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:


20 Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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!

6 Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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.

3 Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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.

20 Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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.
11 Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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.

1 Comment  |  Leave A Comment

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.

16 Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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.

12 Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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.

4 Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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.


Click to share on Facebook, or download to share on the network of your choice.

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

17 Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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.

3 Comments  |  Leave A Comment

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.

Take Action Button

50 Comments  |  Leave A Comment

$25,000 Reward! Help ALDF Track Down Dog Poisoner as Fatal Meatballs Strike Again

Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on February 26, 2014

Poisoned meatballs have been found in San Francisco again! The Animal Legal Defense Fund, SFDOG, and Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman are offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s) of the poisoned meatballs in the Bay Area. On February 22, a San Francisco animal control officer found 35 meatballs that would be deadly to unsuspecting dogs and cats who came for a nibble. The poisoned meatballs were scattered through a Twin Peaks neighborhood where a similar incident occurred last year, hidden in carports, stairwells, along curbs, and in bushes. Along with funds from ALDF and SFDOG, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman has generously pledged the bulk of the reward—contributing $23,000—to help track down the perpetrator(s) responsible.


Click to share on Facebook, or download this image to share on the network of your choice!

Last year, ALDF reported the wave of pathetic attempts to poison San Francisco dogs with poisoned meatballs. Just before the July 4, 2013 holiday, an unknown individual deliberately left hundreds of strychnine-laced meatballs in areas dogs frequent, in an apparent attempt to poison unsuspecting pups. This nightmare was discovered after a seven-year-old dachshund named Oskar gobbled down a poison meatball on his July 3 morning walk and immediately became very sick. First discovered in the Twin Peaks and Diamond Heights neighborhoods, the majority of the meatballs were found around Crestline Drive, Parkridge Drive, and Burnett Avenue. Some reports indicate that they have been discovered in neighborhoods as far flung as Cole Valley, Hayes Valley, and Bernal Heights. Sadly, Oskar passed away after a long struggle at the veterinarian.


Two meatballs found at the crime scene.

San Francisco is a mutt-loving city, home to the “Dog Day on the Bay” canine-friendly cruise (to benefit the San Francisco SPCA), Muttville senior dog rescue, and even a group of local dog walkers who sued to enable their pups to continue playing at Fort Funston.

Not surprisingly, San Francisco animal lovers fought back. Last year, they canvassed neighborhoods, locating dozens of the meatballs before any more dogs could be hurt. They turned the dangerous items over to police, who acted swiftly, offering a tip line, warning residents to maintain vigilance, and seeking the public’s help in finding the culprit. The community’s quick action likely saved other dogs from suffering as Oskar did. Residents came together to show that animal poisoning will not go unnoticed or unpunished in San Francisco. However, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is calling on the public again.

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.

15 Comments  |  Leave A Comment

Animal Suspense Fiction: The Chain

Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on February 25, 2014

the-chainWant to win a copy of an animal rights-themed suspense novel? Enter below to win—two lucky winners will be chosen at random to receive a copy of Robin Lamont’s novel The Chain.

While the Animal Legal Defense Fund works so hard within the legal system to achieve justice for animals, we see so many heart-breaking crimes against animals. That is why it is a relief of sorts to read about another world of crime—the fictional world of a seasoned and passionate animal rights investigator, Jude Brannock, in Robin Lamont’s novel The Chain. Robin is an award-winning suspense novelist and The Chain is the first book in her “The Kinship” series.

Many of ALDF’s legal actions have relied on evidence provided by investigations on factory farms—like our ALDF v. Mendes case. Factory farms and slaughterhouses are the center of animal cruelty in America, in terms of both sheer numbers of animals harmed and the epic failure of oversight by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies. For this reason, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is vigorously fighting “ag gag” laws, and filed the first lawsuit in history to challenge a state ag gag law.

So it is a pleasure to read a fictional tale on this topic. Released just last October, The Chain tells the story of Jude Brannock’s investigation in a small town that depends economically upon a meat-packing plant in the heart of Bragg Falls. In the way that many animal rights writers are drawn to compare life with fiction, Robin’s story centers upon a whistleblower, who has documented dangerous conditions and illegal treatment of pigs at the processing plant. When Jude Brannock arrives on the scene, however, she finds the whistleblower has committed suicide and his video documentation of illegal cruelty has disappeared. The townspeople aren’t sure what to do, afraid that an investigation will affect their livelihoods. Meanwhile, a sinister force is at play to hide the dark world inside the slaughterhouse.

robin-lamontRobin Lamont has had an incredible journey herself—before becoming a novelist she was first a Broadway actress, an assistant district attorney, and a private investigator. Her novels always focus on social justice issues, and it is a delight to read an animal rights-themed crime fiction novel from such a talented writer–The Chain will appeal to animal advocates and the general public alike.

Part two of “The Kinship” series will look to take on the notorious Wildlife Services, whom the Animal Legal Defense Fund has consistently tackled for its cruel treatment of native predators like coyotes. Without discrimination, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services has essentially acted as an extermination service for private ranchers—trapping and killing animals from coyotes to companion animals without real oversight or public scrutiny. It is this mess Robin hopes to expose in her second animal rights-themed crime fiction novel and this war on wildlife that the Animal Legal Defense Fund will continue to fight.

Robin is an animal advocate and lives in New York with her husband and her vegan rescue dog, Kaley. To learn more about the series, visit Robin’s Animal Suspense website and her Animal Suspense Facebook page. And take action online now in ALDF’s campaigns to help farmed animals.

3 Comments  |  Leave A Comment

A Better World for Animals is at Your Fingertips!

Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF's Staff Writer on February 21, 2014

Today’s daily action for National Justice for Animals Week is: Fight animal abuse from your home computer.


Fight animal abuse and honor animal victims from your home computer. Join the hundreds of thousands across the nation who have already taken action online to support critical ALDF campaigns, which are designed to have the maximum impact for animals. A better world for animals is at your fingertips!

Animal Bill of Rights

Help us reach one million signatures! Please join the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have signed the Animal Bill of Rights—take action now! Let Congress and all of our elected officials know that the law should protect the basic needs of all animals—and should provide justice for those who are abused and exploited.

Animal Bill of Rights

Expose Animal Abusers

Communities have good reason to be concerned about the whereabouts of animal abusers. In story after heartbreaking story, abusers repeat their violent crimes against helpless animals, and often go on to victimize people as well. Animal abuser registries will help keep animals and families safe. New York City recently became the largest jurisdiction to pass a measure that will create a registry of convicted animal abusers in the city. If you would like to help pass a registry in your state, please contact your local legislators and ask for an animal abuser registry where you live! Take action at

First Strike and You’re Out

Currently, most states have no mandatory requirements keeping those who are convicted of animal abuse crimes away from animals following their convictions. ALDF’s model “First Strike and You’re Out” law will help in the fight against animal neglect and cruelty by keeping offenders away from potential new animal victims and will also help reduce the huge economic toll which repeat offenders impose on their communities.

Contact your state legislators today and ask them to support a “First Strike and You’re Out” law for those who are convicted of animal neglect or cruelty.

72 Comments  |  Leave A Comment