One Step Forward, Two Steps Back—Damage Control in the Wake of State v. Newcomb

Posted by Scott Heiser, Senior Attorney and Director, Criminal Justice Program on April 23, 2014

posey-dog-article-image-500pxThe same three-judge panel of the Oregon Court of Appeals that issued a favorable ruling in Fessenden/Dicke(a 2013 case holding that the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement applies to animals) just ruled, in State v. Newcomb, that an Oregon Humane Society (OHS) veterinarian’s blood test of a starving dog that was otherwise lawfully seized should be suppressed as a warrantless “search” under the Oregon Constitution. The Court expressly rejected the argument that when law enforcement lawfully seizes an animal owned by the suspect, the suspect’s privacy rights must yield to the animal’s right to veterinary care. In rejecting this perfectly reasonable analysis, the Court wrote, “the veterinarian, acting on behalf of the state, conducted a warrantless search of the dog by extracting and testing its blood—an act that constituted a physical invasion of defendant’s property [see ORS 609.020] and exposed otherwise concealed information about the dog that served as evidence of a crime.” The Court treated the starving dog as if it were a “closed container” that did not announce its contents, making any further “invasive” inspection unlawful without a warrant. Also at issue were questions about testing feces samples and tracking weight gain with regular feeding. The Court held that tracking weight gain is not a search, but remanded the case back to the trial court to make factual findings on the circumstances of the veterinarian’s feces sample collection and testing.

The facts in Newcomb are not complicated. In response to a tip, an OHS investigator went to the defendant’s house to investigate a complaint of dog neglect. The investigator arrived to find a dog in a near-emaciated condition; the dog was eating random items in the yard and was ill—vomiting without disgorging any stomach contents. The investigator interviewed the defendant owner, who said she had run out of dog food but was going to get more food later that evening. The defendant refused to sign a release that would allow the investigator to take the dog in for medical treatment.

The investigator, who had probable cause to believe the dog was the victim of criminal neglect, then seized the dog under the plain view exception to the warrant requirement. Back at OHS, the veterinarian collected and tested blood and feces samples from the dog and charted the dog’s food intake and weight gain. Unfortunately, the record from the hearing on the defendant’s motion to suppress appears to be a bit thin in articulating the compelling need for such testing—namely, the need to render medical care to the ill dog. The Court of Appeals used this deficiency in the record against the State to imply, without deciding, that the blood test was motivated, at least in part, by the desire to collect incriminating evidence against the offender. That implication made it all the easier for the Court to conclude that the blood draw was a “search” subject to exclusion.

This is a bad ruling on multiple levels but I have every confidence that we can get it corrected. However, until then, here are some tips to contain the damage:

  1. This is a decision applying Article I, section 9 of the Oregon Constitution and it does not apply outside of Oregon. It most certainly does not influence Fourth Amendment analysis in other jurisdictions because the Oregon Constitutional test for what constitutes a “search” is decidedly different than the test used under the Fourth Amendment:

Oregon Constitutional Test: A “search” occurs when a government agent intrudes upon a person’s protected privacy interests. State v. Wacker, 317 Or 419, 425 (1993); State v. Rhodes, 315 Or 191, 196 (1992). In determining whether a “search” occurred, two issues have to be addressed: (1) Does a constitutionally protected privacy interest exist in the area or object? and (2) Did the police conduct intrude upon that interest?

Fourth Amendment Test: A “search” occurs when government officials invade a defendant’s “legitimate expectation of privacy.” Oliver v. United States, 466 US 170, 177-78 (1984); Katz v. United States, 389 US 347 (1967). This rule has been carved into two pieces: (1) Does the individual have an actual subjective expectation of privacy? and (2) Is society prepared to recognize that expectation as objectively reasonable?

Given the radically divergent approaches to defining a “search,” Fourth Amendment jurisdictions should not be impacted by this Oregon ruling.

  1. As to those of us who practice in Oregon:

    a. This ruling does not apply to veterinarians in private practice who are not acting at the direction of law enforcement as there is no “state action” and absent that, the defendant may not invoke the exclusionary rule. A prudent prosecutor will carefully develop the record on this point in future cases.b. In subsequent litigation of this issue in warrantless cases, make a bombproof record on the medical necessity for why these tests (such as blood and feces) are needed, and how the veterinarian and seizing agency are required by law to provide “minimum care” as defined in ORS 167.310(9)(d).

    c. In all subsequent warrantless impound cases, secure a search warrant for any and all post-seizure vet care, at least until the Oregon Supreme Court addresses this matter.

    d. When drafting a search warrant prior to an impound in any animal cruelty case, be sure to including precise language expressly articulating the medical need for these tests and include language in the draft warrant expressly authorizing diagnostic testing and confirmatory laboratory work.

    e. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should any competent prosecutor tolerate this case being cited for the proposition that the entity impounding a victim animal cannot provide veterinary care. To do so is to expose the impounding entity to criminal neglect charges for failing to provide minimum care.

It is a shame that the Court, in this context, is treating a starving animal like a film canister or Crown Royal bag—as a “closed container” that does not “announce its contents.” More to the point, this opinion conflicts with State v. Langevin, 84 Or App 376, 383 (1987) affirmed, 304 Or 674 (1988) holding that testing of a suspect’s lawfully seized blood by the crime lab to confirm the presence of alcohol is not a search. If one lawfully seizes a victim dog, does not one also lawfully seize the dog’s fur, bones, and blood? And if testing a human suspect’s lawfully seized blood is not search, it simply does not follow that testing the blood of a suspect’s lawfully seized dog is a search. However, until Newcomb gets reversed, please heed the advice we offer above.

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Happy Earth Day!

Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on April 22, 2014

April 22, 2014 is recognized around the world as “Earth Day”—a day that reminds us to care for Mother Nature and the planet on which we reside.


Why should animal lovers care about Earth Day? Here are 5 reasons why:

  1. Animal Agriculture Is Harming Our Planet – The farming of nonhuman animals not only harms the billions of animals we slaughter annually in the U.S. alone, and frequently leads to violations of federal and state anticruelty and environmental laws, but it is also one of the top contributors to climate change. Cutting animals out of your diet can help save the planet too.
  2. Predators Are Crucial to Ecosystems – Wolf hunting and coyote killing contests hurt more than just the individuals shot as “trophies.” Removing a large number of pack-members and destroying extended family systems drastically disrupts the entire region and that’s why you can take action here to help protect the Gray Wolf.
  3. Dolphin Safe Tuna Isn’t Safe for Anyone – Commercial fishing destroys marine ecology. Even tuna companies that claim to use “sustainable” fishing practices are still killing not only tuna but dolphins and countless non-target animals including whales and endangered turtles. You can sign ALDF’s petition to boycott tuna producers here.
  4. Animal Rights Make a Healthy Planet – Protecting the interests of nonhuman animals means setting a standard of care for their environment, and ours! Protecting animals means we must also protect the earth.
  5. Coalitions Build Better Bridges for the Future – Joining forces with groups like the Center for Food Safety and the Center for Biological Diversity mean uniting our purposes, strengthening our resolve, and working together to make a difference.

And that’s why we urge all animal lovers to celebrate Earth Day by connecting the health of our planet with the wellbeing of all animals, human and nonhuman.

What will you do to help celebrate Earth Day?

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World Week for Animals in Laboratories

Posted by Mark Hawthorne, ALDF Guest Blogger on April 21, 2014

They are hidden from view, but animals in labs suffer by the millions each year, and we can all do something about it. This week is World Week for Animals in Laboratories. Built around World Day for Animals in Laboratories (April 24), this is an international movement of protests, rallies, demonstrations, marches, candlelight vigils, and media events to raise awareness about animal testing. An estimated 100 million animals suffer in laboratory research—with little to no regulatory oversight. Legal requirements for painkillers are often overridden by claiming “scientific necessity” and 95% of these animals are unprotected by the federal Animal Welfare Act. See ALDF’s “Animal Testing and the Law.”


Pirka is a rescued rabbit, similar to those who live in laboratories.

Animals in laboratories are beaten, burned, and blinded. They are nailed down, tied up, and sliced open. They are starved, suffocated, shaken, and shot. Their organs are pulverized, their limbs are severed, their bodies are irradiated, and their spirits are broken. They are forced to drink alcohol, inhale tobacco smoke, and consume a variety of highly dangerous narcotics, including heroin. Name a modern disease, and they’ve been infected with it. Imagine a torment, and they’ve suffered it.

Whether it’s called animal testing, animal research, animal studies, animal experimentation, or vivisection, the exploitation of animals in labs occurs throughout the world over three broad categories:

  1. In biomedical research, by far the largest use, animals are used as models of people to study human health, disease, and injury. Examples of study targets include clues to the mechanisms of heart conditions and potential drugs to treat illness. This category also includes testing drugs to determine their toxicity (how poisonous they are). Research is generally a precursor to clinical trials using humans.
  2. In product testing, scientists conduct toxicity tests on animals to discover how cleansers, food additives, pesticides, cosmetics, tobacco, and a broad assortment of industrial and consumer goods might affect human beings and the environment. For example, typical tests measure the level of skin irritancy and eye tissue damage a substance causes.
  3. In education, animals are used in training medical, veterinary, and other health professionals or in teaching basic biology, such as anatomy. Dissecting frogs in high school is a common example most of us are probably familiar with.

brochure-web2The good news is that alternatives to animal-based models are making headway and show great promise for one day replacing animals altogether. These include In vitro (“in glass”) studies on human cells and tissues; computer modeling; machines that screen chemicals for toxicity; clinical research, which entails observing and analyzing illnesses in human patients; and a humane alternative for HIV/AIDS research called the Modular Immune In vitro Construct (MIMIC), which uses human cells to create a surrogate human immune system. Unfortunately, fully implementing these compassionate options will be a long process. In the meantime, please speak out for animals in labs this week. Here are some things you can do:

  • Never purchase products tested on animals. Read labels and look for language that indicates the product is free of animal testing. You can also check for the Leaping Bunny logo.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper urging that society abandon animal testing. Although animal testing is currently required before drugs go to market, no U.S. law dictates that animals should be subjected to torture to test the safety of household products. (Even a letter that doesn’t get published is a force for positive change.)
  • Do not donate to charities that test on animals.
  • Become part of an organized event. To find something in your area, simply go to Facebook and type “World Week for Animals in Laboratories” in the search field at the top.
  • Add a message to your voice mail or email signature that speaks up for animals in labs.
  • Download a copy of ALDF’s brochure “Animal Testing and the Law” to learn why animal research is nothing short of legal torture.

Mark Hawthorne is the author of Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering and Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism (both from Changemakers Books). You’ll find him tweeting @markhawthorne

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Our Hollywood Screening of The Ghosts in Our Machine

Posted by Stefanie Wilson, SALDF Chapter Regional Representative for Los Angeles on April 11, 2014

ALDF is now expanding its presence in the greater Los Angeles region with ALDF-LA. By doing so, this regional attorney network will advance ALDF’s mission to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system by hosting local events, offering CLE activities and speaking engagements, collaborating with local animal protection organizations, and providing legal expertise to strengthen laws for animals.

One such local event was the April 3rd screening of the film, The Ghosts in Our Machine, where ALDF gathered in Hollywood, California with local attorneys, SALDF chapter members, and local supporters. The screening celebrated the partnership between ALDF and Ghosts to mutually promote the film and ALDF’s Animal Bill of Rights.


There was a festive atmosphere at the welcome reception, where attendees quickly discovered mutual connections over delicious vegan appetizers and drinks. A shoe-in for ALDF’s Parent of the Year Award (if there was such a thing), a mother came with her ten- and thirteen-year-old sons, proudly introducing them as animal rights advocates. She told me that, next month, her thirteen-year-old will be giving a presentation on animal rights at his bar mitzvah.

After the film, ALDF hosted a Q&A session with Jo-Anne McArthur, the human protagonist in Ghosts. Questions ranged from, “how do you stay sane?” to “how can I do more for animals?” At times, audience members chimed in to add their thoughts and reflections from their own experiences as animal advocates.

Ghosts follows photo-journalist Jo-Anne McArthur as she travels across the world to photograph animals in captivity for her We Animals book and project. The film is perfect for people who have never heard of animal liberation as well as seasoned animal activists. For the uninitiated, Ghosts is a “gentle” animal rights film. The viewer is so caught up with Jo-Anne’s story and her poignant photographs that they barely notice that their eyes being opened to the Brave New World of animal exploitation that is too often hidden from sight.

For the animal advocates, we find solidarity with Jo-Anne’s experience in the first half of the film. We know her frustration all too well when she faces rejection from a mainstream agency because they can’t sell her photographs to the big publishers. Our hearts ache with hers when she must leave the animals behind and thinks of the ones that cannot be saved. But towards the end of Ghosts, Jo-Anne delivers an important message for all of us in this field—despite everything that she has seen and documented, she still has hope.  She still believes that humans are innately compassionate. “I’m trying to save the world,” she whispers, as if the thought is too radical to say out loud. We are with you Jo-Anne. We are trying to save the world too.

To make sure you get updates about other ALDF-LA local events, be sure to sign up. ALDF is planning a special CLE event for law students and attorneys on September 27, 2014 at Loyola Law School.

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Building Bridges: Animals, the Environment, and Fighting Climate Change

Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on April 10, 2014

Legally Brief

Animal agriculture is harming our planet. This point is highlighted in a recently released report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which carries far-reaching implications about the impact of animal agriculture on greenhouse gas emissions. The fact is, our industrial-scale consumption of animals is one of the leading contributors to climate change.

Unlike previous reports, the IPCC assessment provides little reason to believe we can any longer prevent significant impacts from climate change. In the report, the authors describe a 2 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures within two to three decades. By midcentury crop losses of up to 25% will be standard. Systemically, infrastructures will be in jeopardy, our food systems will be unstable, and our ecosystems irreparably damaged. Furthermore, by 2030, nations will surpass the safety threshold for clean air standards, because while most acknowledge that climate change is a real threat they yet have not put in place the systematic changes needed to minimize its damage.


The fundamental changes we need to mitigate the effects of climate change mean seriously addressing the intersection of animal protection and environmental health. Many advocate for clean energy and transportation policies without addressing the more significant impacts of raising animals for food. Industrial animal agriculture or “factory farms” account for nearly 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. Each year, ten billion animals are exploited in industrial agriculture in the U.S. alone. Fossil fuels, used in intensive animal agriculture, emit 90 million tons of C02 annually around the globe. Deforestation for animal grazing and feed crops emits another 2.4 billion tons of C02. Factory farms release potentially fatal compounds such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and methane into the air we breathe. Yet even in a weak economy and with dire warnings about climate change, factory farms are growing exponentially.

It is impossible to tackle the environmental concerns of climate change while continuing to contribute to the industry of consuming animals. I came to the animal protection field from the environmental movement because I knew the change we need isn’t superficial but structural—the challenges of animal welfare and environmental protection are two pieces of the greater whole, and we must address them together. Weak environmental laws and a lack of farmed animal protection laws are connected. Both facilitate the continuation of the destructive factory farming industry. By joining forces, the environmental and animal protection movements can build legal bridges into the future.

Earth Day—April 22—marks the anniversary of the modern environmental movement and an emerging consciousness that puts the health of our planet front and center. But it is in animal law we find the bringing together of related and overlapping policy changes. Protection of the planet without addressing core issues regarding animals cannot fully tackle the global problems that threaten us. In discussing the IPCC report, the chairman said “nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.” We need a new direction rooted in our concern for the well-being of all life on earth, not just humans.

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Missouri Sues California over Promoting Animal Welfare

Posted by Kelsey McLean, ALDF Guest Blogger on April 9, 2014

Over three years ago, California voters spoke loud and clear about their position on animal welfare and food safety. Californians voted to pass the Prevention of Farmed Animal Cruelty Act, which bans any farmed animal from being kept in a confined space without room to stand up, turn around and fully extend their limbs. One of the problems targeted by this new law is the egg industry’s use of battery cages. A traditional battery cage can contain up to 11 birds, each spending their entire lives with less individual space than a sheet of printer paper. The cages are so cramped that hens often get trapped or impaled by the cage wire. Also, without the ability to move freely or extend their wings for months or years, the birds’ bones and muscles deteriorate.


Although the suffering that battery-cage chickens experience is troubling enough, it is only part of the problem. Studies have shown that eggs are the most common host of salmonella, and battery-cage eggs have an overwhelmingly higher rate of salmonella contamination than eggs produced more humanely. The California legislature, fulfilling its duty to protect its citizens from these dangers, extended the ban on the sale of battery-cage eggs to include those coming from both California producers and out-of-state producers.

Fast forward to February of 2014; Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has filed a lawsuit against the State of California. He says that banning the sale of battery-cage eggs violates the Commerce Clause, a Constitutional provision that essentially prohibits states from unfairly burdening interstate commerce by giving advantages to in-state producers that disadvantage those out of state. Missouri has an industrialized system for egg production that utilizes battery cages. Missouri also exports approximately one-third of its eggs to California. Now, Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska and Oklahoma have joined Koster’s lawsuit, deciding that factory farming profits hold a higher value than human health and animal welfare.

California is no stranger to these types of lawsuits. Courts have upheld California’s right to ban the sale of shark fins and to enforce stricter emission standards on cars, both of which would affect out-of-state parties. Agricultural producers also recently challenged California’s ban on the production and sale of foie gras, arguing that the foie gras ban violated the Commerce Clause. The Ninth Circuit disagreed and upheld the ban, saying that California held a legitimate interest in banning the sale of foie gras, and that the ban applied equally to all states, giving California no economic advantage over any other state. This is the exact situation that Attorney General Koster is up against in the current lawsuit. It seems difficult to see how Missouri, or any other state, can prove that the ban treats its egg producers any differently than California’s producers. Under the traditional authority of state law, California also has a legitimate interest in ensuring the safety of its residents by reducing the risk of food borne illnesses.

Instead of encouraging Missouri egg farmers to meet these basic welfare standards, Koster has chosen to spend taxpayer money to attack the California law. Let’s hope that the federal courts will continue to allow California to lead the way in animal protection.

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Animal Abandonment is a Crime

Posted by Ian Elwood, ALDF Online Editor on April 8, 2014

Abandoning a domesticated animal isn’t just a cruel thing to do, in many states it’s a crime. The Animal Legal Defense Fund sorts through thousands of messages a week. Emails, tweets, messages, phone calls—the stories of animals being abused, abandoned, and neglected are heartbreaking. So when an email came in recently about a group of chickens abandoned at a local park, we were excited to hear that Hen Harbor sanctuary had space to take them in. They just needed rescue and transport.


Roosters like Mini Stephen are regularly abandoned after owners realize they are males.

Unfortunately, this type of scenario is all too common. Many people buy chickens without realizing that caring for them is a real responsibility—they aren’t simply egg-laying machines. Around Easter time, many people buy baby chicks and rabbits on impulse, and often abandon them without any consideration for the animal, or the law. Because of the intense selective breeding done by the poultry industry, today’s chicken has no better chance of surviving in the woods than a human child. Knowing this, and the fact that these birds had someone able to provide life-long care for them, we drove out to attempt a rescue.

We arrived after dark and saw three chickens perched high in a tree. Sadly, three others had already been killed by predators. After climbing up, I was able to reach out and quickly grab the first one. He perched on my hand while flapping as I guided him to my chest and zipped him safely inside my jacket. I climbed down and put him into a large pet carrier.


Mini Stephen and Carter in a carrier.

The next one flapped gracefully to the ground as I approached him, and another rescuer was able to scoop him up. The third was in another tree, so I shimmied up and got him into the carrier using the same method as the first.

We drove to Hen Harbor sanctuary the next day after providing food, water, and rest to the chickens. Opening the door to the carrier and watching the three birds hop out onto the straw floor of a predator-proof barn was very rewarding. It was good to know that these three individuals would be safe.

Ian Elwood

Fluffypants Ian exploring his new home, where he sleeps in a predator-proof barn at night.

Thinking about how much time and energy it takes to rescue three chickens makes you think about how many others are not rescued, cared for, or even provided the smallest amount of compassion during their short lives. Chickens are used for meat, eggs, cockfighting, and are harmed in countless other ways. Attempts to pass even modest animal protection laws are fought tooth and nail by those who stand to gain from harming chickens.

Take Action

ALDF is hard at work every day, but a stronger legal framework for chickens—and all animals—will take time to build. In the meantime, you can help chickens by avoiding eggs, adopting rescued chickens, supporting animal sanctuaries, and by becoming a Partner in Protection with the Animal Legal Defense Fund.


The animals at Hen Harbor sanctuary can express natural behaviors and live a natural lifespan.

The law has a long way to go before chickens are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, so we all need to do our part. That is why the attorneys at ALDF work so hard to enforce existing animal protection laws, and to advocate for new ones. With your support, someday all chickens will have the protection they deserve, not just the lucky few.

Spread the Word

Share our rescue story if you would never abandon your furry or feathered friends! Click the image below to share on Facebook:


Feel free to download this image to share on the social network of your choice (PNG).

You can also share this story on Twitter! Click the tweet below to send this message to your followers:


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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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