National Animal Cruelty Prosecution Conference

Posted by Scott Heiser, ALDF's Director of Criminal Justice Program on April 7, 2014

logan-the-dog-article-image-500pxOur nation’s peace officers and prosecutors play a pivotal role in the fight against animal cruelty—without them there is no accountability for those who abuse animals.  More to the point, the outcomes in these important cases often turn on the skills of the investigator and the prosecutor.  That is why, next month, May 5-7, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is proud to sponsor the 4th National Animal Cruelty Prosecution Conference in Atlanta, in partnership with the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA) and the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia. Panel discussions break down the trajectory of a successful animal cruelty prosecution from the crime scene to the courtroom. Topics include investigation, veterinary testimony, expert witnesses, forensics, sentencing, and improving legislation. With each portion of the pie in place, this conference promises to be an outstanding collaboration with takeaways for all involved.

Within the construct of “animal law,” criminal justice is where most of the action is, and ALDF has made significant progress in this area over the last seven years. Working behind the scenes and in concert with law enforcement, ALDF has helped secure justice for animal victims in thousands of cases in courts throughout the nation. Not happy with just helping, last year ALDF awarded a three-year grant to fund and field the nation’s first dedicated, full-time animal cruelty prosecutor. This fully sworn prosecutor is available to handle animal abuse cases for any one of Oregon’s 36 district attorneys, which means now there is no reason for animal abuse not to be fully and aggressively prosecuted in Oregon. This is a model program that will be replicated in other jurisdictions.

However, at the risk of overstating the obvious, any animal cruelty prosecutor (carrying a dedicated caseload or not) is not worth much without the proper training. That is why this conference is so important. Joining the all-star faculty for this three-day training are ALDF’s veteran prosecutors (Diane Balkin and myself—and who knows, maybe our dear friend and retired colleague Geoff Fleck will drop by as well) and ALDF’s animal law legislative expert, Chris Green. Here is the link to the full agenda.

Keynote speaker Vic Reynolds, Cobb County, Georgia district attorney, was recently honored by ALDF as one of the nation’s Top Ten Animal Defenders during National Justice for Animals Week 2014. Also honored as a top animal defender is APA president David LaBahn, who will kick off the conference with opening remarks, and later discuss legislative policies to help animals.

The Association of Prosecuting Attorneys recognizes the importance of aggressively prosecuting animal cruelty cases; APA’s leadership serves as formal notice to those who work in the criminal justice system that these cases are a top priority for any law enforcement official—and that’s a big step forward for animals. Stay tuned for more details about the conference. For information, visit Here is the link to register online.

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Ending Orca Captivity One Law at a Time

Posted by Jenni James, ALDF Litigation Fellow on April 3, 2014

There is much great work to be done litigating on behalf of animals. Unfortunately, animals have far fewer protections than they need within our current legal framework. Even when an animal has powerful federal laws on her side, as Lolita the orca does, the path to justice is slow and uncertain. Just months after celebrating the National Marine Fisheries Service’s decision to protect Lolita under the Endangered Species Act—a rule that will not become final until March 2015—we learned that her case against the United States Department of Agriculture was dismissed. Incredibly, the judge sided with the USDA, which argued it had no obligation to ensure that an animal exhibitor is in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act before renewing that exhibitor’s license.


A Bill to Free Orcas

But there is a silver lining in this dark cloud. While lawyers must work with the laws we have, legislators have the power to create new laws that can make significant changes in the lives of animals. In California, for example, Assemblymember Richard Bloom recently introduced a bill (AB 2140), which offers unprecedented protections for the ten orcas held captive at SeaWorld San Diego.

When the bill passes, these orcas will no longer be subject to captive breeding––ensuring that this generation of captive orcas will be California’s last. No longer will orcas be forced to give birth too early and too often, a stressful practice that resulted in at least one nursing orca mom being administered Valium against accepted veterinary guidelines.

California’s captive orcas will also be spared from having to perform for their food. To end the archaic practice of keeping these highly intelligent, wide‑ranging predators cruelly confined solely for the sake of entertainment, the bill requires that all captive orcas in California be retired to a sea pen, as soon as a sea pen is provided. Without this unprecedented retirement provision, captive orcas are doomed to work until they die.

The bill also protects orca trainers, by limiting their close contact with these unpredictable, frustrated predators. Without this provision, orca trainers may be forced once again to put their lives on the line for the show, as SeaWorld appealed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s decision that forced trainers out of the water.

Like litigation, the legislative process is also slow and difficult at times. To accomplish any of these great things, Rep. Bloom’s bill must first survive a Committee Hearing on April 8.

Take Action


If you live outside of California, please help ALDF spread the word about this important bill—it’s a crucial first step toward freeing captive orcas in the state.

If you are a California resident, your representatives need to hear from you to know you want this bill to thrive. SeaWorld is doing all they can to kill this bill. On April 2 they lobbied the legislature, urging them to allow the exploitation of orcas to continue. Your legislators need to hear the truth—from you.

Make a brief, polite phone call to your state assembly representative’s office. You can find your representative’s number here. Simply call and say, “I am a constituent. I care about captive orca welfare and I would like for you to support AB 2140.” After you call, you can email a follow-up message from the same page, using the same language.

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Legally Brief: Felony Laws are a Victory for Animals

Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on March 27, 2014

Legally Brief

We’ve had some great news for animals recently: Canada has agreed to phase out gestation crates and Kentucky has banned veal crates. Animal advocates have also defeated 3 out of 4 ag gag bills so far this year, helped stop horse-slaughter on US soil, and Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York and other cities banned the sale of puppy mill puppies in pet stores. And just this month, South Dakota became the 50th state to pass a felony anti-cruelty law.

This is great news for animals: without felony penalties for animal cruelty, no matter how egregious or repeated the animal abuse crime, it can only be treated like a minor infraction. When I joined the Animal Legal Defense Fund 15 years ago, getting all states on the felony anti-cruelty map was a major goal. At that time, only about thirty states had these provisions. In fact, ALDF created the annual state rankings report in 2006 to shed light on such deficiencies. Since then, most states have made significant improvement in their animal protection laws, many with ALDF help—and now, finally, all states have felony penalties for animal cruelty.

Felony penalties play a crucial role in the criminal justice system when it comes to fighting animal abuse. Just this week, a Brooklyn man received a one-year jail term for felony animal cruelty after he set a cat named Michael on fire. ALDF’s reward offer helped lead to a conviction in this sad but all too common case. That is why we are thrilled that all states now have felony penalties.

But there is still more work to be done. In recent years, South Dakota has been at the very bottom of ALDF’s annual state rankings—47th in 2012 and 48th in 2013—making it one of the “best” states to be an animal abuser. At the time of our 2013 annual report, South Dakota had no felony provision for animal cruelty, neglect, or abandonment, lacked increased penalties when animal abuse is committed in front of children, and had no requirements for mental health counseling or requirements for veterinarians to report suspected abuse.

Media reports spread the news of South Dakota’s dismal rank in ALDF’s annual rankings and this helped spur the passage of the felony penalty. In many ways, it demonstrates how state legislatures across the country have begun to enact laws that reflect the humane values of the American electorate. Several jurisdictions, like Washington, Oregon, and Puerto Rico, have adopted legal provisions written by ALDF. Our model laws continue to be a resource and encourage further improvements in each state.

ALDF’s state rankings show that legislative weaknesses in the bottom-tiered states include inadequate standards of basic care for animals, limited authority given to humane officers, and a lack of mandatory reporting when veterinarians suspect animal cruelty. On the other hand, states who top the charts with stiff animal protection laws, including Illinois, Oregon, Michigan, Maine, and California, demonstrate commitment to combating animal cruelty. The report analyzes more than 4,000 pages of statutes, tracks fifteen broad categories of provisions, and reveals the states where animal law is most effective, and the states where abusers get off easy.

Enacting felony provisions is a huge step forward for South Dakota, and we welcome them into the fold. To help states improve their laws, the Animal Legal Defense Fund provides assistance to local animal protection organizations seeking to improve state laws—and our report is the longest-running and most authoritative of its kind. Check out ALDF’s state rankings report to see how your state fares in animal protection laws, where it can improve, and what you can do to help make these changes happen.

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Virginia Handley: A Tribute

Posted by Joyce Tischler, ALDF Founder and General Counsel on March 24, 2014

Saying goodbye to an old friend is never easy.

In 1978, I was starting my law career and soon after I moved to San Francisco, I began to volunteer at the Fund for Animals (Fund) office in my free time. A young woman named Virginia Handley ran the office and everybody who had anything to do with animals in the State of California knew Virginia. She was the hub.


The Fund office was a wonderful hodgepodge of literature about animals, whether from the Fund or other groups, photos of animals, and movie stars hugging animals, desks and tables for volunteers to work at, and over a dozen filing cabinets, each chock full of documents and information on every possible subject relevant to animals (remember, this was before computers or the Internet). It was a great place to hang out and everybody active in animal rights/protection showed up there at one time or another.

I liked volunteering at the Fund office, and Virginia became something of a mentor to me. Of course, she had such a lack of ego that if I told her that, she would have scoffed at the notion. She was a free spirit who was totally dedicated to her work, and she had a wonderful sense of humor. The Fund paid her a pittance, yet, Virginia never complained. She was a veritable storehouse of information on every conceivable animal related issue, and she shared it freely. Indeed, Virginia shared everything freely; ignoring the standard competitiveness of animal protection groups, she was selfless to a fault. You often hear animal activists say, “I do it all for the animals,” but Virginia honestly lived that ethic.

What Virginia loved most was lobbying for animal protection in Sacramento. And, she was damned good at it. Virginia started lobbying for animals in the 1970s, and she deserves the credit for many of the best animal protection laws that exist in the State of California. Virginia was also a founder of PawPac, the California political action committee for animals, one of the first of its kind. PawPac helps elect state level candidates who support animal friendly legislation, and publishes an annual voting chart to inform voters about how each California legislator voted on animal protection bills. Virginia was the backbone of PawPac, serving on its board until her death. Indeed she and Eric Mills had finished getting out a mailing just days before she died.

Virginia was also responsible for introducing so many of us to others interested in animal rights and protection; she had an innate talent for networking.

Sometime in late 1978 or early 1979, Virginia told me that she had recently met another attorney who was interested in animal rights, and asked if I wanted to meet him. Since I had never met another attorney who shared my interest, I jumped at the chance. That attorney’s name is Larry Kessenick and soon after we met, we advertised in the local legal newspaper, inviting other attorneys interested in animal rights to meet with us at the Fund office, the use of which Virginia happily offered – gratis. That was the start of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

Sometimes, people ask how animal activists can continue their work year after year, when they have to deal with so much ongoing pain and suffering. As Virginia knew, the answer is to live a life that’s balanced. She found her balance and a whole lot of fun from singing at karaoke bars (preferably Patsy Cline songs), acting in local plays, or comedy improv. She was a joy to watch!

I suppose it’s part of life that you don’t realize you’re living the good old days until they are gone. Virginia and I shared many campaigns, many adventures (ask me sometime about our trip to L.A. in the early ‘80s to visit slaughterhouses, or the comedy improv classes that she pulled me into), lots of hours of shared hopes, dreams, opinions, gossip, and a deep, long friendship. Virginia’s passing marks the end of an era for the movement, and a personal loss for me.

Goodbye, old friend. May the road rise up to meet you; may the wind be ever at your back.

For those of you who knew her, and for those of you who missed your chance, here’s a video interview of Virginia from 2009:


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Welcome Dale Thompson!

Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on March 21, 2014

dale-thompsonALDF is delighted to welcome our newest staff member, Dale Thompson! As a development associate, Dale works closely with the director of development in day-to-day operations and specializes in grant writing.

Dale received her undergraduate degree from Evergreen State College, where she developed a passion for animal rights and environmental conservation. She later completed as master’s degree in professional communication at Westminster College. Previously, Dale worked with the Great Salt Lake Institute in Utah, an organization dedicated to supporting research, education, and stewardship of the Great Salt Lake. This is a vital migratory habitat for birds designated as part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network in 1992, and Dale is proud of the work she did to help people understand the value of the lake and the wildlife who rely on the lake habitat for survival. Conservation is important to Dale’s animal activism and she has worked for another organization that protects wilderness areas and endangered species—in addition, Dale has volunteered with the Great Salt Lake Audubon Society.

Dale also has a background in the arts, having previously worked for a performing arts center and an online arts magazine. Having only recently moved to California, Dale comes to us with her companion animal Chester, a beautiful curly-haired mixed-breed rescue dog from Rescue Rovers.

Welcome, Dale Thompson!

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The Atlantic Takes On Ag Gag

Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on March 19, 2014

cow-homepage-action-box-newsiteToday I want to highlight an excellent piece on the constitutional and public policy debacle of “ag gag” laws just out in The Atlantic.

Ag gag laws are nothing more than an attempt by the meat and dairy industries to silence critics, rather than address real problems. That’s why, in the past year, ALDF has filed two lawsuits challenging state ag gag laws—against Utah last year and against Idaho this week—in collaboration with a coalition of public interest organizations.

I recently wrote about the reasons for filing these constitutional challenges in my blog on The Dodo, and am glad to see The Atlantic continuing this important conversation about the rights of whistle-blowers, and the interests of animals.

Read the article and leave a comment on The Atlantic website in support of overturning unjust ag gag laws.

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All 50 States Now Have Felony Animal Cruelty Provisions!

Posted by Chris Berry, ALDF Litigation Fellow on March 14, 2014

On March 14, 2014, South Dakota became the final state to enact a felony provision for animal cruelty.

The new law represents the emergence of a nationwide consensus that egregious animal abuse should be treated as a serious crime. Although there is much more work left to be done, this event marks a significant milestone in an undeniable trend favoring humane treatment of animals.

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Chicago Bans the Sale of Puppy Mill Pups in Pet Stores

Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on March 14, 2014

Legally Brief

Last week, with ALDF support, Chicago passed a landmark ordinance that will ban Chicago pet stores from selling puppies, cats, or bunnies that originate from “puppy mills” (large-scale breeding facilities). Those who violate the ordinance, which takes effect next March, could be fined up to $1,000 a day, or charged with a misdemeanor if the offense is repeated. Puppy mills are essentially factory farms for dogs and may house several dogs or several thousand dogs at a time—often in filthy, inhumane, and illegal conditions. According to USDA reports, puppy mills are found in every U.S. state but are especially prominent in Missouri, Oklahoma, Iowa, Arkansas, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Texas. Female dogs used as “breeders” are forced to bear litter after litter of puppies until their bodies give out, and then they are killed. Nearly one million dogs are suffering such agony in the more than 4,000 puppy mills across the country.

With pressure from animal advocates, lawmakers are beginning to address the problems of puppy mills. Sadly, unsuspecting consumers often turn to commercial breeders, not realizing that nearly 100% of puppies sold in pet stores come from mills. Nor do they realize that in addition to worsening the over-population problem, puppies raised in mills often suffer serious health problems due to lack of care: parasites, heart or kidney disease, diabetes, anemia, hearing or vision problems, and hip dysplasia. The neglect they suffer puts them at greater risk for heartworm, giardia, distemper, and kennel cough. Many consumers probably don’t know dogs in “puppy mills” typically spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week in wire cages, with limited climate control, ventilation, or veterinary care.

Facilities that breed and sell their animals to pet stores, brokers, or research facilities are regulated under the Animal Welfare Act which is a federal law enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Breeders must obtain a license from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Of course, many breeders operate without a license in this multibillion dollar industry. Missouri’s puppy mill industry alone, which ALDF has called out for its notoriously cruel facilities, brings in more than $40 million a year from the mass-breeding of helpless dogs.


For decades, animal advocates have tried to address the problem of pet over-population. Studies estimate that every ten seconds a healthy, adoptable cat or dog is euthanized in a U.S. shelter—just shy of 3 million animals per year. Cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix have also recently banned the sale of puppies in pet stores unless the dogs come from shelters, rescue groups, or humane societies. In fact, Minnesota is considering a similar puppy mill bill in a senate hearing this week.

Now Chicago has taken a great step forward to address the puppy mill epidemic. There are still some challenges; for example, the ordinance won’t change online sales or purchases from breeders who don’t sell puppies in stores, but it is a big step in the right direction. Clearly, we need to pass better laws that directly confront the supply side of the dog breeding industry and more jurisdictions are doing just that.

Take action!

  • Don’t buy companion animals from breeders or pet stores. Instead, visit your local shelter (or try specific breed rescue groups if you desire a particular breed of animal).
  • Urge your local government to adopt similar measures in your city. ALDF can provide free legal assistance in drafting such ordinances—as we did for Chicago.
  • Report animal abuse to law enforcement using ALDF’s “Crime Tips” app.
  • Support the work ALDF does by becoming a member and following our cases.
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Jeffrey Masson: What Animals Can Teach Us

Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on March 12, 2014

ALDF’s Animal Book Club was so pleased to sit down last week with bestselling author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. His brand new book Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil hit shelves on March 4 and has already been making waves. In it, he discusses how the most supreme of our planet’s “apex predators” are orcas and humans. Yet humans have killed hundreds of millions of their own species while to our knowledge wild orcas have killed none. Why? The answer to that question—and its relation to our own violence—may well surprise you! Check out ALDF’s video below!

Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil presents a new understanding of human violence and nonhuman animal behavior. “This is probably the first book to discuss it in this way,” Masson explains. “We have shortchanged animals, and tried to understand human violence by looking at animal violence: that’s backwards. I think these are projections. They’re our way of attributing to animals what in fact belongs to us.”


In fact, exploiting animals led to our increased cruelty, according to this new study. “Our violence as a species actually comes from our attitude towards animals and our history with animals. The domestication of animals was the beginning of human downfall. Apart from cats and dogs, who probably domesticated us rather than the other way around, every other animal you find on the farm—the pig, the cow, the sheep, the chicken, the duck—has been put there for our exploitation. We want to take their skin, their flesh, their eggs, their milk, their children, their fur. We want to use them up and discard them. We have no interest in their living the life they were evolved to live.”


The fundamental problem facing nonhuman animals is that under the law they are considered mere property. That legal status often prevents their full protection under the law—and for billions of animals in laboratories, factory farms, theme parks, roadside zoos, and entertainment this means unimaginable suffering. As we began acquiring “possessions” our species became more violent to preserve this “property.”


And that is why, Masson says, animals need lawyers. “ALDF is doing what I feel needs to be done—and can only be done by lawyers. We need laws that are going to change the way people behave, regardless of what they think… It’s really the only way to advance the status of animals.”

Masson has also penned some serious must-reads for animal advocates including: Dogs Never Lie about Love—which has sold over a million copies worldwide—and When Elephants Weep: the Emotional Lives of Animals. His many other books include The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats, Dogs Make us Human, The Face on Your Plate, and Raising the Peaceable Kingdom. He lives with his family in New Zealand, and they share their home with three cats and Benjy the Failed Guide Dog—the hero of Jeff’s book The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving. Check out his blog for more information—his books are available at Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes and Nobles, and select independent bookstores.

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Stockton’s Shelter Dogs Finally Get Their Day in Court

Posted by Jenni James, ALDF Litigation Fellow on March 11, 2014

Today the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed suit against the City of Stockton to bring an end to the suffering of the City’s forgotten shelter animals. In January 2013, ALDF alerted the City to various violations of state and local laws that require proper veterinary care and a meaningful chance at adoption for the City’s shelter animals. Demand letters sent by ALDF’s pro bono attorneys were answered first by silence, then by denials, and finally by excuses. We got the message loud and clear—the City doesn’t intend to follow the law.


Stock photo of shelter dog.

At the heart of our dispute is California’s Hayden Act, which aims to facilitate the adoption of healthy animals. The Act requires the humane treatment of all shelter animals and promises veterinary care to suffering animals. Yet a review of Shelter records shows that veterinary treatment there is inconsistent, increasing with an animal’s likelihood of adoption. As a result, during a six‑month period in 2013, 246 animals with minor or treatable conditions were euthanized instead of adopted. People like ALDF’s co‑plaintiffs, who opt to adopt less popular breeds, bear the burden of providing veterinary care themselves.

The City also violates its own municipal code, which sets the minimum holding period for animals that enter the Shelter. This holding period is meant to allow ample time for cats and dogs to connect with a family. It starts at six business days but can be reduced to four if an animal is made available to the public on the weekend or late on a weekday. Since the Shelter is never open late on a weekday, this shorter period seldom applies. According to the City’s law, animals may not be euthanized before the holding period expires. According to the City’s lawyers, the holding period is more a suggestion than a rule.

As the City shirked its duties, 1,500 animals were prematurely euthanized in one year alone. Dogs labeled “pit bull” have the highest euthanasia rates—80% die after they are left to languish in the Shelter’s back room, separated from the public by a locked door, rarely getting a chance to find a forever home. These dogs deserve better, and so do the people of Stockton.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund has sued to enforce the Hayden Act and other shelter laws in the past. In April 2011, ALDF sued the City of Palm Springs, California, for violations at the Palm Springs Animal Shelter, where euthanasia rates were high and record keeping was poor. Since settling the dispute in June 2012, the Palm Springs Animal Shelter has become a no-kill facility worth bragging about. We look forward to the same positive change in Stockton.

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A Glimmer of Hope for Canadian Pigs

Posted by Sophie Gaillard, ALDF Canadian Spokesperson on March 10, 2014

Last Thursday, Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) released the new Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs. Though the new Code stops far short of affording pigs what most of us would consider adequate living conditions, it does include some noteworthy improvements. Effective immediately, pigs must be provided with multiple forms of enrichment. Use of analgesics for castration and tail docking will be mandatory as of July 2016. Most notably, the Code provides for a phase-out of gestation crates by 2024, with a requirement that, as of July of this year, all new constructions provide for group housing (though facilities can still allow for up to 35 days of confinement in gestation crates at the beginning of a sow’s pregnancy).


Without a doubt, the publication of the new pig Code marks a significant advancement in the fight for farmed animal protection in Canada. However, it is important to keep in mind that the NFACC is not a legislative entity and that its Codes of Practice do not have force of law. Indeed, the only province or territory to have enacted legislation making compliance with the Codes mandatory is Newfoundland and Labrador. So what does the new Code actually mean for Canada’s 27 million pigs?

The power of the Codes of Practice resides in the fact that industry plays an important role in developing their content, and thus generally agrees to adhere to its requirements. In this case, the Canadian Pork Council, which represents nine provincial pork industry associations, has committed to adopting the standards set out in the new pig Code. These standards will be incorporated into the Canadian Pork Council’s on-farm Animal Care Assessment program, a program which is mandatory for all registered pork producers and subject to external verification.  Of course, the efficacy of this system remains to be seen and will largely depend on how the verifications are carried out (independence of the entity carrying out the inspections, frequency and basis of inspections, whether inspections are announced in advance, sanctions in case of non-compliance, etc.).

Additionally, while the animal welfare requirements outlined in NFACC Codes of Practice are not legally binding, they do serve as a gauge of what constitutes acceptable conduct in the eyes of the industry, and thus can assist in the interpretation of animal protection legislation. Because most provincial animal welfare laws exempt activities that are consistent with “generally accepted practices,” whether a particular practice is legal or illegal often hinges on whether it is seen as acceptable by the industry. The Codes of Practice can therefore be used by law enforcement and prosecutors to define what constitutes legal or illegal activity under provincial animal protection statutes.

Although a legislative measure, coupled with strict and consistent enforcement, would undoubtedly ensure better protection for Canada’s pigs, the new pig Code is a step in the right direction. Perhaps most importantly, the consensus that was reached regarding the Code’s requirements indicates that industry is beginning to realize that intensive confinement, systematic mutilation without analgesia, and other barbaric practices that characterize modern animal agriculture, are unacceptable to the public. Taking animal welfare into account is no longer a matter of choice for producers—and that is certainly something worth celebrating.

Sophie Gaillard is an attorney and campaigns manager for the Montreal SPCA’s animal advocacy department and an ALDF Canadian spokesperson.

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Animal Rights 101: Liberating, Not Eliminating, the Nonhuman World

Posted by Carter Dillard, ALDF Litigation Director on March 8, 2014

The eradication of the nonhuman world hardly registers on the animal rights radar, and it should. The short movie the Meatrix plays upon the idea of going back to the basics, a sort of “Animal Rights 101.” The film shows Leo the pig learning that the bucolic family farm he believed existed was hiding the sickening reality of the factory farm where Leo really lived. When Leo backs out of the illusion the lesson becomes clear: people who care about animals should treat them well, both directly and indirectly through their purchases.


We live with the illusion that the animal rights movement is gaining ground because there are more vegans, more alternatives to animals in research, better laws, more no-kill shelters, etc. Yet the truth is, our planet is undergoing the Holocene or Sixth Extinction—the mass extinction of nonhuman species caused by human population growth as well as increased consumption and pollution, where the rate of extinction is estimated to be 100-1000 times higher than without human influence. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner E.O. Wilson predicts that 30,000 species per year (or three species per hour) go extinct—at the current rate, one-half of what he terms Earth’s higher life forms will be extinct by 2100. It is a Meatrix-style delusion to say there is a mounting “animal rights movement” while we wipe other species from the planet. If we dispel our illusion the way Leo did our lesson will be clear: we must liberate, rather than eliminate, the nonhuman world.

One recent study of 114 nations found that human population density predicted with 88-percent accuracy the number of endangered birds and mammals. Current trends indicate that the number of threatened and endangered species will increase as human population skyrockets to 8 billion by 2020, and 9 to 15 billion by 2050. And yet few if any animal organizations truly address human population growth or consumption, leaving these issues instead to environmentalists for whom population is also a taboo word. Peter Singer is considered by many to be the father of the modern animal rights movement but he himself had three children roughly at a time when projections showed that having three children on average would increase the world population to 256 billion humans in a mere 150 years.

Animal Rights 101 has to mean escaping the matrix or illusion that humans are doing right by animals by treating only a few species well. Instead, we must imagine the nonhuman world as it would have been had humanity’s numbers not begun to explode exponentially around 200 years ago. Working from that baseline could give us a new concept of animal rights; one that would mean looking at the growth and consumption habits of our species as a whole—because those habits are obliterating the nonhumans we claim to want to protect. The end of animal rights and the way out of the matrix actually means going back to the beginning, and giving animals back their world as best we can.

But what can actually be done? Our movement confronts factory farming by focusing on the worst of the worst, the Tysons of the world, rather than the family farmer down the street. Similarly those interested in confronting population growth and consumption can target those loudly promoting growth, like Jonathan Last, whose writings promote state policies like cutting back on higher education (which is inconveniently timed during prime reproductive years) in order to achieve higher fertility rates. Those promoting human growth are necessarily promoting the extinction of nonhumans, which is something that—cruelty aside—an animal rights movement focused on its 101 has to care about.

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ALDF Offers $20K Reward to Help Find Dog Poisoner

Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on March 7, 2014

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is adding $10,000 to a reward offer from the Center for Biological Diversity, to bring the total to $20,000, for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a suspect in an illegal and cruel act of dog poisoning in Blue Lake, California.


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Nyxo was a ten-year-old lab mix and the companion of Dr. Mourad Gabriel and his family. On the night of February 2, 2014, the Northern California dog, “Nyxo,” was playing in his backyard when he apparently ingested meat laced with a highly toxic and controversial rat poison. Dr. Gabriel woke the next morning to find Nyxo vomiting and having seizures. Although Nyxo was rushed to an animal hospital in Arcata, Nyxo passed away. A necropsy performed by the University of California at Davis concluded Nyxo had been poisoned by a substance known as brodifacoum, which frequently threatens wildlife like Pacific fishers and northern spotted owls. Dr Gabriel is a leading ecological researcher in the study of this poison and its effect on endangered species. Evidence suggests this poisoning was a malicious act tied to Dr. Gabriel’s research.

The state of California and the Environmental Protection Agency are moving towards banning hazardous d-CON products containing brodifacoum because of poisonings of children, companion animals, and wildlife. The manufacturer of d-CON, Reckitt Benckiser, is currently challenging the EPA cancellation order and brodifacoum in d-CON products is still being sold until that case is resolved.

Dr. Gabriel is co-founder and executive director of Integral Ecology Research Center, a nonprofit research organization. The Center for Biological Diversity has condemned the use of violence to silence any scientist, researcher or citizen whose work aims to conserve wildlife, and notes that this tragedy is an example of how the reckless use and sale of these poisons is ruining lives. Along with ALDF, they call for a ban on these types of poisons.

“Nyxo was a beautiful rescue dog and did not deserve to die—perhaps, as speculated, because of someone’s cruel opinions about this controversial research,” said Stephen Wells, ALDF executive director. “ALDF offers this reward to help track down the dangerous individual who could harm a helpless companion animal. Anticoagulant rodenticides put our pets and our wildlife at risk—it is time to ban these substances.”

If you have information relating to the identity of the person or persons involved, please contact the Animal Legal Defense Fund at 707-795-2533, x1010 or write to

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Tyson’s “Meat Racket”: Factory Farming Hurts Family Farmers as well as Animals

Posted by Liz Hallinan, ALDF Litigation Fellow on March 3, 2014


Agricultural corporations routinely trot out the cliché that fighting against them means fighting against American family farmers. However, Christopher Leonard, in his new book The Meat Racket, exposes this cliché for the falsehood that it is. The book offers an insider view into the largest meat producer in the world, Tyson Foods—against whom ALDF has filed a consumer protection complaint with the Federal Trade Commission for false “humane” advertising.

According to the author, Tyson (and the other large corporations that have copied Tyson’s business model) has taken from American farming families the control they used to have over their animals and their livelihood. Through a system called “vertical integration,” Tyson has turned these families into modern-day feudal peasants.

Vertical integration occurs when an agricultural corporation controls every step of food production. Tyson has perfected this system for chicken production. The corporation owns and operates the hatchery and provides the chicks to the farmer—but it also provides the feed, the medication, and the veterinary care the chickens require during their short lives. That way, Tyson pays the farmer only for the labor he expended raising the chickens, and only once they are collected for the Tyson-owned slaughterhouse. With this scheme, Tyson owns neither the farm nor the farm equipment, because “farming”—that is, raising the birds—is the least profitable link in the chain of production.

This means that Tyson, not the farmer, sets the standard for the way animals are housed and treated on the farm, including whether the animals are fed antibiotics and other drugs. Tyson can also demand upgrades to the farm buildings for more efficient feeding or air quality systems, costing family farmers upwards of $300,000, money they must inevitably borrow. Once farmers take on that debt to meet Tyson’s satisfaction, the farmer is at the mercy of the corporation’s payments to work off that debt. Tyson can walk away at any time from their promise to buy the farmer’s chickens, leaving farmers saddled with debt and facing bankruptcy.

A recent report from the Pew Charitable Trust, The Business of Broilers, states “even highly capable and environmentally responsible growers can be constrained by heavy debt.” The report cites a study showing that 71 percent of growers whose only source of income was chicken farming were living below the poverty line. The report also found that vertical integration means that producers like Tyson often are not held legally responsible for the environmental problems caused by the large amount of waste produced by the animals. This is because the farmers, not Tyson, own the farm and its facilities, and these insights make Leonard’s book, The Meat Racket a worthwhile read.

Tyson claims that its products come from pigs and chickens in “favorable” and “comfortable” environments, claims that ALDF has charged are false and deceptive. Evidently, the only individuals who live and work in favorable and comfortable environments at Tyson Foods are its executives.

Learn more about ALDF’s campaign to hold Tyson Foods accountable and take action today.

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Legally Brief: Cruelty to Sled Dogs

Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on February 26, 2014

Legally Brief

When I lived in Alaska, the annual “Iditarod” sled dog race ran right past my office window in downtown Anchorage. It is a major commercial event for the state: the winning mushers earn cash prizes and become Alaskan celebrities. For the dogs, however, the 1000 mile race means days of suffering and, for some, even death. On March 1, 2014, the Iditarod begins and teams of dogs will be forced to pull a sled over 1000 miles across the Alaskan wilderness, often running at a grueling pace of up to 100 miles per day for seven to ten straight days.

Dogs love to run. Anyone who shares life with a canine companion knows this, and some breeds are especially athletic. My own dog Eve is my hiking companion and can easily wear out other dogs while racing for a stick or a ball, over and over again, even at twelve years of age. But nobody throws a dog’s ball 1000 miles before yelling fetch! From the Iditarod website:

A race covering 1000 miles of the roughest, most beautiful terrain Mother Nature has to offer. She throws jagged mountain ranges, frozen river, dense forest, desolate tundra and miles of windswept coast at the mushers and their dog teams. Add to that temperatures far below zero, winds that can cause a complete loss of visibility, the hazards of overflow, long hours of darkness and treacherous climbs and side hills, and you have the Iditarod.

The race is supposed to be a recreation of an historic event: the rushing of a diphtheria vaccine by sled to Nome in 1925 during an epidemic. During that actual, life-saving mission, the vaccine was carried not by a single dog team but by relay. It was understood that it made no sense to run dogs so far. Today, the event has become a corporate-sponsored money-maker – each participant pays an entry fee of more than $3,000, and winnings of up to $650,000 are shared among the top thirty.

The Iditarod puts animals’ lives at risk. Big game animals like elk and moose, who get in the way of the race, may be killed. Injured or “dropped” dogs are left alone at checkpoints with their paperwork, four pounds of dog food, and a chain. All dogs remain tethered at all times. “Rule 42″ regarding an “expired dog” states that “all dog deaths are regrettable, but there are some that may be considered unpreventable.”


In some states, dog sledding conditions might be considered criminally cruel. California’s cruelty law makes it a crime to inflict “needless suffering” or “unnecessary cruelty” upon an animal, particularly by overworking an animal. Violations can result in up to three years in prison and fines of up to $20,000. However, Alaska’s cruelty law conveniently “does not apply to generally accepted dog mushing or pulling contests or practices.” The industry itself defines “generally accepted” practices, and protects itself from meaningful scrutiny.

Since the race began decades ago, more than 140 dogs have died during the event—from heart attacks, pneumonia, muscle deterioration, dehydration, diarrhea, and spine injuries. They are impaled on sleds, drowned, or accidentally strangled. According to the Sled Dog Action Coalition, during the off-season the dogs are crowded into small kennels with no state management or oversight. Many are tethered on short chains at all times, unable to play, forced to sit, stand, and lie in the same small area in which they eat and defecate. When the dogs are no longer profitable, they are destroyed.

And it’s not just the Iditarod. “Sled dogs” are treated cruelly in other states as well – on the trail, and off. Last month, CNN reported a story of a Colorado sled dog operator charged with animal cruelty when investigations revealed starving, sick, and constantly tethered dogs left out in the cold. The owner has been charged with eight counts of animal cruelty.

Take Action

Please take action to help ALDF speak out for sled dogs by asking the corporate sponsors of events like the Iditarod to withdraw their support.

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