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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)

 

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Pet adoption and the fight for the millennial mind

February 8, 2015 10 comments

Woman Watching Television with DogYou may not have noticed, but the pet industry has shifted their attention to a new demographic these days, and they are getting laser focused. Who are they studying with such intensity?

Millennials, the group that is expected to surpass Baby Boomers as the largest generation this year.

And it’s not just the pet industry that is taking notice. Almost every major company inside and outside of the United States is doing the same thing. Why? Because unlike generations past, millennials have influence. It’s not just their sheer size (in numbers) that is powerful, but also their reach. Millennials are more socially connected and more socially influential than any other generation. They are also ethnically and racially diverse, well-connected, technically proficient, and early adopters. They are unlike any other generation that has preceded it. They are the movers and shakers who will be impacting our world for many years to come, much like the Baby Boomers did in previous years.

With a generation this large and influential, it only makes sense that they would impact the pet world as well.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recently published a report on how millennials will change the way veterinarians do business. In “The Generation Factor: How the rise of the millennial generation could mean changes in the way veterinarians do business”, they laid out the differences between Baby Boomers, Gen Xer’s and Millenials, not only as clients but also as employees. The differences are quite distinct. For instance, the work ethic for Baby Boomers has to do with how many hours worked, while Gen Xer’s are about working smarter (not harder), and millennials are all about tasks completed and getting feedback and gaining consensus.

Puppy Wearing BowI am sure many animal welfare groups are taking notice, but I wonder if smaller, local shelters and rescues are as well? I hope they are because there is another reason that the pet industry is taking notice of the millennial generation – they think pet ownership is going to decline with them.  

This means more competition between those who are selling pets and those who are adopting them out, and the adoption side may be facing an uphill battle.

Why? Because millennials are more likely to:

  • Rent than to buy a home – This means more apartment and condo dwellers, the residences least likely to allow a pet.
  • Move frequently – More than any other generation, which makes it harder to care for a pet long-term.
  • Stay in college longer – Millennials have had a tough time in the job market due to the poor economy, so more are choosing to stay in college longer and get their masters degree or a doctorate. Owning a pet and going to college is also a possible deterrent.
  • Be impulse buyers – They are less likely to wait and go through an extensive adoption process to get a pet.
  • Purchase a pet from a pet store or breeder (including online) rather than adopt a pet from a rescue or a shelter – According to a recent survey by Best Friends Animal Society, by almost 50%.
  • Believe that animals can safely stay in shelters until they are adopted – 38% of millennials vs. 28% of the total population.

No wonder the pet industry is worried.

All hope is not lost however, millennials are also more likely to get a pet earlier in their lives compared to boomers (21 years old vs. 29 years old), be single longer (and thus, may seek a pet for companionship), and are more civic-minded and more likely to get involved tomato a difference..

Low Section View of a Man with His BulldogRescue groups have an opportunity to make a difference now. If they are not doing so, they should start working to build a relationship with millennials in their community. Organizations need to be inclusionary and seek their input. They should also be open to new and innovative ideas on how to improve the organization, increase adoptions and connect with other millennials.

Other ways rescue groups and shelters can connect with millennials:

  • Have a strong social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, etc.) and be actively engaged with followers.
  • Make your website and social media platforms a place where millennials can get information and learn something new that can help both them and their pet. You need to be the online expert they go to when they want advice and support.
  • Connect on a person-to-person basis. Two-way communication is important to them.
  • Be open to texting and responding via social media platforms. Millennials are less likely to use email.
  • Make what you provide, and what they are getting from you, is distinct and different. You want it to be share-worthy.
  • Be more customer-service oriented. Millennials are individual social media companies of their own, so what they experience with you will be shared with their network of friends and family.
  • Recognize their efforts frequently. Acknowledge the work done and the benefits experienced by the organization.
  • Appeal to their desire to make a difference. Adopting a pet needs to be less a sob story and more of a motivator to do good.

Despite some of the concerns about pet adoption declining, rescue groups and shelters should be very excited about the impacts millennials can bring to the rescue community. Their innovative and creative ideas, combined with a dedication and desire to help, has the potential to make a real difference in animal rescue.

I know one millennial animal rescuer who is making a difference on a daily basis here in Minnesota. I am often in awe of her ability to motivate people and get them involved in rescue. She is well-connected, uses social media extensively and has saved more dogs and cats than anyone I know. She is a force to be reckoned with. Just imagine what could happen if we had 100 more people like her. 

Resources: 

The Top 13 Dog Blog Posts of 2013

December 31, 2013 27 comments

IMG_1443It’s become an annual tradition for me to end the year by sharing those blog posts I thought were most touching, interesting, or emotionally powerful throughout the past year. There was no shortage of amazing writing in 2013.

You may not have the same posts on your list that I have on mine, but I hope you will find them worth reading and sharing.

Have one of your own you want to share? Please do in the comment section below.

Happy New Year everyone!

1. Why Supervising Dogs and Kids Doesn’t Work  and My Dog Got Kicked Out Of Daycare Today by Robin Bennett Yes. Robin had two great posts that made my list this year.  The first one covers an issue near and dear to my heart – dogs and kids. The second one covers another topic I wish all dog owners would heed – not all dogs are made for dog parks or doggy daycare. Both are worth reading.

2. A Cautionary Letter by Nancy Tanner – I remember the first time my friend Nancy directed me to this post. I had such strong feelings after reading it – anger, sadness, despair. If ever there were an argument for people to better understand training methods and their impact on fearful dogs then this is it. Trust me, this will leave an imprint on your mind.

3. What My Dying Dog Taught Me About Life by Alisa Bowman of Project Happily Ever After – Even though I read this post in January, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days afterwards. It is a loving, and at times funny, tribute to a dog who loved well and was well-loved. I cannot help but think that Rhodes left an imprint on many a reader (like me).

4. What Does It Mean to Give Your Pet a Good End? Maybe Not What You Think by Edie Jarolim of Will My Dog Hate Me? – Too often in this world we judge one another based on what “we” would do vs what is right for the person in question. Edie takes on an issue that is often considered taboo in pet lover’s circles – should you be with your dog when their life ends. She handles the issue with her usual class and grace, but makes a great point that I think we could all stand to hear.

5. What’s in a Name? A whole lot of bullshitittypoo by The DogSnobs writers – Okay. I admit it. I really do love The DogSnobs. I love that they have a  no-holds-barred kind of writing style and an I-don’t-give-a-sh*t-what-you-think attitude. This particular post makes fun about all the silly names breeders have given designer dogs. Want to read more? Here are a few that made the Honorable Mention list:  Owner Profile: The Distracted DingbatYour dog isn’t being friendly. He’s an asshole. And so are you., and Put it back, you don’t need that! a.k.a. Picking the correct breed is important. Don’t fuck it up.

6. This test that you keep using…… and Beware the Straw Man by Linda Case of The Science Dog – Although these are two posts in one, they are really linked. Both deal with the issue of canine assessment tests used by many shelters and animal control centers to determine if a dog is adoptable or destined for euthanization. I admit I have a bias on this issue since Daisy and Jasper likely would have fallen into the latter category if they had not ended up at my shelter. Thank goodness they didn’t.

7. What it’s like to meet an angel… by Kaylee Greer of Dog Breath Photography – I first read this story on Kaylee’s Facebook page and was moved to tears. Her big heart and giving nature made one woman’s painful day a little brighter. She later posted it on her blog and I read it all over again. If you haven’t seen any of Kaylee’s photography, it is magical, whimsical and beautiful. You can see some of her work on her blog and on her Facebook page.

8. The Four Phases of a Positive Reinforcement Trainer by Katie Hood of When Hounds Fly – Even though I am not a dog trainer, I could completely relate to this post. In any ways it was the post that created a light-bulb moment for me and changed my overall response to animal welfare issues in general. If you have ever worked in the animal welfare arena, it is worth a read. You will find yourself nodding your head in agreement or holding up that figurative mirror of self-reflection.

9. Chasing Sunsets by Leo of Kenzo the Hovawart (and Viva) – This post may have touched me more than most because it was by a fellow dog blogger and friend, but I thought it would resonate with many of you who have recently lost a beloved four-pawed friend. Recently, Leo and his family went on a journey to retrace the steps he had taken with his late dog, Viva. I thought it was a beautiful follow up to her story.

10. They Never Told Me I Would Love the Snow by Kristine Tonks of Rescued Insanity – Anyone who has read Kristine’s blog knows she has a talent with words. This one in particular is a special one. It’s like poetry. Beautiful and visual.

11. Do Some Dogs Need a Heavier Hand? by Nicole Wilde – Nicole is well-known in the dog training world, but what I love is her unique way of getting a pout across by allowing you to examine the issue from all angles. Here is one particular post that resonated with me this year.

12. Chix-A-Lot Friday: Fostering as a New Years Resolution by Aleksandra of Love and a Six-Foot Leash – I love this post simply because it is so thoroughly covers all the things one should think about and plan for when fostering a dog. If you are considering fostering a dog, read this post first. It can help set your expectations and help you prepare ahead of time.

13. Letting Go Of Ruby: A Lesson In The Dying Light by Lisa from Going to the Dogs – Even though this is a more about her mother than her mother’s dog, their tales and lives are woven together. Poignant and heartfelt. Written beautifully.

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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