Animal Defense Group CreatedPosted on March 23, 2011
By Brandi Ajpacaja
Reprinted with permission by The Legal Eye, Mississippi College School of Law News Source.
The LSBA [Law Student Bar Association] has recently approved a new student organization, the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Founded by 1L, Thomas Tugwell and 2L, Katie Middleton, this organization is recognized by the national ALDF association. Throughout the United States, the organization boasts more than 145 chapters and more than 100 classes taught regarding animal rights. The [Mississippi College] MC chapter plans to attend national animal advocacy and moot court competitions in the future, but their current goals are more local.
According to ALDF research, Mississippi is ranked in the top five places to be an animal abuser. Mississippi is one of only four states without a felony animal cruelty law. In Feb. 2010, a Mississippi couple faced 96 counts of animal cruelty related to more than 100 dogs on their property and was given the maximum punishment allowed, six months in jail and a $1000 fine. In March 2009, a Natchez resident tied his dog to a tree, doused her in lighter fluid and set her on fire. He faced little legal retribution. There is no shortage of local stories where Mississippi residents have exhibited extreme cruelty to innocent pets with little to no punishment or deterrence.
A felony animal cruelty bill has been presented to the Mississippi legislative body multiple times in recent years, but the bill consistently dies before being approved. According to Jackson news source WBLT, Mississippi legislators faced a bill similar to bills approved in other states last year, but the bill was opposed by the Mississippi Farm Bureau. Mississippi’s Farm Bureau feels that the current laws are sufficient to prevent cruelty to livestock, but fears that animal rights activists will misinterpret modern farming practices for cruelty. They expect that if such a bill passes regarding pets, that activists will attempt to push more extreme issues which could hinder farming pursuits in the state.
Alternatively, there are many proponents for passage of such a bill. Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin was quoted in The Clarion Ledger saying saying, “What we know about animal abusers is that they’re often involved in child abuse, domestic violence, drugs and other criminal activities.” Local pet owners find it impossible to explain why anyone would oppose a bill protecting innocent pets.
On Jan. 25 the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill which would allow a person to be charged with “aggravated cruelty for torturing, mutilating, maiming, burning, starving, disfiguring or killing any domesticated dog or cat.” Such a charge would face a punishment of one to five years in prison. The bill has now been passed to the full senate for debate. MS-FACT (Fighting Animal Cruelty Together) notes that the bill currently up for debate would provide for dogs and cats the same protection currently provided for livestock.
The MC chapter of the ALDF plans to begin a letter-writing campaign to encourage legislators to protect Mississippi’s pet population. They also ask that students consider signing the ALDF’s Animal Bill of Rights, to show Congress that animals are also entitled to basic legal rights.
‘Lawyers can do more than anybody to make a change. Veterinarians and shelter owners are just placing a bucket under a leaky pipe, but we, with enough support, can fix the leak,” Tugwell notes.
MC ALDF will hold its first meeting in the near future. The club currently will not charge membership dues. For more information on animal law issues and possible career paths involving animal law or information about getting active in the animal rights community please consider MC’s chapter of ALDF or visit the national organization’s website (www.aldf.org).