September 2016 Animal Law Update: Recent Developments in the Emerging Field of Animal Law

Animal Law Update is a new monthly feature we are launching as part of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s efforts to keep our law student and legal professional network informed about the latest in animal law news. You will receive this once a month as part of our Law Student Newsletter and/or Law Professional Newsletter. If you know someone interested in animal law, please have them join us by signing up!

In this Issue:

  • California Becomes Second U.S. State to Ban Bullhooks
  • New Animal Cruelty Prosecution Unit Created in Florida
  • Washington Jury Awards Damages for “Intrinsic Value” and “Emotional Distress” in Dog Shooting Case
  • New Massachusetts Law Will Protect Dogs in Hot Cars
  • Activist Faces Criminal Charges for Giving Water to Thirsty Pigs

California Becomes Second U.S. State to Ban Bullhook Bans  

A ban on the use of bullhooks – sharp implements used to beat and train elephants to perform unnatural acts – in circuses and traveling shows has been signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown. Although Gov. Brown vetoed a similar bill in 2015, citing an unwillingness to complicate the California penal code, the revised version includes only civil penalties.

Beginning on January 1, 2018, the new law will prohibit the use of “a bullhook, ankus, baseball bat, axe handle, pitchfork, or other device designed to inflict pain for the purpose of training or controlling the behavior of an elephant.”

Earlier this year, Rhode Island passed the first statewide ban on bullhooks, which have come under increasing scrutiny as a cruel and archaic training device. Rhode Island and California join more than 50 American cities that have passed legislation either banning the use of bullhooks or prohibiting animal exhibitions, displays or acts (e.g. circuses) outright. It is virtually impossible for circuses to perform in cities with bullhook bans because elephants cannot reliably be controlled or induced to perform without using these implements – some call them weapons – which resemble a fire poker and are used to prod, stab and hit the animals.

Further reading:

New Animal Cruelty Prosecution Unit Created in Florida

In the latest instance of a growing trend, the Orange-Osceola state attorney in central Florida created a dedicated animal cruelty unit last month. The specialized unit consists of 13 attorneys who volunteered to take on the extra caseload and develop expertise in the applicable laws and special challenges involved in prosecuting animal cruelty cases (e.g. animal victims cannot testify).

Similar units have begun to appear in other jurisdictions around the nation. For example, in 2015 the Fresno County district attorney established a new Animal Cruelty Unit to pursue crimes against animals in hopes of stemming later crimes against humans. That same year, Virginia established the nation’s first attorney general’s Animal Law Unit dedicated to issues involving animal welfare, animal fighting or abuse. Earlier in 2016, the Queens County district attorney created an Animal Cruelty Investigations Unit, led by veteran prosecutor Nicoletta J. Caferri, the first of its kind in New York City.

In creating the Orange-Osceola unit, the state attorney cited the connection between animal abuse and other violent crime. Increasing recognition of this connection has also helped usher in stronger cruelty laws around the nation; as of 2014 with the addition of South Dakota, all states have enacted a felony provision for animal cruelty. However, even when strong animal cruelty laws are on the books, lack of enforcement is a perennial issue amid high caseloads, limited resources, the aforementioned lack of expertise and a perception that crimes against animals are not a high priority. The creation of special prosecution units devoted only to these types of cases is a significant step forward for animal law.

Further reading:

Washington Jury Awards Damages for “Intrinsic Value” and “Emotional Distress” Damages in Dog Shooting Case

In what is thought to be the largest verdict in Washington for the death of a dog, a jury has awarded $100,000 in a case involving the shooting death of Chucky, a springer spaniel whom owner Jim Anderson described as his “best friend.” Of that amount, $36,475 was awarded directly to Anderson for “intrinsic value” and “emotional distress.”

Anderson filed the civil lawsuit against his neighbor and family, one of whom shot Chucky during afternoon target practice and then attempted to cover it up. Chucky spent the night alone and gravely injured while Anderson desperately searched for him. When Anderson found Chucky the next morning he could not be saved; he died at the veterinary hospital. Anderson was represented by Bellingham animal lawyer Adam Karp.

This award is notable because noneconomic damages are not typically available in cases of wrongful death or injury to a companion animal. Although there have been some exceptions, compensation is typically limited to “fair market value” because animals are defined as property under the law. According to law professor David Favre, “…given the reality that many humans attach an emotional, personal value to their pets, the present position of the law that says that damages to property are primarily measured by the fair market value…constitutes a large disconnect between public expectations and the rules of property.” Cases like this may signal a shift by courts toward a more flexible analysis that differentiates between destruction of personal property and the death of a beloved animal.

Further reading:

New Massachusetts Law Will Protect Dogs in Hot Cars

Adding to the increase in legislation addressing the dangers of leaving animals in hot cars, Massachusetts SB2369 was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker on August 19. The governor noted that Massachusetts has laws protecting children left in hot cars and that it makes sense to extend that protection to animals.

Effective 90 days after passage, the new law will prohibit the negligent confinement of animals in motor vehicles during extreme heat or cold and authorizes animal control officers, law enforcement officers and firefighters to enter the vehicle to prevent imminent injury or death of the animal. Significantly, this legislation goes further than many similar laws in also allowing private citizens to break a car window and free the animal if he or she appears to be in immediate danger. Before taking this action, a person is required to make a reasonable effort to find the owner and contact law enforcement in order to be immune from criminal and civil liability. The law also prohibits tethering an animal outside for more than 15 minutes in extreme weather conditions.

More than 20 states currently have statutes that either prohibit leaving an animal confined in a vehicle or protect a person who rescues an animal from a vehicle from being sued under certain conditions. Several of these laws have been passed within the last few years as public concern has mounted about this issue. Where such laws do not exist, an owner could still potentially be charged under that state’s general animal neglect law.

Further Reading:

Activist Faces Criminal Charges for Giving Water to Thirsty Pigs

In contrast to the recent spate of legislation designed to protect companion animals trapped in hot cars, a Canadian activist faces criminal charges for offering water to farmed animals confined in a hot truck. The trial has begun for Toronto animal advocate Anita Krajnc, who in June 2015 was arrested and charged with criminal mischief for “interference with the use, enjoyment and operation of property” after giving water to panting pigs confined in a sweltering trailer on a hot summer day. According to Krajnc, the pigs were overheated and severely dehydrated when she offered them water through narrow openings in the truck when it stopped at a traffic light on the way to a slaughterhouse. The owner of the pigs filed a police complaint the following day.

Kranjc has pleaded not guilty. Speaking outside the courthouse last month, she said, “When I see a pig in a truck, to me, it’s just like seeing a dog in a truck,” alluding to the disparity between what is considered acceptable treatment of animals defined as pets versus those defined as food. As this case highlights, in both the Canada and the U.S., farmed animals have few meaningful protections under the law, leaving them vulnerable to cruel and neglectful treatment that would be illegal if the victim were a companion animal.

Kranjc is co-founder of Toronto Pig Save, which holds weekly vigils at slaughterhouses and offers water and watermelon to dehydrated pigs on their way to pork processing facilities. Her case was heard in the Ontario Court of Justice on August 24-25 and will resume in October. If convicted, she faces up to $5,000 in fines, six months in jail, or both.

Further Reading:

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