fisherman and asked him to set the shark free. I explained how it was a living creature, a baby with a family and that it deserved to live. I explained to him the important role sharks play in our ecosystem. I pleaded with him to free him and not eat him. I even offered to buy him dinner. I told him how sharks are keystone predators and how they keep the ocean ecosystem in balance, I explained about their slow reproductive rate and how we needed every shark in the ocean to keep it healthy. I explained how the effects of removing sharks would be felt throughout the ecosystem like a domino effect. I was not letting up, I knew I had to keep fighting for that shark. After what seemed like an eternity, the fisherman finally conceded and told me that I could set him free. I couldn’t believe it, I did it! I immediately walked over, picked up the shark and placed him back into the water and told him to live free. I swear the shark looked at me with gratitude. He was alive because I spoke up for him and he knew it. I saw the understanding in his eyes and knew there was much more to sharks than what people are led to believe.

That day changed me forever and now I fight for sharks’ rights. I have always been an active animal and environmental advocate and a vegetarian and now vegan. I had run many fundraisers for farm animals and spaying and neutering your pets, leafletted about animals in captivity and in vivisection labs, and I had signed petitions against animal cruelty and protested at various sites where cruelty had been taking place, but until that day I hadn’t really concentrated my efforts on sharks. I started doing some research and I watched a documentary called Sharkwater and it gave me insight into the plight of the shark. It showed me the horrors they faced due to finning. They were being killed in huge quantities for their fins and some species were becoming dangerously close to extinction. The sharks are stripped of their fins then discarded, while still alive, back into the ocean. It was a horrible discovery and one that moved me to act and speak up for sharks. From that moment on I have dedicated myself to making as many people aware of what’s going on with sharks as I can. My hope is that through educating people on the cruel and inhumane acts being done to sharks and by explaining the importance of sharks to the ocean ecosystem, as well as our own environment that I can make a difference in helping to preserve these beautiful lives. I hope to one day soon be speaking at Congress on behalf of sharks and lobbying to bring change to the finning laws in our country.

December 16, 2011 the ocean gave me two gifts, a Megaladon tooth and an appreciation and love of sharks. In return, I gave it back one of its own and a voice that could be heard and would never be silenced.

Get Involved

Volunteer for Lobby for Animals!

Would you like to help with the federal legislation seeking to ban the use of shark fins? Contact Thomas at or visit Lobby For Animal’s Facebook page.


About Thomas:

Thomas Ponce is a 16-year-old animal rights advocate and a citizen lobbyist from Casselberry, Florida. Thomas is the founder and president of  Lobby For Animals, a 501c(3) nonprofit organization. He is also the coordinator for Fin Free FL and a grant advisor on The Pollination Project Environmental/Animal Rights Board.

Thomas believes that speaking out against injustice is not only a pivotal part of progress, it is our responsibility. Thomas created Lobby For Animals as a way to teach people about the importance of lobbying for animal rights and the environment and to offer the tools necessary for success in the political arena.  The Lobby For Animals website has training videos that give step by step instructions and tips on how to be an effective lobbyist, contacts for government representatives, templates of sample letters, mentoring and more. “As citizens we have the opportunity, and the responsibility to change the future of things. By educating ourselves, raising awareness and getting involved in the political process we are leveling the playing field and letting our representatives know we are there and willing to fight for what we believe in; protecting the rights of all animals, our civil liberties and the environment” explains Thomas.

His work has also been featured by The Thinking Vegan, Bite Size Vegan , Fins and Fluke Radio, Disrupt Lobbying, AAVS Magazine , Pelagic Love and a number of local newspapers and magazines. Thomas has received awards from The Pollination Project, his City of Casselberry City Commissioners Office, the Farm Animal Rights Movement as well as The Prudential Spirit of the Community Award and The Presidential Volunteer Service Award. Thomas’s work embodies his organization’s motto “Don’t just dream of change, lobby for it.”

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Finalize Your Emergency Plans Ahead of Irma

Posted by on September 6, 2017

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is deeply concerned about the impact of Hurricane Irma. Right on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma will make landfall this week. According to current projections, the results will be devastating. The storm poses a deadly threat to the Caribbean and will likely continue on to Florida and up the East Coast. We are thinking of the many people and animals in the storm’s path and urge everyone who could possibly be impacted by Hurricane Irma to finalize disaster plans that include cats, dogs, and any other animals that may be in your care.

No matter where you are located, these recent record-breaking storms remind all of us that disaster preparedness is of critical importance. Everyone should take this as an opportunity to make sure your entire family is ready for situations where you may need to shelter in place or evacuate. Animal guardians should also be aware of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS), passed after the chaos of Hurricane Katrina, which requires states to accommodate companion and service animals in their evacuation plans if they want relief assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Contact your state government to confirm its plans for assisting animals during an emergency.

There are a variety of resources online to help you develop an emergency plan for your family. The following resources are focused on how to make sure your animal companions are part of your plan:

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California: Urge Your Senator to Vote Yes on AB 485

Posted by on September 5, 2017


A bill coming up for a vote in the California Senate could help shut down the puppy mills that supply retail pet stores. AB 485 would require that all cats, dogs, and rabbits sold in stores come from rescue organizations, not commercial breeding facilities. Bills like this are picking up speed nationwide, and in California alone, more than 30 cities have similar laws, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento. This bill would make California the first to pass such a law on a state level.

If you’d like to read the full text of AB 485, the bill is posted here.

California residents can email their state senators through the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Action Center.

It’s important that you speak up and urge your state senator to vote YES on AB 485. Act now, and call your senator before the bill comes to a vote!

First, if you don’t know who your state senator is, look them up here. Then find their phone number and give them a call. Don’t worry, it’s easy! You can simply say:

Hello! I’m a constituent from [Your City] and I want to urge Senator [Your Senator’s Name] to vote YES on AB 485. Thank you for your time.

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Victory for Wild Horses: Another Chance for Devil’s Garden

Posted by on August 28, 2017

Victory for Wild Horses: Another Chance for Devil’s Garden

For more than a century, federally protected wild horses have made their home in the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory in northeast California’s Modoc National Forest. In a major legal victory for those horses, an Animal Legal Defense Fund lawsuit filed in 2014 has blocked the federal government’s plan to remove protections for a significant portion of the territory and round up the majority of the horses.

Over 400 horses live in the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory, which was established in 1975 after the animals were granted protections in 1971 under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. The territory is federally managed by the Forest Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which shocked horse advocates when it announced plans to dramatically reduce the size of the protected lands and consequently doom horses on unprotected land to dangerous roundups. Roundups involve diverting horses into corrals using helicopters, separating them from their families. While horses are sent to a facility for “adoption,” that frequently leads to their sale for slaughter in Mexico and Canada.  The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed suit against the Forest Service to halt their plan and retain as many protections as possible for the wild horses of Devil’s Garden.

The Devil’s Garden territory initially consisted of two discrete sections of land, but in the 1980s, Forest Service maps drew the territory boundaries to include a new “middle section” linking the original plots of land. Subsequently, the Forest Service consistently protected and managed wild horses in that middle section. That remained the case until 2012 when the Forest Service claimed that adding the middle section had been an administrative error. It proposed and ultimately removed that middle section from the wild horse territory in Devil’s Garden. As a result, horses in this area would not be protected or managed by the Forest Service.

Why is the Devil’s Garden Territory So Important?

Federal protections under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act don’t provide horses the true sanctuary they deserve, but they are important. In removing the middle section from official Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory, the Forest Service shrank the protected area by some 25,000 acres, thereby eliminating wild horse access to crucial foraging and water resources and simultaneously severing two now-disjointed portions of the territory and cutting off gene flow between those portions. Horses on that land would no longer enjoy modest protection from cruel roundups as methods of “managing” the horse population. In fact, a roundup was carried out in Devil’s Garden in 2016 after requests were made by private landowners. Farmers claim the wild horses use water and land they require. As we so often see, the needs of wildlife unjustly come in second to the demands of farmers who raise animals for food. More than 200 horses were removed during the 2016 roundup.

Wild Horses need more protections, not fewer. As the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is determined to defend America’s wild horses.

Taking the Government to Court

We filed suit lawsuit in 2014 in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, representing the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, Return to Freedom, and an individual wild horse advocate in California. We argued that the government did not engage in a proper decision-making process about the effect of changing the Devil’s Garden wild horse territory. The government protected horses there for decades and treated that as part of the territory, and needed a good reason to change the borders of the territory. The Forest Service could not just claim that it made an error thirty years ago when it included that land in the territory.

The District Court ruled in favor of the Forest Service, but the Animal Legal Defense Fund pushed forward and appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. On Aug. 4, 2017, the D.C. Circuit agreed with us, finding that the Forest Service engaged in improper decision-making because the agency did not adequately explain its change in policy, and failed to adequately consider the potential environmental impact of changing the boundaries.

In that opinion, D.C. Circuit Judge Patricia Millett writes,

“The Service tries to shrug off its inclusion of the Middle Section in the Wild Horse Territory as some sort of inconsequential and passing ‘administrative error,’ as though that label nullifies any agency duty to reasonably explain its about-face. But there is no ‘oops’ exception to the duty of federal agencies to engage in reasoned decisionmaking. Accordingly, the Service’s decision runs aground on both the facts and the law.”

We Will Keep Fighting for the Horses of Devil’s Garden

The D.C. Circuit’s ruling establishes that the Forest Service’s plan to shrink the protected territory was unjustified, and provided no legally sufficient justification for sidestepping an environmental review. The decision requires the Forest Service to reconsider its decision to remove the middle section from the Devil’s Garden territory. No matter how the Forest Service decides to proceed, the Animal Legal Defense Fund will continue advocating for the horses to retain their protections.

Those who care about horses as much as we do should follow us for more information and updates on this case.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund would like to thank public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks LLP and the past work of pro bono attorney David Zaft for their invaluable legal assistance on this case.

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We Are Thinking of Hurricane Harvey’s Victims

Posted by on August 28, 2017

With continuing news of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas and other Gulf Coast communities, our hearts go out to everyone impacted by this disaster.

We hope that anyone evacuating or sheltering in place (where safe) can stay united with their human and nonhuman family. It is all too common for companion animals to be displaced in the chaos and danger of natural disasters of this magnitude.

We are all heartbroken watching the impact of the storm unfolding on news and social media, and hearing reports from our friends and family in the region. We want everyone affected to know that we are thinking of you.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund urges every family to consider animals in their disaster preparedness plans. The internet offers many very useful resources including information on caring for pets during an emergency and what to take with you if you have to evacuate.

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Tell the USDA to stop rubber-stamping Animal Welfare Act licenses

Posted by on August 24, 2017

Update: Read the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s comments.

The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering changes to the way it grants Animal Welfare Act (AWA) licenses, and now you have the opportunity to weigh in on the issue. The current licensing program makes it incredibly easy for facilities that are violating the AWA to remain licensed.

Currently, the USDA does not consider a licensee’s history of violations or noncompliance with the AWA when licenses are up for renewal. In fact, it will reissue the license even if presented with compelling evidence that the facility is violating the law.

When initially applying for a breeder, dealer, or exhibitor license, an individual must demonstrate compliance with the AWA. The USDA performs an inspection, then issues or withholds depending on whether the licensee complies with the AWA. Each year licensees must reapply to continue the license, and the USDA rubber-stamps approval. The USDA does not look for AWA compliance when it reissues the license.

Breeders requiring licenses include puppy mills, those who breed animals for use in laboratory experiments, and those breeding any other regulated animals.

Dealers requiring licenses include those selling animals to laboratories for testing, animal auctioneers, and those selling animal parts—like their blood or serum.

Exhibitors requiring licenses include roadside zoos, petting zoos, marine animal parks, and circuses that use animals.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund strongly opposes the rubber-stamp license policy and has challenged it in court. We will submit comments to the USDA urging changes to the policy that will better protect animals and uphold the AWA.

The comment window is now CLOSED.

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Florida: Urge Your Legislators to Sponsor the Florida Orca Protection Act

Posted by on August 23, 2017

Florida Residents: Take Action!

For an orca who can swim up to 140 miles a day and dive hundreds of feet deep, life in captivity is extreme confinement. If you’ve ever felt a sense of the great vastness of the ocean, it is truly chilling to consider the life of a wild orca versus that of one in captivity. An orca in a tank is often compared to a human living in a bathtub. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is leading a coalition of animal protection, environmental, and marine conservation groups to introduce the Florida Orca Protection Act, which would grandfather in existing orcas but outlaw holding any additional orcas in captivity in Florida. The act would also prohibit breeding captive orcas or transporting them into or out of state, unless to a seaside sanctuary or required by federal law. It’s a commonsense law that just codifies SeaWorld’s previous commitment to phase out breeding orcas immediately and orca performances by 2019.

Act now—Use this form to urge the members of the Florida Senate Preservation and Conservation Committee to sponsor the Florida Orca Protection Act.

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Oregon Becomes 11th State to Pass “Good Samaritan Law” to Protect Dogs Left in Hot Cars

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

On June 22, 2017, just before a weekend heat wave brought temperatures to over 100 degrees across Oregon, Governor Kate Brown signed into law House Bill 2732 to protect dogs and children left in hot cars. Oregon is the 11th state to pass such a “Good Samaritan law,” and the fourth to do so just this year.

Oregon’s new law, which became effective immediately, expands protections for vulnerable companion animals by providing that anyone – not just law enforcement – may enter a motor vehicle, “by force or otherwise,” to remove an unattended child or domestic animal without fear of criminal or civil liability, as long as certain requirements are met. To fulfill these requirements, a person must:

  1. have a reasonable belief that the animal or child is in imminent danger of suffering harm;
  2. notify law enforcement or emergency services either before or soon after entering the vehicle;
  3. use only the minimum force necessary to enter the vehicle; and
  4. stay with the animal or child until law enforcement, emergency services, or the owner or operator of the vehicle arrives.

During the past two years, there has been a steady increase in the number of states passing legislation to address the issue of companion animals left in hot cars, a growing subset of which shield regular citizens (as opposed to law enforcement) who rescue an animal in distress from criminal and civil liability. In 2017, similar “Good Samaritan laws” have passed in Arizona, Colorado, and Indiana. Of the additional seven states that empower civilians to take action to help an animal confined in a vehicle in dangerous weather conditions, six passed laws in 2016 (California, Florida, Massachusetts, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Vermont), and one passed its law in 2015 (Tennessee).

H.B. 2732 passed with the help of a third-grade Girl Scout troop, whose members were instrumental in introducing and lobbying for the bill, according to a news release by the Oregon State Legislature Senate Majority Office:

“A small group of members from the Girl Scout Brownie Troop 10037 in the Salem area proposed the legislation. Troop members testified in the House and Senate committee hearings throughout the process. Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem) – the father of one of the scouts – authored and introduced the bill.”

Why is this legislation necessary? Although public awareness has been on the rise about the dangers of leaving children or animals in hot cars as a result of media coverage and outreach campaigns by many groups, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund, too many people remain unaware of the potential risk, as evidenced by the number of animals who still die in hot vehicles every year. For example, although it has been shown to have little effect on the interior temperature of a vehicle, many people believe leaving windows open on a warm day is sufficiently protective, or do not realize how quickly temperatures can soar to life-threatening levels inside a car even when the outside temperature is as low as 70 degrees. Even on demonstrably hot days, some people still do not realize the dangers of leaving an animal inside a vehicle. In fact, just one day after Oregon’s new law went into effect, a Good Samaritan made use of it to rescue a dog.

The outside temperature was 89 degrees in downtown Portland when Shawna Harch broke into a locked car, with its windows rolled up and moonroof cracked only an inch, to rescue the small dog confined inside in a crate. She had tried to locate the owners, called the police (who said they would dispatch someone but that it could be a while), and attempted to set off the car alarm to no avail. With the help of passersby, a half hour after noticing the barking dog – who had now stopped barking and appeared to be in distress – she was able to break the window and remove the dog. In an essay detailing the incident, Harch recounted what happened when the owners finally returned:

“The police checked the dog and then began taking down my information. In the midst of this, the owner of dog and the owner of the car finally appeared. They were two young men who looked to be about 17 or 18 years old. They appeared shocked and puzzled. The owner was perplexed, saying he thought that leaving the moonroof cracked was sufficient. I, along with the police officers, explained it was not. Surprisingly, the owner of the vehicle thanked me.”

Although Harch said she would have rescued the dog regardless, having laws in place to protect citizens from liability in cases like this is an important step toward empowering people to act when they see an animal or child in distress. Senator James Manning, who sponsored the legislation in the Oregon Senate, spoke eloquently on the need for such laws and commended the Girl Scouts for getting involved:

“We should be doing everything we can to protect our most vulnerable, and that includes animals and children…I don’t care if somebody has to rip the door off a car; if that’s the only way they can rescue a child or an animal from potentially deadly harm, they should not be liable for property damage in those situations. They should be applauded as heroes. I also think that the local Girl Scouts who participated in the passage of this bill should be commended. For such a young group to be so committed to protecting other kids and animals who are placed in harmful situations – that is truly commendable.”

As reported by the Associated Press, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey echoed that sentiment earlier this year, where he said: “All it takes is a good Samaritan to save a life…The last thing we’d want is any Arizonan worried about breaking into that car to save a life. Send me a bill protecting the good Samaritans who save the lives of children and pets — and I’ll sign it.” And he did, in May 2017.

Not everyone agrees. According to the Arizona Capitol Times, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, spoke out against Arizona’s legislation as “unnecessary” and complained that “worse yet, it puts the rescue of pets on the same level as rescue of children.” However, these laws are consistent with the social consensus – codified in cruelty and neglect laws – that abuse of both children and animals are social harms. Giving protections to one group does not take away protections from another, especially when these laws remove the exclusive burden on law enforcement and empower civilians to act in cases of imminent harm without fear of being sued or prosecuted. Although states may have a separate law on the books addressing children, many Good Samaritan hot car laws mention children (or “at-risk people,” as in Colorado’s law) alongside animals, highlighting the fact that companion animals, like children, are vulnerable members of society who deserve protection and sometimes need intervention when neglectful or simply uninformed guardians leave them unattended in potentially dangerous situations.

Yet, in lauding the extension of protections afforded to children to animals, we must remain mindful that these protections only extend to some animals – namely those defined as “pets.” Of the four Good Samaritan hot vehicles laws passed in 2017, all contain exemptions for farmed animals, despite the fact that cows, pigs, chickens, and other farmed animals suffer just as much in the heat as dogs and cats. The culturally constructed categories into which we place animals – such as “food” or “family” – do not take into account the physiological, cognitive, and emotional similarities that exist between these categories, but result in very different protections under the law. Most animal protection laws apply only to “domestic animals” and are written to expressly exclude “livestock.” Some laws use the broad term “animal” but then narrow it significantly; for example, Colorado’s law granting immunity to a person who renders assistance from a locked vehicle states: “’Animal’ means a dog or cat. The term ‘animal’ does not include livestock…”

Despite these shortcomings, and because protections for one group do not preclude protections for another, there is cause to celebrate these laws that protect companion animals, while at the same time working to expand meaningful legal protections for all animals.

Further Reading:

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A Big Win in Our Battle Against Wildlife Services’ Tax-Funded Killing

Posted by on August 21, 2017

On Aug. 9, 2017 Superior Court Judge Lydia Villarreal found in favor of a coalition of wildlife protection groups, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund, in its challenge to Monterey County, California’s contract renewal with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services. The judge’s decision is a win for wildlife in Monterey, and a warning to other counties that contract with the federal killing agency.

For years, Monterey County, like counties across the U.S., has used taxpayer money to contract with Wildlife Services, an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that runs the notorious federal wildlife-killing program. Wildlife Services contracts with states, counties and municipalities to do the dirty work of “managing” (often killing) “unwanted” wildlife. Often, the factor that gets animals labeled as “unwanted” is any perceived threat to the bottom line of farmers and ranchers raising animals for food, who continue expanding grazing areas deeper and deeper into the natural habitats of native species like coyotes, bobcats, and foxes. Wildlife Services has killed more than 3,000 coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions and other animals in Monterey County alone over the past six years. Nationwide, Wildlife Services killed more than 2.7 million animals in 2014 (the last year for which data is available). The agency employs indiscriminate methods of killing like poison and traps, which inflict painful deaths on native Californian wildlife and have injured humans and killed more than 1,100 dogs since 2000. The Animal Legal Defense Fund has a history of challenging Wildlife Services’ cruel killing policies, and we are hopeful the win in Monterey County signals the beginning of the end for the agency’s reckless killing in the state.

No CEQA Exemption for California Counties

Our lawsuit, filed in June 2016, argued that Monterey County’s renewal of its contract with Wildlife Services violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEQA requires every California agency responsible for overseeing state-funded or state-implemented projects to comply with an environmental-review process prior to commencing any project that could possibly affect the environment. Our lawsuit noted that Monterey County (which is treated as a state agency under CEQA) failed to analyze the environmental impacts of its agreement with Wildlife Services and wrongfully claimed an exemption from CEQA. Also, the county held no public hearings about a CEQA exemption claim, and did not disclose details to the public of its agreement with Wildlife Services.

During the litigation, Monterey County attempted to use procedural loopholes to avoid CEQA responsibility, but the judge ultimately ruled that “the County abused its discretion by determining that CEQA review procedures did not apply.” The court further admonished the county for its baseless claim that the wildlife-killing program would not affect the environment. The court found no evidence to support the county’s contention that killing hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of animals would not result in significant environmental changes. To the contrary, the program most likely does impact the ecosystem and will continue to do so as long as it is in place. The court’s ruling acknowledges this is a possibility.

This ruling establishes that California counties may not lawfully implement wildlife-management programs without first conducting an adequate environmental review under CEQA. This decision is crucial for California wildlife, since it sends a strong message to all counties that currently implement wildlife-killing programs or might consider doing so in the future.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund will follow developments in Monterey as the county begins the CEQA review process. Meanwhile, as part of our efforts to protect wildlife, we will continue challenging other jurisdictions that contract with Wildlife Services to spend tax dollars on indiscriminant killing programs.

Lawsuit Challenges Monterey County’s Contract with Federal Wildlife-Killing Program

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