Pennsylvania Court: Neglected Puppy Does Not Have to Return to His Abuser

Posted by David Rosengard, Criminal Justice Program Fellow on September 6, 2016


Great news for a pit bull puppy named Luke—last week, a Pennsylvania court decided that he does not have to return to his abuser! In Commonwealth v. Kuhns, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the legitimacy of using contraband forfeiture rules to prevent seized animals from going back to owners who subjected them to unlawful cruelty. Derivative contraband is now one more legal strategy that animal advocates, prosecutors and law enforcement can add to their toolbox to protect animal victims where the criminal justice system falls short.

The case in question involved Luke, a pit bull puppy. In 2014, Luke, then six months old, suffered a shattered shoulder allegedly at the hands of his owner. Law enforcement subsequently seized Luke, charging his owner with animal cruelty. At trial, however, a key witness’s testimony was different than her earlier statements regarding how Luke’s injury took place: his owner was acquitted—and demanded that the state return Luke. The prosecutor, concerned at the prospect of Luke returning to the environment where he was so seriously wounded, worked with the Animal Legal Defense Fund to develop a unique legal argument that would ultimately succeed in preventing Luke’s return.

Our ‘derivative contraband’ argument—which requires a much lower standard of proof (preponderance of evidence) than that of a criminal case (beyond a reasonable doubt )—focused not on how Luke’s shoulder came to be broken, but rather neglect: specifically, on trial testimony establishing that the defendant failed to get Luke the immediate veterinary care that his severe injury required. The argument’s second stage applied Pennsylvania’s contraband law: if the defendant sufficiently involved Luke in an unlawful act, that would, in turn, make Luke derivative contraband—which law enforcement has no obligation to return. In short, the strategy was to argue that a preponderance of the evidence showed (1) the defendant had engaged in a specific episode of unlawful animal neglect; (2) as the subject of that specific neglect, Luke was integrally related to that unlawful act; (3) Luke should therefore be declared contraband; and (4) as contraband, the defendant could be ordered to forfeit Luke.

The trial court agreed with our analysis, ruling that Luke was indeed contraband, and ordering him forfeited from the defendant owner. The defendant appealed to the Superior Court, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an amicus (‘friend of the court’) brief in the case. In its amicus, the Animal Legal Defense Fund argued not only that the trial court had properly applied Pennsylvania’s contraband rules, but that so long as the law treats animals as property, it must also be willing to award them contraband status when they are subject to unlawful cruelty. Failing to do so would perversely give the state fewer options on behalf of animals (who suffer when subject to cruelty) than on behalf of mere unfeeling objects.

The Superior Court upheld the trial court’s ruling: Luke had been subject to unlawful neglect, which allowed him to be designated contraband, and appropriately forfeited. Crucially, the Superior Court found the defendant “unreasonably risked harm to [Luke] by exhibiting indifference to the consequence of [his] injury. Likewise, [defendant] failed to take the necessary steps to care for [Luke] at the time that care became necessary. The symptoms displayed … required immediate medical attention….” In other words, the obligation to provide one’s animal with timely care rises in direct proportion to the severity of the animal’s injury—and a “wanton or cruel” failure to provide such care can result in the animal being forfeit.

We salute the great work undertaken on this matter by Lycoming County Assistant District Attorney Melissa Kalaus and late Humane Society Police Officer Lawrence Woltz. HSPO Woltz conducted the investigation of Luke’s injury and unlawful treatment, and ADA Kalaus argued the case at trial and handled the state’s response on appeal. Luke has since been adopted, and is very happy in his new home. Without the dedication to the cause of justice exhibited by HSPO Woltz and ADA Kalaus, Luke would not enjoy the safety and security he does today!

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California says Bye-Bye to Bullhooks

Posted by Carney Anne Nasser, Senior Counsel for Wildlife & Regulatory Affairs on August 30, 2016


The only way to get a multiton elephant to perform the ridiculously contrived and unnatural tricks you see in the circus, or to be conditioned to walk in circles to provide rides at county fairs and roadside amusements, is through the constant threat of physical punishment. Elephants do not perform for peanuts. Indeed, exhibitors who use elephants for entertainment brandish a firepoker-like device known as a “bullhook” or “ankus” to strike and jab elephants in the most sensitive parts of their bodies. While the worst abuses take place during training behind closed doors, elephant handlers are never seen without their bullhooks during performances because the mere presence of the bullhook is a reminder to the elephant of the pain that awaits her if she doesn’t do as commanded.

Fortunately, localities around the country have started prohibiting or restricting the use of cruel training tools used to make elephants and big cats dance in circles or jump through rings of fire. It is these local legislative changes that precipitated Ringling Bros.’ parent corporation to end using elephants for its circus—complying with new legislation all over the country was just too complicated for the traveling act which is on the road 50 weeks out of the year. However, in the past month, we have seen states stepping up to do the right thing for elephants, too.

In July 2016, Rhode Island became the first state to enact a statewide bullhook ban when Gov. Gina Raimondo signed legislation prohibiting use of the cruel devices. Just this week, California became the second with Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bullhook ban into law.

Elephant advocates will recall that Gov. Brown vetoed a criminal bullhook ban that passed both houses during the 2014-15 legislative session due to his stated wish not to further complicate the California Penal Code. Bill sponsor Sen. Ricardo Lara tweaked the language of the bill so that violations would be subject to civil penalties, including revocation of any state-issued wildlife permits, rather than criminal prosecution. No time has been lost in the process of making these changes since both included an effective date of January 1, 2018.

Ringling Bros. stopped traveling with elephants in May 2016,  and all of the accredited zoos in California use protected contact, a positive-reinforcement style of elephant management that is safer and more humane because handlers never share the same unrestricted free space with elephants—and therefore do not need to use bullhooks. So what impact will SB 1062 have? You may recall that Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT), the Perris, Calif.-based exhibitor that supplies elephants for movies, weddings, commercials, parties and elephant rides at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, was captured on undercover video violently abusing elephants with bullhooks and electric shock, including an elephant named Tai who has been used in a number of movies, including Water for Elephants. Since the undercover video footage became publicly available, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums ended its affiliation with HTWT and all county fairs across the State of California where HTWT used to provide elephant rides have cut ties with the company. The language in SB 1062 subject HTWT to civil penalties including revocation of the permits necessary for it to lawfully keep elephants in the state for treating and training the elephants the way it does.

As circuses pivot away from use of elephants, as the curtain is being peeled back on the dark side of animals used in Hollywood, and blockbuster movies like Rise of the Planet of the Apes and television shows like The Walking Dead are opting to use computer generated imaging and animatronics rather than live animals, days are numbered for exploitative companies like Have Trunk Will Travel.

When it comes to elephants, big cats and other exotic animals used for human amusement, abuse is the rule—not the exception—which is why the Animal Legal Defense Fund will continue to urge and support critical legal and regulatory changes that will bring an end to the cruel exploitation of rare and endangered species once and for all.

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Good news for Alaska’s Wolves and Bears . . . Maybe.

Posted by Stephen Wells, Executive Director on August 24, 2016

Legally Brief

First the good news. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which manages our nation’s National Wildlife Refuges, has issued new regulations for Wildlife Refuges in Alaska that end some of the most egregious forms of wildlife killing permitted and promoted by the state of Alaska.  Specifically, the new rules “prohibit the take of mother bears and their cubs, the take of brown (grizzly) bears over bait, the killing of wolves and their pups at den sites, and aerial gunning” on any National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

The USFWS rules were necessary because the federal agency allows the state of Alaska to manage wildlife on National Wildlife Refuges within the state. And Alaska’s wildlife policies regard wolves and bears as competition with human hunters for prized hunting targets, like moose and caribou. Thus they have “managed” wolves and bears to severely limit their numbers, by allowing extreme methods of killing including those listed above, as well as outrageously long hunting and trapping seasons (for wolves this often means no limits on the number you are allowed to kill). The state has even hired marksmen to shoot wolves and bears from helicopters and airplanes.

black-bear-cc-Jitze-couperus-article-image-230pxWhile this war on Alaska’s wildlife will continue on state lands and other federal lands, like those managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the rule change still matters. Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges comprise more than half of all the National Wildlife Refuge land in the country – nearly 77 million acres. That’s about 18% of all land in the state. And much of that land is excellent habitat for these species.

Time to celebrate, right? Maybe. Here’s the bad news. Even as these new, minimal protections are being put in place, both the U.S. House and Senate FY17 Interior Appropriations bills (the bills that fund the entire federal government) contain “riders,” sneaky amendments, which would block the implementation of this rule. Riders are attached to “must-pass” legislation like funding bills, because it is very difficult to remove them from such sweeping matters.

That means that members of the Congress in both the Senate and the House of Representatives want the massacre of wolf pups in their dens, bear mothers and their cubs, the baiting of bears for the kill with garbage and even shooting from aircraft to continue on our National Wildlife Refuges.

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The USDA is Standing By While a Global Crisis Looms

Posted by Kelsey Eberly, Staff Attorney on August 23, 2016

A global health crisis fueled by the greed of factory farming conglomerates and their allies in Congress is looming. It’s not climate change or heart disease, but the public health nightmare of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. The development of antibiotics only began in earnest about 100 years ago, and since then they have revolutionized medicine. Most people alive today have no concept of what life would look like without access to lifesaving antibiotics, but widespread misuse and overuse of these lifesaving tools could have deadly consequences.


“A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it,” says Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization. “Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.” The Centers for Disease Control state that each year at least 2 million people become infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria, and 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections. With major health organizations in agreement that antibiotic resistance is a dire health threat, one would think that the meat industry, the largest abuser of these lifesaving drugs, would clean up its act. Sadly, this is not the case.

For years, the Animal Legal Defense Fund has been sounding the alarm bells about the danger of feeding thousands of pounds of antibiotics to healthy farm animals, to keep them growing faster and larger and to prevent them from succumbing to disease amid their filthy, overcrowded living conditions. Antibiotics have long been a crutch used by the meat industry to maintain their inhumane, industrialized operations that churn out meat with maximum efficiency and profit. The overuse of these drugs, many of which are important—even critical—in human medicine, has contributed to the spread of pathogens that are resistant even to next-generation, cutting-edge antibiotics. Colistin, a drug of last resort, has become one of the only effective antibiotics to treat highly drug-resistant bacteria when all else has failed. The recent emergence of a colistin-resistant bacteria in the United States, then, first in a human patient and later in a specimen of pig intestine, raises the specter of a truly invincible super bacteria.

At the same time, consumer demand for meat from animals raised without antibiotics has skyrocketed, as consumers seek to avoid drug-resistant bacteria and choose healthier options. However, misleading labeling of meat and poultry both deceives consumers and prevents the market from changing to meet consumer demand.

In response to this public health crisis, on June 3, 2013—over three years ago—the Animal Legal Defense Fund submitted a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, asking the agency to require that meat and poultry from animals fed antibiotics be labeled as such, and to provide a uniform labeling standard for antibiotic use in meat, to meet consumer demand and address the antibiotic resistance crisis. The Animal Legal Defense Fund followed up the petition with a letter providing additional evidence of the need for mandatory antibiotics labeling, including Congressional support, studies, surveys and policymaking recommendations.

In response, the agency did absolutely nothing. Now, the Animal Legal Defense Fund has gathered another three years of additional evidence of the antibiotic resistance crisis, rising consumer demand for meat raised without antibiotics and the confusion that inconsistent and unregulated antibiotics labeling has sowed. And today, the organization submitted another follow-up letter, accompanied by 31 pieces of evidence, illustrating the dire need for mandatory meat and poultry antibiotics labeling.

Since the original letter, evidence has mounted in support of antibiotic labeling. Three federal acts have been introduced to combat antibiotic resistance and the excessive use of antibiotics in agriculture, and new studies have emerged documenting the transference of drug-resistant bacteria between farm animals and human hosts. The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s first letter has garnered support from a coalition of public health and environmental organizations, including The Sierra Club, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project and Friends of Family Farmers.

The USDA’s continued inaction in the face of an enormous public health crisis and rampant consumer confusion shows that it’s abdicating its statutory responsibility to protect consumers and safeguard human health. The Animal Legal Defense Fund will continue urging the agency to do its duty.

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Lucky and Nicole: Together in Solitary

Posted by Stephen Wells, Executive Director on August 17, 2016

Legally Brief

A female Asian elephant named Lucky, who has lived for 53 years in captivity under conditions that don’t meet her basic physical, psychological or social needs, deserves some relief. In December 2015, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of concerned San Antonio residents against the San Antonio Zoo, seeking compliance with Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) elephant-management guidelines. The lawsuit, filed under the Endangered Species Act, notes that conditions for Lucky have caused her psychological torment and physical injury.

We also hoped that zoo officials would release Lucky, to spend her final days at a sanctuary in the company of other elephants, walking in grass, resting in shade. The Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary offered such accommodations free of charge. The zoo declined.


The zoo’s former director has said that Lucky was “weird” and “too old” to move to sanctuary; his successor, Tim Morrow, maintains that Lucky is simply better off alone. We’ve come to expect such feigned ignorance about the natural needs of captive animals from people who benefit from their captivity, but Morrow has gone a brazen step further.

He’s introduced Nicole, an Asian elephant held captive as a circus performer for 36 years, as a companion. Morrow described the act as “the first step into our next phase.” Adding an aging elephant and citing it as a solution effectively doubles down on the zoo’s willful ignorance of elephant welfare. Now there will be two elephants living in substandard conditions—still out of compliance with AZA guidelines and the Endangered Species Act. That issue aside, not all elephant pairings are compatible, and Nicole has been removed from the elephant companions she’s known for decades. To split substandard conditions between two arthritic animals and sell it as an improvement is either insulting or oblivious.

Not surprisingly, the zoo continues to spin the story as a win for Lucky. “Elephant in need of a friend finds perfect match,” declared USA Today, alongside kid-friendly video, oompah circus music—and zero supportive science. If Morrow means it when he says “Lucky’s health and well-being is the primary focus,” she would be moved to a sanctuary, not expected to share her woefully inadequate enclosure with another elephant she might not even bond with.

Our litigation aims to remedy that, either through compliance with the AZA guidelines, or by seeing these elephants liberated to live comfortably with others of their own kind at an appropriate sanctuary.

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Student Animal Legal Defense Fund Chapter of the Year Award 2016

Posted by Kelly Levenda, Student Programs Attorney on August 9, 2016


We are now accepting submissions for our fourth annual Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) Chapter of the Year Award! The award celebrates SALDF chapters that have shown incredible efforts in advancing the field of animal law and advocating for animals through original projects and initiatives. This award will be given out at the annual Animal Law Conference co-presented by Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark Law School and the Lewis & Clark Student Animal Legal Defense Fund in New York City in October.

SALDF chapters are a vital part of the growing animal law movement. Through raising awareness of the field of animal law at their school, they are showing fellow students that animal protection is a serious social justice issue. These future attorneys, legislators and judges will be influential advocates for changing the law to better protect animals.

SALDF chapters raise awareness of issues affecting animals through activities such as holding events for ALDF’s weeks of action, like Speak Out for Farmed Animals Week; tabling; leafleting; screening films; organizing symposia and guest speakers; and building coalitions with other law school student organizations. They also advocate for Meatless Mondays or plant-based options in their cafeterias or at law school events, hold networking events, volunteer at local farmed animal sanctuaries or humane societies and hone their legal skills in the National Animal Law Competitions.

If you would like your SALDF chapter to be considered for this award, please describe your chapter’s activities during the 2015-2016 academic year by responding to one or more of the following:

  1. Describe how your chapter raised awareness of animal law and protection issues to other law students and/or the broader law school or campus community;
  2. Describe one or more pioneering projects or initiatives your chapter spearheaded that advanced the field of animal law or otherwise benefited animals;
  3. Describe any other activity your chapter believes demonstrated exceptional dedication to the field that either advanced animal law or otherwise benefited animals.

The winner will be chosen by a committee comprised of Animal Legal Defense Fund staff, and will receive travel grant funding to attend the Animal Law Conference. Submissions must be 250 words or less, and be received no later than 5 p.m. PST on Wednesday, September 14, 2016. Please email your submission to Kelly at

We strongly encourage all SALDF chapters to apply!

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SALDF Fostering Growth for Next Generation of Animal Advocates

Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on July 21, 2016

Legally Brief

With 190 chapters established in the U.S. and 22 internationally, ALDF’s Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) chapter program has taken law schools by storm. Through SALDF, we provide grants and guidance, career advice and educational materials, and a variety of other resources. Over 15 years, the number of universities and law schools offering courses in animal law has increased from just 9 in the year 2000 to more than 170 today—largely as a result of the work of our coordination with concerned students on those campuses through SALDF.

In an environment where legal protections for animals are often inadequate and consistently under attack, an obvious need exists to enlist talented, driven individuals to advance and execute better protections. The entities that profit from the abuse and killing of animals too often have access to expensive legal teams. SALDF invests in law students so that the animals also have teams of dedicated lawyers willing to take on the toughest fights—and win.

Last October at the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s 23rd annual Animal Law Conference, the George Washington University Law School (GW) and Harvard Law School (HLS) SALDF chapters received the SALDF Chapter of the Year Award. Both chapters held networking and fundraising events, organized conferences, brought in guest speakers, and built coalitions with other law school organizations. In 2015, the HLS chapter worked with the Harvard Food Law Society to host an all-day conference on factory farming with over 200 people in attendance. The GW chapter co-hosted a screening of the film Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret for ALDF’s National Justice for Animals Week; it also hosted a discussion of Ag-Gag laws with a former undercover investigator who had been charged with animal cruelty for documenting animal abuse. We’ve also featured the outstanding work of dozens of chapters throughout the U.S. for engaging in similarly robust efforts in our Student Chapter Spotlight Series.

Our Where Are They Now page features former SALDF members and the valuable work they have gone on to do. The most recent subject, Elizabeth Baker, is senior science policy specialist with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, where she works to modernize the laws governing pharmaceutical testing. She says, “I want to ensure that the people and organizations who want to use modern human-focused technologies have the same support that those currently using the traditional animal methods have.” Through SALDF, we’re working toward a more level playing field in the same way—so the next generation of lawyers is equipped to construct legal protections that work for animals.

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Scales Tilt Toward Justice for Animals Abused in Research Labs

Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on July 6, 2016

Legally Brief

In late May, Santa Cruz Biotechnology, a large supplier of animal subjects for laboratory testing, reached a record-setting settlement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), agreeing to pay a $3.5 million penalty and forfeit its animal dealer license. The verdict followed years of contention and litigation over allegations that goats and rabbits at its Santa Cruz facility had been mistreated. The USDA cited “repeated failure to provide minimally adequate and expeditious veterinary care and treatment to animals.”

The $3.5 million penalty reached with the USDA is more than ten times the previous highest penalty assessed under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). This historic USDA penalty may signify a meaningful shift in the USDA’s willingness to actively pursue and prosecute corporate animal abusers.

Meanwhile, the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s litigation against Santa Cruz Biotech, on behalf of Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), is still underway. A judge had dismissed our case in light of the USDA’s enforcement action, but recently the court heard oral argument in our appeal of that dismissal. Because our lawsuit is based on California state animal cruelty laws, a decision would apply to all animals, including those that the AWA excludes, including rats and mice. Thus, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and SAEN’s lawsuit would be the only remaining bulwark against Santa Cruz Biotechnology’s callous cruelty to animals left out of federal law. We expect to receive a ruling this summer.

From one perspective, we can see the USDA’s multi-million dollar penalty both as a vindication of our work with SAEN to end the commercialization of abuse and as a warning signal to other lab-animal companies doing the same. From another perspective, we recognize that the terms of the settlement reduced the original USDA fines dramatically, perhaps by 90% or more. Such a bright moment of humane adjudication shouldn’t be allowed to recede, but neither should it be heralded as an unqualified victory. It is without question a big step in the right direction.

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Join us at the 2016 Animal Rights National Conference

Posted by on June 30, 2016

There’s just one week until the 2016 Animal Rights National Conference! This year’s conference takes place in Los Angeles from July 7-10, and it’s a packed weekend. The Animal Legal Defense Fund will be there representing all of our hard work to protect animals through the legal system. As the only national nonprofit focused on this work, we’re excited to serve up our unique perspective and expertise. Attendees will have four opportunities to hear from us, including a very special reception we’re hosting on Friday evening, open to conference attendees and anyone else who’s interested.


Here’s what you can look forward to:

Friday July 8 at 12 p.m. our Los Angeles Regional Director Lindsay Larris will present during the panel titled “Enforcing Protective Laws (Using local authorities, litigation, media, agitation to prevent animal abuse).” She’ll give the audience a glimpse into how the Animal Legal Defense Fund uses civil litigation to enforce laws that protect animals. From the obstacles animal litigators face to the creative ways we navigate them, attendees will walk away with a much better understanding of how we protect animals.

Immediately following Lindsay’s presentation, Animal Legal Defense Fund will be on Friday’s 1:30 p.m. panel on “When Activists Need Support,” featuring Tom Linney, our senior pro bono manager. It’s no surprise that being an animal activist is a tough job, but this panel will give attendees an overview of all the ways activists can get the help they need (plus some support they didn’t even know they needed!). Tom will talk about some of the ways to find an attorney to help with animal-related matters, as well as the variety of legal resources currently available to animal advocates

On Friday evening we’ll be celebrating with a reception from 6 to 7:30 p.m. with drinks, delicious hors d’oeuvres, and great conversation! Not attending the conference? You’re still welcome to come meet us at our reception. Tom Linney and Kelly Levenda, from our Animal Law Program, will be hosting the event and several other key staff members will also be present. Learn more here.

Start off the conference’s last day on Sunday at 10:15 a.m. with our Manager of Investigations T.J. Tumasse on the panel “Running Undercover Investigations (Exposing animal abuse through undercover investigations).” As a veteran investigator himself, T.J. knows the ins and outs of using undercover programs to help educate the public and further the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s litigation efforts. We don’t all have what it takes to work undercover, but the information that comes out of such investigations is absolutely vital to our work.

Animal Legal Defense Fund will also have a booth in the exhibit hall, which is open to the public—so please drop by and say hi!

Register today if you haven’t already! We can’t wait to see you there.

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More Dogs Left in Hot Cars This Summer

Posted by Ian Elwood, Online Communications Manager on June 27, 2016


It’s officially summer, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund has seen many more reports of dogs being left in hot cars. Three dogs in Sacramento, California were rescued by the fire department after getting a call from concerned citizens. The temperature inside the car was 160 degrees—far too hot for anyone to be inside. A former Georgia police officer was arrested after it was found that he left his K-9 in a patrol car for several hours, causing the dog to die. A South Carolina couple was charged with cruelty after leaving their dog in a hot car on a 90 degree day. The list goes on.

Shelters are receiving an overwhelming number of calls and police departments are cracking down, but the best thing for everyone is if dogs—and all living beings—are kept safe in the first place. You can help!

What You Can Do

Help us spread the word about this important issue by sharing with your friends and family on social media. Please download our graphic to post, or print a stack of flyers to hang at your grocery store, laundromat, and other community hotspots. You can also learn the local laws about how to best report dogs in hot cars where you live—some states allow individuals to rescue dogs, others require that you call 911.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to get your Animal Legal Defense Fund Sunshade! It sends a clear signal to anyone who sees it about the danger of leaving dogs in hot cars.


  • Get your sunshade now!
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Oregon Supreme Court: Blood Draw is Not a “Search”

Posted by By Lora Dunn, Interim Director and Senior Staff Attorney, Criminal Justice Program on June 21, 2016


Animal sentience matters! That was the message from the Oregon Supreme Court last week when it issued its ruling in State v. Newcomb. Overturning the 2014 decision by the Oregon Court of Appeals, the higher court ruled that a defendant owner, whose emaciated dog Juno was seized by law enforcement on probable cause of criminal animal neglect, did not have a protected privacy interest in that dog’s blood. The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in the case, joined by the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National District Attorneys Association, the Oregon Humane Society, and the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association.

The defendant, Amanda Newcomb, had argued that drawing blood as part of a routine medical examination of the lawfully seized dog was a “search” under the Oregon Constitution and Fourth Amendment, which prohibit unreasonable searches. Rejecting that argument, the Oregon Supreme Court found that such an owner does not have a protected privacy interest in the interior of the lawfully seized dog under either the Oregon Constitution or the Fourth Amendment and therefore no “search” occurred.

Crucial to the Court’s finding was the unique nature of animals which, though legally considered property, are nonetheless “sentient beings capable of experiencing pain, stress and fear,” according to Oregon legislation the Animal Legal Defense Fund helped enact in 2013. The Court emphasized that this sentience matters when analyzing an owner’s privacy interest in the animal, and that an animal should not be analyzed like a closed container or any other object. The Court also recognized its recent decision extending the exigency exception to animals in recognizing that “some animals, such as pets, occupy a unique position in people’s hearts and in the law.” As the Court further explained,

“Oregon law prohibits humans from treating animals in ways that humans are free to treat other forms of property … A person can be as cruel or abusive as she wants to her own stereo or folder, and can neglect the maintenance of a car to the point where it will not operate, without legal consequence. The same is not true of an animal that a person owns or has custody of or control over.”

This Newcomb decision has enormous practical implications for those working tirelessly on the ground every day to rescue animals, including the Oregon Humane Society, which investigated Juno’s case and provided her medical care. The Court was clear that, even if law enforcement would use the results of a medical exam to purpose criminal charges, the veterinarian’s purpose in a blood test is medical diagnosis and treatment—and that’s what matters.

Now, investigators who lawfully seize an animal don’t have to go through the often cumbersome and time consuming process of securing a separate warrant before a veterinarian can perform a simple diagnostic exam to properly treat an abused or neglected animal. This ruling also ensures that animals lawfully seized during criminal investigations will be able to receive necessary, prompt medical attention without evidence suppression issues potentially jeopardizing the criminal cruelty case.

We applaud the great work of Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and Assistant Attorney General Jamie Contreras, who presented the state’s case in oral argument, for their exceptional work on this case. Our sincere thanks as well to Virginia Coleman for her great work on the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s amicus brief.

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Protect Dogs From Hot Cars This Summer

Posted by Ian Elwood, Online Communications Manager on June 7, 2016


A dog in Ohio was rescued by police recently after being left in a hot car for over two hours. Police had to smash the window to save his life, but this was far from the first such incident. Each year, police departments issue warnings at the beginning of summer about how dangerous hot cars can be for dogs—and all living beings. In another sad case this year, felony charges are being considered for the owner of a dog in Salt Lake City, after the dog was found dead by animal control officers. The interior temperature of the car on a 91 degree day was in excess of 120 degrees.

Because such stories are usually only reported on by local news outlets, the issue rarely reaches a national audience, and dogs—the most traveled with pet—continue to suffer or die from being left in hot cars. The Animal Legal Defense Fund has been campaigning proactively on this issue for the past few years, before the summer reaches its hottest months, to get the word out and educate dog owners—as well as passersby—about the dangers of hot cars, and the laws in place to protect Good Samaritans.

How You Can Help

You can help protect dogs from being left in hot cars, by learning your local laws about how to report dogs in hot cars. You can also help by purchasing an Animal Legal Defense Fund Sunshade. It sends a clear message about the dangers of hot cars where it’s needed most—in the parking lots where these incidents commonly occur.


Get your sunshade today, and help us save dogs’ lives this summer!

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Justice for Harambe

Posted by Carney Anne Nasser, Senior Counsel for Wildlife & Regulatory Affairs on June 6, 2016


Here we are again. Only six weeks after big cat keeper Stacey Konwiser was killed by a Malayan tiger at the AZA-accredited Palm Beach Zoo, yet another tragedy has occurred. This time, a May 28th incident at the AZA-accredited Cincinnati Zoo left a little boy injured and a young gorilla, Harambe, dead. Well-meaning people are outraged and desperate to assign blame. Indeed, since Saturday, more than 180,000 signed a petition seeking prosecution of the child’s parents, all in the name of #JusticeforHarambe. Social media is flooded with a debate over whether the zoo made the right call by killing rather than tranquilizing Harambe. However, at their core, these heart-wrenching situations aren’t about parenting, emergency management, or keeper error. Responsibility for every single one of these tragic incidents lies with zoos, circuses, and other business models centered on warehousing animals for public amusement.

As long as we keep complex wild animals in zoos, circuses, and other unnatural situations that deny them the full range of their normal behaviors, they will continue to suffer and dangerous human-animal interactions that end in tragedy will continue—all while wild populations dwindle. Despite the claims of zoos and other animal exhibitors, not only is there no educational value in seeing animals confined to artificial exhibits, conservationists like David Quammen in his book, Wild Thoughts from Wild Places, have pointed out that zoos “may actually undermine the continued existence of what they purport to celebrate. People … visit the zoos, and by the mesmeric power of these vicarious experiences, they come carelessly to believe that [an endangered species] . . . is alive and well because they have seen it.”

We can each do a better job of seeking #JusticeforHarambe by cutting through the noise about parenting, defects in habitat construction, and appropriate methods to immobilize animals in an emergency, and committing to support only those conservation initiatives that: 1) focus on legitimate contributions to preservation of species in the wild; and 2) don’t put the lives of keepers, animals, or the viewing public at risk.

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Legally Brief: Behind Closed Doors, Beneath the Law

Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on June 6, 2016

Legally Brief

Farmed animals in the U.S. receive virtually no protection under federal law except for regulations of the way they are transported and slaughtered. Despite the last few decades’ slow expansion of legal protections for companion animals and, to a lesser degree, animals used in entertainment, no federal laws have been enacted to protect farmed animals when it comes to the way they are raised. Moreover, most state laws exempt otherwise cruel standard agricultural practices from state cruelty laws, essentially making farmed animals beyond—or beneath—the law.

In late April, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General regarding violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act recorded on video at a pig-breeding facility own and operated by The Maschhoffs, LLC.  The Animal Legal Defense Fund complained that the company engaged in unfair business practices due to the apparent animal neglect caused by a failure to feed and provide proper veterinary care to animals.  The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s complaint also alleged that the company engaged in deceptive business practices because the conditions at the facility conflicted with the company’s own advertising that it is committed to “humane animal handling” and providing the “best possible environment” for the animals.

In the video, The Maschhoffs employees can be seen slamming piglets against the ground. Adult mother pigs are shown writhing in farrowing and breeding crates, constructed to maximize per-square-foot profit and so small as to prevent pigs from being able to turn around, much less stretch their muscles or roam to satisfy natural instincts. Confinement is intense, and when workers fail to move pregnant pigs to farrowing crates in time, piglets are crushed to death by mother pigs with no room to move and no natural bedding material to make a proper nest. Pigs obviously anxious with hunger can be seen jostling empty food bins and employees converse about malfunctions with the feeding systems.

None of this was surprising to our investigators, or to us. In an industry that slaughters well over 100 million pigs in the U.S. every year, these dead piglets and sick, dying mother pigs are simply considered breakage or shrinkage if not “collateral damage.” To an industry that can move lame animals into position for slaughter using electric prods, the sight of empty food troughs is unlikely to evoke empathy and spur changes from within.

Even the last few moments of an animal’s life that might be granted some humane protection by federal law are under attack, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been decreasing its slaughterhouse inspector workforce and shifting those responsibilities to the animal product producers themselves, as absurd as that may sound.

And all of this is taking place in an environment where at least seven states have enacted “Ag-Gag laws” that seek to punish would-be whistleblowers and undercover activists for recording and sharing footage like that taken at The Maschhoffs facility. We’re doing battle to keep such laws from spreading. In August 2015, an Animal Legal Defense Fund-led coalition of animal, environmental and civil rights organizations scored a first victory against an Ag-Gag law when a federal district court in Idaho declared the law unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendment. Similar suits are now pending against the states of Utah, Wyoming and North Carolina.

Factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses will continue to try to find ways to hide their practices and protect their profits. With your continued support, the Animal Legal Defense Fund will anticipate and counter their every step, bearing witness and sharing what we see with judges, legislators, litigators and you, as we work to eliminate so much unnecessary suffering.

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Animal Law Symposium 2016: Animal Cruelty Prosecution

Posted by Lora Dunn, Interim Director and Staff Attorney, Animal Legal Defense Fund on June 1, 2016

On May 21, 2016 the Animal Legal Defense Fund gathered experts in criminal animal cruelty cases for our second-annual Los Angeles symposium, Animal Cruelty Prosecution: Pitfalls and Progress.

Animal Law Symposium, Los Angeles 2016

Kicking off the day was our Prosecuting Animal Cruelty Cases 101 panel, with animal control professional Mark Kumpf and L.A. County Deputy District Attorney Debbie Knaan sharing strategies for building a successful animal cruelty case from the ground up—from processing the crime scene through analyzing potential criminal charges. Dr. Farshid Shahriar then walked us through the importance of veterinary forensics in linking the perpetrator to the animal victim, such as conducting a thorough necropsy (an autopsy for an animal).

Senior Trial Consultant Rich Matthews—a “myth buster” of traditional beliefs about jury selection—shared some insider tips and tricks of the voir dire process, which can be the most crucial part of any criminal prosecution. Veteran prosecutor and ALDF Criminal Justice Program attorney Diane Balkin and civil rights attorney Karen Snell addressed the host of issues surrounding canine encounters with law enforcement, and proposed strategies for addressing these heartbreaking and often fatal cases.

The symposium concluded with the tragic story of a 5-month-old Doberman pinscher named Davey, who suffered horrendous injuries at the hands of his abuser. District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley and Deputy District Attorney Kevin Weichbrod of the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, who worked tirelessly to prosecute Davey’s case, also proposed legislative changes to California’s animal cruelty laws and related legislation bolster better outcomes in animal cruelty cases.

We’re grateful to all of this year’s speakers and attendees for making our second annual symposium such a success!

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