November 2016 Animal Law Update

In this Issue:

Montreal Bans Pit Bulls

Montreal has enacted a city-wide ban on pit bulls that went into effect October 3. The new animal control by-law makes it illegal to adopt or otherwise acquire a pit bull within city limits and requires any pit bulls grandfathered in to be muzzled when in public and kept on a leash no longer than four feet. In order to be grandfathered in, Montreal pit bull owners must purchase a special permit costing approximately $150, pass a criminal background check, and sterilize and vaccinate their dog.

Almost immediately after the ban went into effect, the Montreal SPCA filed a lawsuit against the city, arguing that the new provisions run counter “to article 898.1 of the Civil Code of Quebec, which grants animals the status of sentient beings.” The organization also charged that the definition of “pit bull” in the new rule is too vague.

A common criticism of breed-specific legislation is that it is inherently problematic to try to determine a dog’s breed based on appearance, and that the category of “pit bull” is itself arbitrary and overly broad, encompassing in the Montreal law three distinct breeds, mixes thereof, and any dog with the characteristics of these breeds. Given this ambiguity, critics say breed-specific legislation is almost impossible to enforce in a fair manner. The Montreal SPCA has also threatened to suspend services if the ban is not reversed, citing an unwillingness to kill healthy adoptable dogs based only on their appearance.

In response to the Montreal SPCA’s lawsuit, the Quebec Superior Court granted a stay until a hearing could be held on the merits of the new regulations. However, the City of Montreal challenged the stay and the Quebec Court of Appeals granted it permission to appeal the lower court ruling that temporarily suspended the ban. Both sides will present arguments on November 25. For now, Montreal residents can still adopt or acquire pit bulls and current owners do not have to muzzle their dog in public or buy the permit.

Neighboring province Ontario has had a ban on pit bulls since 2005, which was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2009; however within that province, Ottawa (Canada’s capital city) has been vocal about not enforcing the ban. The City of Winnipeg enacted a breed ban in 1990, and the City of Edmonton repealed its breed ban in 2012, preferring to focus on dogs’ behavior rather than their breed.

Critics of breed-specific legislation argue that these laws are not only discriminatory, penalizing all pit bulls regardless of their behavior, but also ineffective in preventing dog bite fatalities and injuries; further, such laws raise concerns about due process rights. In the U.S., among those who have issued position statements against breed-discriminatory laws are the American Bar Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Obama administration. The Montreal SPCA has posted a petition and alternative solutions to address the public safety issue of aggressive dogs on its website:

Further Reading:

Lawsuit Prompts Wildlife Services to Temporarily Suspend Predator Kills in Nevada

In settling a lawsuit filed by conservation group WildEarth Guardians that argued the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Program is using outdated data to justify expensive, cruel and ineffective lethal predator control practices in Nevada, the program has agreed to update its analysis. Until the new analysis is drafted, made public and finalized—a process expected to take about two years—Wildlife Services will suspend operations and stop killing wild animals within six million acres of public land in Nevada.

Advocates are hopeful this settlement will have a positive impact on public wildlife policy nationwide. According to Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians:

“[Wildlife Services] will send instruction to everyone who works for them that they can no longer use that assessment. They will post that commitment on their website. That’s why this has much broader implications than just Nevada. I think it’s a significant shift in how the program operates, and my hope is that officials will embrace the science and the modern ethics around the treatment of wildlife.”

The lawsuit, filed in 2012, challenged the agency’s refusal to analyze the impacts of its wildlife killing activities in Nevada as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), alleging the predator control strategy of USDA’s Wildlife Services division is based on outdated studies about its impact on only 17 species, but the agency regularly kills more than 300 species, including threatened and endangered animals and household pets.

Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to grant the government’s motion to dismiss and agreed that WildEarth Guardians’ interests were being harmed by the program’s activities, finding that a member of the organization’s claim that he was unable to enjoy outdoor activities in Nevada’s wilderness as a result of the USDA’s predatory wildlife management program was sufficient to establish standing under NEPA. According to the lawsuit, the program’s activities compelled the member to curtail his walks with his dog out of fear that his dog would get caught in the program’s traps, reduced the number of ravens he could observe during bird-watching and lowered his chances of seeing coyotes.

As part of the settlement, Wildlife Services will conduct a new environmental analysis to replace the 22-year-old Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) that it had been using as a guide for its predator control program in Nevada; it will then update all analyses nationwide that rely on the 1994 PEIS.

Amid charges that it operates in secret, many critics, including animal advocates, journalists, and members of congress, have begun to mount calls for an investigation into Wildlife Services. Frustration over the program’s persistent lack of transparency about the methods it uses to kill millions of animals each year, including coyotes, bobcats, otters, foxes, prairie dogs and black bears (and countless non-target animals) is growing and media attention, including a recent in-depth opinion piece in The New York Times, has begun to shine light on this federal program’s shadowy activities with a call for reform.

In addition to charges the program is stubbornly opaque about its operations, critics claim that Wildlife Services misuses taxpayer dollars to benefit a small group of large agribusiness operations, ignores modern science about the critical role predators play in the ecosystem, uses inhumane methods – including snaring, trapping, aerial shooting and poisoning – to kill animals, and is ineffective in its stated mission to protect farmed animals from predation because killing carnivores does not work as a long-term strategy (further, most farmed animals who are not slaughtered for human consumption are killed by disease, illness, and birthing problems, not predators).

As part of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s efforts to loosen the hold of USDA’s Wildlife Services over wildlife management in the U.S., we have been urging California counties to not renew their contracts with the federal program—arguing doing so violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)—and instead implement predator control methods that are safer, more humane, more effective and based on science.

Further Reading:

Spanish Court Overturns Catalonia’s Bullfighting Ban

In a decision denounced by animal advocates, a top Spanish court has reversed Catalonia’s bullfighting ban, ruling it unconstitutional. Catalonia, a region in Northeast Spain that includes Barcelona, passed the ban in 2010 citing animal cruelty concerns. In its 8-3 decision, the Constitutional Court of Spain ruled that the ban violated basic constitutional rights of Spanish citizens to work and be entertained. It said that although regions like Catalonia could regulate bullfighting, they could not outright prohibit a practice considered an important part of Spain’s culture and heritage.

The court’s decision has fueled growing tensions between the region of Catalonia and the national government in Madrid. The bullfighting ban was passed amid a growing independence movement in Catalonia and became enmeshed in the debate over political sovereignty, with both sides accusing the other of political motivations as Catalonia attempts to forge its own laws and Madrid tries to maintain its control over the region. Despite the court’s ruling, Catalan politicians, including the mayor of Barcelona, have vowed they will never let bullfighting return to the region. Thirteen-year-old Spanish political party Partido Animalista Contra el Maltrato Animal (Animalist Party Against Mistreatment of Animals) has called for protests to be held in Madrid and other Spanish cities.

Catalonia was the second Spanish region after the Canary Islands to ban bullfighting. Bans are also being debated in several Spanish municipalities. Although about 2,000 bullfights are held across Spain each year, recent opinion polls show that public support for the cruel spectacle is declining, especially among younger audiences, at the same time protests have been mounting; last month thousands gathered at a rally against bullfighting in Madrid, reportedly the largest gathering of its kind to date.

Further Reading:

President Obama Signs END Wildlife Trafficking Act into Law

On October 7, President Obama signed into law H.R. 2494, The Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt Wildlife Trafficking Act of 2016. The new law, which received bipartisan support and passed both houses unanimously, provides tools to help the U.S. lead efforts to combat the global poaching crisis while working with partner nations to protect elephants, rhinos and members of other endangered species from being victimized by the international trafficking trade.

The new legislation follows President Obama’s 2013 Executive Order establishing a presidential task force to combat illegal wildlife trade (which will be terminated five years after the enactment of the Act), and his announcement in 2014 of a National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. The END Wildlife Trafficking Act aims to:

  • support a collaborative, interagency approach to address wildlife trafficking
  • protect and conserve the remaining populations of wild elephants, rhinoceroses, and other species threatened by poaching and the illegal wildlife trade
  • disrupt regional and global transnational organized criminal networks
  • prevent wildlife poaching and trafficking from being a means to make a living in focus countries
  • collaborate with the efforts of communities, local organizations and foreign governments to combat poaching and wildlife trafficking
  • assist focus countries in implementation of national wildlife anti-trafficking and poaching laws

The United States has become the second largest market for illegal wildlife products. According to Daniel M. Ashe, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (the federal agency charged with enforcing wildlife trafficking laws), “the ongoing slaughter of rhinos and elephants in Africa is driven by rising consumer demand here, and United States citizens are intimately involved in illegal trade both here and abroad.”

Although public awareness of this issue received a boost from the 2014 short film Last Days of Ivory, directed by Oscar winner Katheryn Bigelow, some have challenged claims made in the film linking the international ivory trade to global terrorism as misleading. Regardless, there is no doubt that poaching has a devastating effect on the individual animal victims, their families and global populations of wild animals. Elephant and rhino populations in Africa in particular have been decimated as a result of wildlife trafficking.

States are also taking measures to crack down on illegal poaching. This month, Oregonians will have the opportunity to vote on Measure 100, the Wildlife Trafficking Prevention Act, which if passed will ban the sale of animal parts from 12 endangered species. Oregon’s ballot measure is modeled after a 2015 Washington initiative that became the first comprehensive state ban on commerce in species targeted by trafficking in the U.S. New York, New Jersey, California and Hawaii have also enacted legislation in the last two years to curtail wildlife trafficking.

Further Reading:

Australian State Reverses Recent Greyhound Racing Ban

In another disappointing reversal of a measure enacted to protect animals, the premiere of New South Wales (NSW), Mike Baird, has undone his own recent ban on greyhound racing. The NSW government has signed off on a plan to reverse the ban, with Baird saying he “got it wrong” and would give the industry “one more chance,” though he had previously cited his strong belief that the industry was incapable of reform as necessitating the ban.

While he had previously been a very popular politician, Baird’s decision to ban greyhound racing sparked a fierce backlash. His approval ratings plummeted and he faced intense criticism from the public and members of his own party. Anxiety over the loss of local jobs proved to be a potent source of pressure to overturn the legislation.

Though some opponents positioned the law as an attack against working class and rural residents, according to a survey commissioned by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), the government’s decision to ban greyhound racing enjoyed majority support with 64% favoring the ban (77% in metropolitan areas and 59% in rural areas). However, a spokesperson for the greyhound industry argued that public support for the ban had been stronger but is waning, an indication that proponents of racing are winning the debate.

The ban came three months ago, as reported in the August Animal Law Update, after a special report uncovered horrific cruelty and widespread killing of both dogs found to be unsuitable for racing and small animals used as live bait. In lieu of the ban, cabinet ministers put forth new policy recommendations that would result in fewer races, fewer tracks, and stronger animal welfare measures. On October 22, about 1,000 protesters gathered in Sydney to call for the government to reinstate the ban.

Further Reading:


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