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Is animal law about to change the world for animals?

February 24, 2016 4 comments

Low Section View of a Man with His BulldogAs an advocate for animal welfare, I’ve mostly been active in activities geared towards regulating or closing down puppy mills. On occasion, I’ve been involved in local issues related to a specific animal abuse cases, but not often, and only in cases that are so horrific I cannot help but get involved.

I’ve also attended animal humane day for several years in a row and lobbied my legislators to pass the Minnesota commercial breeder law, the Beagle Freedom law, and body-grip trap legislation.

Through each of these experiences, there was one thing I knew to be true, our laws are woefully inadequate when it comes to protecting animals. Animals are still defined as property. They are not individuals with rights and thus, the law usually addresses them under the headers of “protection” or “welfare.” not as beings with their own individual rights.

Even if you do pass a law meant to protect an animal or improve its overall welfare, you are likely to face roadblocks. You can pass a law to regulate puppy mills and require commercial breeders to provide enrichment and social interaction for their dogs, but if the agency charged with enforcing the law refuses to do so (ahem, that would be you Minnesota Animal Board of Health), then animals continue to suffer. And, if you have an animal felony cruelty law, and the prosecutor charged with prosecuting the law as it is written or the judge charged with following the law, refuses to mete out the punishment required, the animal that was killed, maimed or tortured receives no justice. After all, they are just property.

But maybe that is about to change. More and more we are starting to hear about a specialty within the world of law called “animal law,” and the work that is being done in this area is amazing.

 

  • In April 2015, a judge recognized two chimps as legal persons and granted their Writ of Habeas Corpus, something not granted by any judge previous to this.

Under the law of New York State, only a “legal person” may have an order to show cause and writ of habeas corpus issued in his or her behalf. The Court has therefore implicitly determined that Hercules and Leo are “persons.” (Judge Recognizes Two Chimpanzees as Legal Persons, Grants them Writ of Habeas Corpus, Nonhuman Rights Project, April 20, 2015)

 

In the March-April 2016 issue of Harvard Magazine, animal law received a special spotlight. Whether a social-justice movement or a sign that how much our pets have become members of the family, interest in animal law is growing. Both law students and practicing attorneys are seeking to learn more. More than 150 law schools in the United States now offer classes on this topic. Harvard has offered a class on the topic since 2000 and recently expanded its curriculum to include a new Animal Law & Policy Program.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and other animal welfare groups are joining forces to change how we see and treat animals and they are using the law to do it. They also have a Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) and a Animal Law Program.

Then there is the Nonhuman Rights Project, which is active in challenging the law around animal rights, and the Animal Law Resource Center, which provides resources on animal case law for lawyers and the general public.

IMG_8244Whether we know it or not, the world is changing and animals may soon be the better for it. As consumers and pet owners, we are demanding it. Cases related to animal law are showing up in civil courts, federal courts, criminal courts and even divorce courts. Legislation on the treatment of animals is becoming more common, As new legislation is passed and new court cases are decided, precedent is being set. The new is encouraging. Animal law is about to change the world for animals.  Are you ready?

Dean Martha Minow thinks the climate for animal-law growth is ideal. “Though treatment of animals has always been an issue, only recently has law begun to take it seriously,” she says. “For anyone thinking about the purpose of law, the legal treatment of animals forces a confrontation with what law is actually about—‘What are its purposes? What are its limits? Is law only about human beings?’” One way to understand legal history, she explains, is to trace “the ever-expanding circle of law—who’s in and who isn’t.” Animal law is part of the newest expansion of that circle, and “there’s an opportunity now to contribute to the development of law reform in a way that hasn’t always been the case.” (Are Animals Things?, Cara Feinberg, Harvard Magazine, March-April 2016)

 

The Best and Worst States for Animals – Where does your state fall?

January 24, 2013 18 comments

ALDF 2012-state-rankings-mapRecently, I happened to come across another blogger’s blog post sharing her state’s (Florida) ranking in an annual report provided by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF).

The report comprehensively surveys animal  protection laws for all U.S. states and territories and then ranks those states and territories based on their laws.

“…the RANKINGS REPORT assesses the strength of each jurisdiction’s animal protection laws by examining over 4,000 pages of statutes. Each jurisdiction receives a raw score based on fifteen different categories of animal protection…”

Of course, I was curious to find out what categories they included in their ranking, and I wanted to know where my state stood amongst the group (Minnesota ranked #14).

I was disappointed to see that the detailed information in the report, like what put each state at that ranking and what they could do better, was confined to only the 5 best and 5 worst states.  However, I thought the information was interesting enough to share a summary of their findings. I suspect that if you live in one of these states you already know where they would fall, but it’s still worth sharing. I encourage you to review the full report yourself. It’s quite interesting.

There were 15 categories used to determine a state’s ranking.  These covered laws in the following areas:

  1. General prohibitions
  2. Penalties
  3. Exemptions
  4. Mental health evaluations & counseling
  5. Protective orders
  6. Cost mitigation & recovery
  7. Seizure/impoundment
  8. Forfeiture and post‐conviction possession
  9. Non‐animal agency reporting of suspected animal cruelty
  10. Veterinarian reporting of suspected animal cruelty
  11. Law enforcement policies
  12. Sexual assault
  13. Fighting
  14. Offender registration
  15. “Ag gag” legislation (New this year, this ranking takes into account states where laws – propagated by the agriculture lobby – aim to conceal animal abuse, food safety risks, and illegal working conditions from consumers by making it illegal to video record or photograph at agricultural facilities.)

The Best 5 States for animals are:

  1. Illinois
  2. Maine
  3. California
  4. Michigan
  5. Oregon

The Worst 5 states for animals are:

  1. New Mexico (#46)
  2. South Dakota (#47)
  3. Iowa (#48)
  4. North Dakota (#49)*
  5. Kentucky (#50)

*I thought it was interesting (but not surprising) to see North Dakota on the “worst” list. I wrote about them late last year after their citizens voted down a law that would have made animal cruelty a felony. It’s kind of hard to see them making the best list with that kind of news isn’t it? By the way, South Dakota has chosen not to make animal cruelty a felony as well. I can’t help but wonder why. Surely the people in these states love animals too. Right?

 

What was also interesting were the states that improved their ranking by more than 50%:

Arizona:  52%
Arkansas:  139%
District of Columbia:  64%
Guam:  84%
Indiana:  74%
Mississippi:  78%

What made their ranking change so significantly? They changed, added laws or strengthened their existing animal protection laws.

Some of the areas in which they made this happen include:

  • Expanding the range of protections for animals
  • Providing stiffer penalties for offenders
  • Strengthening standards of care for animals
  • Reporting of animal cruelty cases by veterinarians and other professionals
  • Mitigating and recovering costs associated with the care of mistreated animals
  • Requiring mental health evaluations and counseling for offenders
  • Banning ownership of animals following convictions
  • Including animals in domestic violence protective orders
  • Prohibiting convicted abusers from gaining employment involving animal contact
  • Strengthening provisions on the sale and possession of exotic animals
  • Expanding humane officers’ powers to be the same as other peace officers

(Credit: 2012 U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings™)

So where did your state fall on the list? Were you surprised?

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