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Rescues, bans, and protests—any way you look at it, 2012 was an eventful year for animal activism. As I began reflecting on the last 12 months, I was heartened by just how vocal people were, and how their speaking out for animals helped to create positive changes. Our voices didn’t always result in an all-out victory, but even when they didn’t, we can still claim some success. Rather than rank these stories, I’ve put them in chronological order. Here are 12 for ’12:

1. Ireland bans puppy mills (January)

The year got off to a promising start as puppy farming was outlawed in Ireland. Puppy farms (or puppy mills) are commercial dog-breeding facilities that put profits above animal welfare—they’re like the factory farms of the pet industry. Irish dog-breeding establishments are defined as premises that keep six or more female dogs over the age of four months who are physically able to breed. These facilities became so ubiquitous in Ireland that the country was known as the Puppy Farm of Europe. Puppy_mill_Ireland

Unfortunately, not everyone has gotten the “Adopt, Don’t Buy” message, and many people continue to purchase dogs. In Ireland, puppy mill dogs have frequently been sold through small ads or the Internet and shipped to England at hugely inflated prices. The animals typically suffer from severe health problems and congenital conditions.

With the passage of the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010, which went into effect on January 1, all breeders must be registered with local authorities and they must keep dogs in housing that is clean and not overcrowded. The dogs must be given exercise and bedding material, as well as food and water, and female dogs must have no more than one litter of puppies in a year. These provisions will be enforced with mandatory veterinary inspections, and a register of breeders will include only breeders that meet the new standards.

2. Thousands of hens rescued from egg farm (February-March)

It’s been called the largest rescue of farmed animals in California history. More than 4,400 hens were saved from an egg farm in Turlock after the owner simply walked away from the operation and left behind 50,000 birds. Weeks went by before someone alerted authorities, but by that time, some 20,000 of the hens had starved to death. Others fell into giant manure pits under their cages and drowned. Twenty-five thousand more had to be euthanized. Farmed animal sanctuaries Animal Place, Farm Sanctuary, and Harvest Home took on the responsibility of caring for the hens and finding homes for them. In the meantime, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the law firm Schiff Hardin sued the owners of the egg farm to hold them responsible for their heinous cruelty. The farmers sought to have the case dismissed, but on December 5, the court rejected the farmers’ arguments, permitting the case to move forward.

3. Japan ends whale-slaughter campaign with less than a third of its target catch (March)

Everyone enjoys stories where the bad guy loses. So you gotta love that Japanese whalers went home with far fewer whales than they’d hoped for this year. According to Japan’s Fisheries Agency, whalers killed 266 minke whales and one fin whale, well below the approximately 900 they had been aiming for when they left Japan in December of 2011. “The catch was smaller than planned due to factors including weather conditions and sabotage acts by activists,” an agency official said. “There were definitely sabotage campaigns behind the figure.” Hot in pursuit of the whale killers was Sea Shepherd, hurling stink bombs at the boats and using ropes to try to tangle their propellers in a series of exchanges, which have seen the whalers retaliate with water cannon.

Every winter finds the Sea Shepherd crew plying the frigid Southern Ocean actively interfering with vessels from Japan’s Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) as they search for whales to kill and “study.” A registered nonprofit, ICR claims it has no commercial stake in the hunts, yet whale meat from their government-subsidized “research” continues to be sold in Japanese seafood markets. Last December, the Fisheries Agency admitted that it had diverted US$29 million from Japan’s March 11, 2011, tsunami relief fund to subsidize the country’s whaling program and protect it from animal activists. The money evidently was used to equip the Shonan Maru 2 with unspecified security equipment designed to win the battle against Sea Shepherd.

With Sea Shepherd’s latest campaign about to begin, it will be interesting to see how they respond to the recent court injunction prohibiting them from attacking Japanese whaling ships.

4. Panama bans bullfighting and other cruel “sports” (March)

On March 15, Panama’s National Assembly approved an unprecedented bill—the first in the world to explicitly ban all forms of bullfighting, from the traditional Spanish corrida to so-called “bloodless” Portuguese-style bullfighting; despite the name, bulls are killed after leaving the bullring. Since bullfights were not taking place in Panama, this was a preemptive measure: With bullfighting losing ground in other countries (even Mexico City, home to the largest bullring on Earth, is considering a ban), Panamanians wanted to ensure the blood sport wasn’t exported there.

The new animal protection law, signed by President Ricardo Martinelli in November, also prohibits dog fighting, hare coursing, and greyhound racing, and it contains such strong regulations on circuses that it will effectively ban the use of animals in their performances. Sadly excluded from the law are bans on cockfighting and horse racing.

5. Italian activists liberate 30 beagles from Green Hill (April)

When animal advocates in Italy get active, they open a serious can of whoop ass. The story of the liberation of 30 beagles destined for vivisection is actually just one element of a much larger narrative—one with an ending that makes this, in my view, the most inspiring victory of the year. The drama began in October 2011, when five members of the group Fermare Green Hill got onto the roof of the beagle delivery building at Green Hill, Europe’s largest farm breeding dogs for research, near Milan. Among the clients of Green Hill are university laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, and the notorious Huntingdon Life Sciences in England.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Tino Verducci, a member of Fermare Green Hill, when he was in California for the recent Animal Liberation Forum, and he explained the impact of the roof occupation. “We managed to get five people on the roof for 30 hours. That was crucial, because we brought cell phones, video camera, computer, and so we managed to get media. We had TV, radio—all sorts of media. Being on the roof, we could hear the dogs. You have to bear in mind the perception of the people at home, who were listening to the puppies and dogs crying. As soon as the activists came down, all Italy went against vivisection. A poll a few months after said 86 percent of the Italian population was against it. This put a lot of pressure on the Italian government, and it raised awareness about activism. Every day for the next six months we continued our campaign to close down Green Hill. The pressure of the people was very beneficial because the Italian government decided to set up a law to ban vivisection for cats, dogs, and primates.” When I ask when the law goes into effect, Tino smiles. “In Italy, things go very, very slow,” he says.

beagle2All the media attention raised awareness and the ire of the Italian public, so it was no surprise when at least a thousand people showed up for a demonstration outside Green Hill on April 28. Protesters—some carrying signs reading “We are the 86%”—were so motivated to take action that a few hundred boldly stormed the facility and came back with a mother beagle and dozens of puppies. Dramatic photos of these animals being gingerly handed over the fence were posted around the world. Police arrested a dozen demonstrators and reportedly took back a few of the puppies. “Very important, though, is that the people in the local town were helping the activists by hiding the dogs—they knew police were checking everyone,” explains Tino.

Two months later, police raided Green Hill, where they discovered more than 100 bodies in the freezers. “Italian law states that any animal born must be microchipped and their birth recorded. The police found that the dogs in the freezers did not have microchips or birth records. This is crucial, because they were breaking the law. Police also found that [Green Hill’s owner] Marshall Farm, from the USA, tried to manipulate data, so police were very suspicious about all this.” The government seized some 2,700 dogs, according to Tino, and has shut the facility while it conducts its investigation. Meanwhile, the dogs have been placed in adoptive homes. Faced with the possibility they’ll have to relinquish the animals to Marshall Farm, the dogs’ guardians are ready to fight. “The people have said, ‘They’ll get the dogs over my dead body,’” says Tino. Rescued_beagle

Fermare Green Hill is set to take on Harlan Sprague Dawley, Inc., which breeds not only beagles, but marmosets, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, gerbils, and hamsters, as well as hybrid, mutant, and transgenic animals. Bolstered by their latest success, Tino seems pretty confident. “Green Hill was a lesson to the vivisection industry and to activists everywhere that when people work together, they can change anything,” he says.

6. Activists block access to New Zealand’s largest egg producer (June)

EnrichedCageComparisonAfter an undercover investigation revealed that the conditions hens endured inside colony cages were little better than battery cages, campaigners with New Zealand Open Rescue and the Coalition to End Factory Farming spent four months creating a protest against New Zealand’s biggest egg producer: Mainland Poultry. The company had been testing colony cages, which are set to gradually replace existing battery cages over the next 10 years.

Deirdre Sims, Marie Brittain, and Mengzu Fu suspended themselves from the top of steel towering tripods on the road and chained to a gate, forming a blockade. The action “effectively shut down Mainland Poultry and halted the distribution of cruelly produced eggs to their suppliers,” said spokesperson Carl Scott, who last year spent a month inside a cage to protest the eggs Mainland sells. NZOpenRescue

“We risked our lives that morning, but Mainland Poultry now realize that we are highly capable of shutting them down, so it was definitely worth it,” says Deirdre. “This action served as a strong warning to Mainland Poultry and the egg industry that we are escalating our efforts. Our undercover investigation inside this Mainland Poultry colony cage facility revealed that hens are still suffering inside cages. We witnessed tens of thousands of birds crammed into colony cages, which are nothing more than modified battery cages. After decades of campaigning against cruel cage systems, enough is enough.”

7. California’s ban on foie gras takes effect (July)

It was more than seven years in the making. In 2004, California legislators passed a law prohibiting the sale of any product derived from the force-feeding of birds to enlarge their livers. The law—the only one of its kind in the United States—kicked in on July 1. The seven-and-a-half-year grace period was intended to give foie gras producers time to devise a less-cruel method for creating fatty livers. To no one’s surprise, they couldn’t.

California’s only foie gras producer, Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras, closed shop at the start of the ban. The state’s other previous suppliers—foie gras farms in New York and Quebec—have seen their sales in California evaporate since July 1.

For an insider’s view on this issue, lauren Ornelas has written a great blog post detailing how she and other activists achieved this victory.

8. Ben the Bear is granted permanent sanctuary (August)

Photo: PETA

Ben today. Photo by PETA

For six miserable years, Ben was confined to a tiny, barren kennel at a roadside zoo in North Carolina. He paced the concrete, gnawed at the metal fencing, and endured filthy conditions. After years of legal wrangling, including a lawsuit filed by ALDF and PETA, a judge signed an injunction allowing Ben to reside permanently at a California sanctuary operated by the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). Today, Ben enjoys a huge habitat, with grass, trees, and his own pond. When lauren and I visited Ben recently, we were told he spends every night sleeping outside—even in the rain—although he has a comfortable den. “He just loves being in the grass,” the PAWS docent said. Six years of sleeping on concrete will do that to you.

Click here for a short video telling the story of Ben’s rescue.

9. Adidas gives kangaroo skin the boot (September)

Its shoes have been worn by athletes since the 1920s, and today Adidas is one of the largest sportswear companies on the planet, thanks in part to its knack for innovation (it introduced, among other design enhancements, arch supports and spikes in track-running shoes). For years, Adidas manufactured several lines of football (soccer) cleats from the skins of kangaroos, thus subsidizing what the nonprofit Animals Australia describes as the largest land-based commercial wildlife slaughter in the world.

Central to the commercial killing is the debatable premise, perpetuated by farmers and ranchers, that the country’s estimated 25-60 million ‘roos are agricultural “pests” who compete with sheep for forage and destroy crops. With many Aussies convinced the destruction of these herbivorous marsupials is justified, the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia makes a great effort to promote the animals as food and fiber resources. The primary argument made by most animal welfare groups is not that the kangaroos are being slaughtered, which is bad enough, but that the methods used for killing them are inhumane. Hunters are supposed to adhere to Australia’s National Code of Practice, a set of guidelines intended to minimize the pain and suffering of targeted kangaroos. According to the Code, shooters must hit the animal in the brain. Since hunting occurs at night at distances of 50 to 100 meters (164 to 328 feet), accurate shots to the head are difficult at best.

The Code also states that hunters must not kill protected species, and they should avoid shooting female kangaroos who have dependent young—two more directives that are impossible to fully comply with, particularly under nighttime shooting conditions. Only six of the 55 kangaroo species are allowed to be killed for commercial use—the Eastern Grey, the Red, the Western Grey, the common wallaroo (also called the Euro), the Bennett’s wallaby, and the pademelon (a type of wallaby)—but in the dark, who’s to say which species of kangaroo is being destroyed? Furthermore, baby kangaroos are considered a worthless byproduct of the industry, so when a mother ‘roo is targeted, her babies are also killed, multiplying the tragedy. Should a weaned baby (called a young-at-foot joey) escape being shot when his mother is killed, he hops off into the night to die by starvation, dehydration, or predation from foxes, hawks, or dingoes. There are also pouch joeys who are dragged from their dead or dying mother’s pouch; after experiencing the trauma of mama’s murder, these orphans get their heads cut off, bludgeoned, or bashed against the tow bar of a vehicle. Such are the killing methods recommended in the Code.

In September, after years of campaigning by Viva!, Viva!USA, and other groups, Adidas announced it was phasing out its use of kangaroo skin.

10. Bill and Lou make headlines (November)

It didn’t have the happy ending we were all hoping for, but the story of oxen Bill and Lou became a flashpoint for the debate about animals raised for food. Think about it: When was the last time so much attention was focused on two farmed animals? Their story was told in The New York Times and on NPR, among many other media outlets. James McWilliams frequently blogged about Bill and Lou as the drama unfolded and is currently writing an e-book about them. (Meanwhile, it should be noted, tens of millions of cows were being slaughtered with scarcely a peep of objection from most observers.) Bill_and_Lou

Some said all the interest in Bill and Lou only served to promote Vermont’s Green Mountain College (GMC), whose agriculture program exploited the two bovines for a decade and then, when Lou injured his leg and could no longer pull a plow, declared the pair should be killed and fed to the students. So vociferous was the public outcry that GMC found itself defending the economic, environmental, and ethical basis of its program. Citing health concerns, GMC says they euthanized Lou on November 11. It was a heartbreaking blow to countless people who’d asked the college to allow both animals to be placed in a sanctuary such as VINE, which had campaigned tirelessly on behalf of the oxen. But there’s no doubt in my mind that were it not for the pressure brought to bear on GMC, Bill would be dead, too. (He’ll evidently be kept alive on the campus farm.) Moreover, the conversation about these two animals fueled the general discussion about viewing animals as mere resources.

11. Costa Rica bans hunting as a sport (December)

Following a unanimous and final vote from Congress, Costa Rica became the first country in Latin America to ban hunting as a sport. Under the new law, those caught hunting can face up to four months in prison or fines of up to $3,000.

Costa Rica is one of the world’s most biodiverse nations, attracting foreign hunters in search of exotic cats and traders from the pet industry looking to snatch colorful parrots.  “We’re not just hoping to save the animals but we’re hoping to save the country’s economy, because if we destroy the wildlife there, tourists are not going to come anymore,” environmental activist Diego Marin, who campaigned for the reform, told local radio.

This is also Costa Rica’s first proposal that came to Congress by popular initiative, with 177,000 signatures calling for the ban submitted two years ago.

12. The Netherlands Senate votes to ban fur farming (December)

In the last decade, the Netherlands’ mink farming industry has grown from three million to an estimated six million minks killed every year, making them the world’s third largest producer of mink “pelts,” after Denmark and China. This month the Dutch Senate voted to ban mink fur farming, which comes after a 2012 inquiry by the Ministry of Agriculture revealed that 93 percent of the nation disapproves of killing animals for their fur. Mink fur farmers will have until 2024 to get out of this bloody business. The final step is a sign-off by the relevant Dutch Minister and the Queen.

Mink_FarmThe Netherlands’ fur industry currently operates 170 mink farms. Mink are typically kept in barren wire cages measuring little more than the length of a human arm. In their natural habitat, these animals would enjoy environmentally rich riverbank territories of up to three square miles. Due to the extreme stress of confinement, farmed mink routinely engage in self-mutilation and other abnormal behaviors.

The country banned fox fur farming in 1995 and chinchilla fur farming in 1997. The ban on mink fur farms will mean that in 12 years, fur farming in the Netherlands will be a practice about which the Dutch will shake their heads and say, “Can you believe we used to do that to animals?”

All in all, a pretty good year, I’d say. Is there a victory you think should have made the list?

In the hierarchy of social justice issues, the rights of animals are often ranked at or near the very bottom of the pyramid. Sadly, most people overlook the problems animals face, regarding them less as beings with emotions and desires and more as objects whose central role is to satisfy the needs of humans: food, clothing, scientific advancement, entertainment, companionship, etc. Even the law regards animals as property, with no more rights than a toaster or an old sofa. Yet the law can help protect animals, and organizations around the world are dedicated to creating animal-protection legislation and ensuring that animal abusers are held responsible for their crimes.

One such group, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, has just launched a campaign urging states to enact animal-abuser registries that would help keep anyone convicted of felony animal cruelty away from new victims by allowing animal shelters and humane societies to more thoroughly screen potential adopters. Such registries, inspired by Megan’s Law, would also allow the public to discover if animal abusers live in their community.

“Animal abuse is not only a danger to our cats, dogs, horses and other animals, but also to people,” says Stephen Wells, executive director of ALDF. “Many animal abusers have a history of domestic violence or other criminal activity, and there is a disturbing trend of animal abuse among our country’s most notorious serial killers.” These murderers include Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Albert DeSalvo (“The Boston Strangler”), David Berkowtiz (“The Son of Sam”) and Dennis Rader (“The BTK Killer”), all of whom tortured and killed animals before moving on to humans. Animal cruelty is so common among violent offenders that the FBI has linked it to serial homicides, domestic violence and child abuse. “But it’s not just about how animal abusers end up also hurting or killing humans,” says Wells. “It should be enough to protect our animals from repeat offenders ― and any abuse of any kind.”

You can learn more about the registry at

ALDF’s campaign launch coincides with National Justice for Animals Week (February 21-27), an effort by the nonprofit to educate the public about abuses that have become a hidden epidemic in the US. Throughout the week, ALDF will be posting daily action items, advice on how to recognize and report cruelty to animals and profiles of 2010 National Justice for Animals Week honorees ― district attorneys and other local law enforcement officials who have demonstrated an aggressive commitment to bringing animal abusers to justice.

What You Can Do:

  • Use the site’s one-click functionality to contact your legislators and urge them to support public registries of convicted animal abusers.

Liz Carlisle. Cheyenne Cherry. Amanda Cheadle. Do those names look familiar? If you’re an animal advocate in the US or England, they probably do. In the past month, all three have been in court for perpetrating sadistic crimes against animals. Liz Carlisle of Ohio pleaded guilty to drowning two rabbits at a pet store where she worked. She received a $250 fine, will perform 120 hours of community service and is on probation for six months. Cheyenne Cherry, meanwhile, is serving two years in jail for roasting her friend’s cat in a 500-degree oven. The unrepentant New York teen stuck out her tongue and yelled, “It’s dead, bitch” to an animal activist in the courtroom. Then there’s Amanda Cheadle, whom the British press have dubbed “the Suitcase Puppy Killer.” Cheadle, a dog breeder in England, shoved 15 puppies in suitcases and locked them in a cupboard. Eleven died and four survived. Cheadle was sentenced to 20 weeks in prison — less than two weeks for every dog she killed. And just as I began writing this post, a judge in England announced he will not send two youths to prison for beating a baby deer to death.

While animal advocates are outraged by these sentences (or lack thereof), I was surprised that some activists are downright philosophical about them. Even more surprising is that these activists have all recently spent time in prison for nonviolent acts. Josh Harper, Peter Young and Andy Stepanian gave me their thoughts on the judicial inequity that is reflected in a system that seems to let cruel offenders off easy while meting out Draconian penalties to those campaigning to save lives.

“I guess because I’ve divested my faith in fair treatment from the justice system, I can’t say that it comes as a shock,” says Peter Young, who served two years in federal prison for liberating thousands of mink from fur farms. “Consider who gets the attention from the FBI and the police, the amount of resources they invest in investigating [animal activism] cases and who receives the harsh sentences. The disparity is striking.”

Peter believes the root of this disparity is the almighty dollar. “It’s pretty clear that we hold profits over life, and I really think that’s what it comes down to. The person who killed the cat wasn’t threatening anyone’s profit, whereas my restitution was $350,000. Because money rules everything, authorities are naturally going to come down harder on somebody who inflicts those kinds of losses on a legal business.”

Josh Harper agrees. “I suppose these cases are a reminder of how far we have to go as activists to change our culture’s priorities,” he says. Josh received a three-year sentence for being part of the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign. Officially, he was charged with “conspiracy to harass using a telecommunications device” — he had made two speeches in support of sending “black faxes” as a way to cause economic damage by wasting fax machine toner. Moreover, Josh and his codefendants were prosecuted under a now-outmoded version of the federal Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992, a piece of “anti-terrorism” legislation that, like the later Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, was designed to suppress the activities of animal rights advocates. “For conspiring to shut down an animal testing lab using electronic civil disobedience, I spent three years in prison and owe $1 million in restitution,” he says. “Meanwhile, people who commit violent acts upon thinking, feeling creatures are usually not punished at all. Some days that makes me feel anger, but mostly it just makes me feel determined.”

After serving two years and seven months for “conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act” as another member of the SHAC campaign, Andy Stepanian doesn’t believe incarcerating either social justice activists or animal abusers is the answer to society’s woes. “I keep getting held up on the fact that I don’t believe in the penal system,” he says. “I oppose the prison industrial complex and all forms of oppression. I don’t relish seeing a single piece of kindling thrown into that fire no matter how despicable the animal-abusing wretch is.” Andy views cruelty to animals as a sickness that is exacerbated when the abuser is behind bars. “I think we need to get proactive in healing our culture’s illnesses, and in turn these abusers — whom I see as symptomatic — will be a less-frequent phenomenon. That said, however, the disparity between the sentences serial animal abusers get and the sentences that nonviolent animal liberationists get can easily make you want to cry.”

All three activists agree the courts used their cases to deter other animal advocates. “They certainly intended for [the SHAC case] to be noticed,” Josh says. “A number of things make that clear, from their use of press conferences about the case to the way they took pictures of people who came to support us at court to their choice of defendants. This case was intended to be high profile and create a chilling effect on animal activism.”

“Yes, they made an example out of us,” adds Andy. “Let me make an example of an incident where a drunk breaks a window while leaving a bar in a disorderly huff. Then compare that incident to an activist who breaks a window of an unattended business that profits from animal abuse. Both cases on the municipal level are either malicious destruction of property — a misdemeanor — or criminal mischief — a low-level felony. But the way each of those cases is handled will be like night and day. The drunk may be expected to pay damages and get a reduced sentence for disorderly conduct or a lesser offense, while the activist risks having the indictment superseded federally with potential penalties under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. The judge sees fault in the system in regard to the drunk because the bar got the man drunk, and he realizes that the alcohol industry is a contributor to economy, and when enough people are under the influence, things like this happen. What the judge can’t explain is why a sober activist would risk her or his freedom for a species to which they cannot even directly communicate. The action is not just contrary to the property of the animal business targeted, but is also contrary to the entire system and culture at play. The system sees behavior like that of the direct-action activist’s as troublesome and threatening because it fits no accepted, or at least understandable, mold and it takes away economically. To someone who supports the system and does not care about animals, they see no benefit from an action like this.”

Peter echoes these thoughts, saying that authorities cannot comprehend an animal activist’s motivation. “Judges and prosecutors never seem to wrap their heads around the idea of a selfless crime. It’s almost like it causes their circuits to fry out, because it’s so outside their paradigm. They assign sinister motives, but they never acknowledge that this was about saving animals. What I think always gets lost is these prosecutors oftentimes don’t think this has anything to do with animals. I don’t think they’re looking at it for what it is: people trying to help animals. The FBI and prosecutors see it as a property crime.”

Let’s return, for a moment, to the issue of animal abusers who receive little or no punishment for their crimes. For a prosecutor’s insight, I turned to Scott Heiser, director of the Criminal Justice Program for the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). A former district attorney, Scott likes nothing more than seeing animal abusers held accountable for their crimes. But he acknowledges cases — even clearly brutal ones — may not always get the attention they should, nor the outcome the public would like to see.

“The disparity between sentencings from within the animal cruelty caseload is very real,” says Scott. “A person who kills two rabbits at work gets a slap on wrist, while the roasted-cat defendant gets two years in jail. That happens all the time, even from within the same jurisdiction and even at times in cases before the same judge. There are many reasons for this, including the difference in the offenders’ prior criminal records; the level of remorse the court feels the offender has for his or her conduct; judicial bias for or against animal crimes cases generally; judicial bias for or against the type of animal at issue (house pet vs. ‘food animal’); the laws of the jurisdictions calling for different sentencing outcomes —compare sentencing options in Texas and Oregon and you’ll see a huge difference; the daily jail population at the time of the sentencing, a very real factor that many people overlook —  judges get regular reports from the jail on the population, and those judges have to make early release decisions all the time to manage overcrowding; the sentencing ‘appeal’ of the victim family — for example, the little pony-tailed kid’s puppy killed versus the 35-year-old drunk’s marginally cared for backyard dog. There are tons of reasons. Some decry this as unjust and unfair and call for sentencing guidelines to ensure consistent treatment for similarly situated offenders. Others who have practiced in jurisdictions with sentencing guidelines will tell you that guidelines just don’t work because they divest the judge of the discretion to fashion truly just sentences on a case-by-case basis.”

Nevertheless, I think it’s important that we communicate with prosecutors and others our concern about animal abuse cases. District attorneys do care about public opinion, so when you hear of a crime against an animal, write to prosecutors and express your views. Also, letters to editors of your local paper help educate the public and bring awareness about animal issues. (ALDF is an excellent resource to find cases with animal victims.)

Finally, let’s remember the activists whose willingness to speak up for animals has cost them their liberty. “I went through a terrible ordeal in prison, and some of my friends are still inside,” says Josh. “In the struggle for animal equality, some of us are going to end up behind bars ― even if we are innocent, and even if our crimes are not as heinous as those perpetrated daily against billions of non-humans. While we must keep our focus primarily on the animal nations, let’s not forget our friends in the movement who are doing time for trying to advance our beliefs. Please consider writing to an animal rights or environmental prisoner.”

When animal advocates want to measure how far we’ve come as a movement, I can think of no better barometer than the burgeoning field of animal law, which works to stop animal cruelty and suffering through legislation and litigation. Once considered a niche area of legal practice, animal law has expanded over the last 20 years to become one of the rising stars of jurisprudence. Consider, for example, that 10 years ago students interested in animal law had only a handful of schools to choose from. Today, there are more than 100 animal law classes being taught at colleges throughout the United States and Canada. Some of the biggest news concerning animal cruelty is coming out of the US Supreme Court, which earlier this month heard arguments regarding free speech and animal fighting videos ― it’s the first case involving animal cruelty the high court has considered since 1993, when, by the way, only seven states had felony-level anti-cruelty laws; now 46 states do. Even China, where animal welfare is not given much value (the country is notorious for its widespread and indiscriminate killing of dogs, for example), recently drafted its first law to protect animals from abuse. And of course the high-profile Michael Vick dogfighting case did much to push the importance of animal law into the public discourse.

Lewis_and_ClarkSo it was a genuine privilege for me to speak at the 17th-annual animal law conference at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, last weekend. I was on a panel with Bob Roop of the Humane Society of the United States; Bob spoke about secondary trauma, which he described as the stress caregivers such as shelter workers experience, and I addressed the issue of activist burnout. The session attendees were very engaged in this topic, and it felt good to discuss such an important issue.

The rest of the time I got to take in what was, for the most part, a terrific event: great vegan food, excellent speakers, and a schedule that was extremely well organized. And, of course, you can’t beat Portland, which ranks as one of the best vegan cities anywhere. In keeping with the theme of this year’s sold-out event, “The Links,” the conference explored animal law and its connection to other areas of the law and professional disciplines, philosophies, and social justice movements, including domestic violence, the environment, international trade, religion, and the media.

Scott Heiser, director of ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program, offers tips for persuading prosecutors to pursue animal-cruelty cases.

Scott Heiser, director of ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program, offers tips for persuading prosecutors to pursue animal-cruelty cases.

I found three panel sessions to be particularly interesting. The first was “The People v. Animal Cruelty: Criminal Prosecutions,” led by Scott Heiser, director of the Criminal Justice Program for ALDF, and Heidi Moawad, deputy district attorney for the Multnomah County, Oregon, district attorney’s office. Heiser and Moawad, both highly experienced animal attorneys, offered advice for motivating district attorneys who are reluctant to prosecute animal abusers (e.g., go to the press, use social media), and they emphasized the link between cruelty to animals and other forms of violence. “People who abuse animals are five times more likely to commit a violent crime against humans,” said Heiser. He noted that public opinion is very important to prosecutors, so writing letters to editors applauding their good work on behalf of animals makes a real difference. Moawad, meanwhile, stressed the need for citizens to report cases of animal abuse or neglect. “Get involved,” she said. I appreciated that the panelists offered suggestions that anyone can do.

Next up, animal law experts Katherine Meyer (partner, Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal) and Bruce Wagman (partner, Schiff Hardin LLP) presented a number of “Hot Topics in Animal Law,” including the aforementioned US Supreme Court case, better known as the United States v. Stevens, which will decide whether video depictions of animal cruelty are expressions of free speech and thus protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. An appeals court had ruled that the government did not have a compelling interest in the animal cruelty shown in dogfighting videos produced and narrated by defendant Robert Stevens, and that “Preventing cruelty to animals, although an exceedingly worthy goal, simply does not implicate interests of the same magnitude as protecting children from physical and psychological harm.” Although Meyer feels the Supreme Court is likely to rule that the ban on such videos, as currently written, is unconstitutional, she said, “The good news is they may say the Third Circuit [Court of Appeals] was wrong when they said the government does not have a compelling interest in protecting animals.”

In his segment of the panel session, Wagman said that as a lawyer, he tries to put himself in the animal’s place, asking “What would they want?” He highlighted seven current cutting-edge animal law issues, including species-specific legislation (e.g., dogfighting statutes); exotic animal ownership; horse abandonment, which has gotten worse in this down economy; animal hoarding; shelter practices (no-kill vs. humane euthanasia); understanding the opposition, which tries to marginalize our interests; and farmed animals. Of the latter, Wagman said, “They’re born into misery, they live in misery, and they die in misery. There’s no moment in their lives when they’re not being mistreated in some way.” Bruce closed the session by suggesting a “compassion revolution,” emphasizing that advocates need to keep their eyes on the prize and promote kindness. “It is emotionally crushing to do this work,” he said. “It’s an effort to redeem our species from eternal shame.”

Finally, “Killing with Keystrokes: CITES, African Elephants & Internet Trade” featured Special Agent Ed Newcomer of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Paul Todd of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Not surprisingly, the Internet has helped fuel trafficking in wildlife items, including animal skins, endangered butterflies, elephant tusks, and exotic birds. According to Todd, the US is responsible for two-thirds of the worldwide illegal trade, which represents at least $20 billion a year. Only illegal drugs and weapons are bigger markets, he said. Todd gave a great case study that showed how online auction site eBay has finally banned ivory sales in compliance with the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) treaty, an agreement among 172 nations meant to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Elephant parts account for 73 percent of the world’s illegal trade in animals, said Todd, and a whopping 98 percent of that is ivory.

Newcomer, a former state prosecutor, draped several confiscated animal skins across a large table at the front of the room. The skin of a dog imported from China was particularly haunting; two almond-shaped holes where the eyes had been gave the skin an eerie, Halloween mask feel. The skin had been expertly dyed to resemble that of a leopard, and it lay between a genuine leopard skin and a tiger skin. Neatly folded beside the dog skin was a large swath of elephant hide, which was passed around the room. It felt surprisingly soft — though I’ve never touched an elephant ― and Newcomer explained the skin is often used for pillow cases. The Internet has had a devastating impact on wildlife, he explained, because it has created a demand in the market for illegal specimens. He used the online sale of an endangered Asian elephant head as an example. “Five people bid on something and one person wins. What do the other four people do? All of a sudden, they need to find themselves an Asian elephant head or some other body part!” Poachers and smugglers are using Skype and online newspaper posts to aid their crimes, but Newcomer said Craigslist is the worst. “It’s the wild west of animal trafficking,” he said.

Newcomer’s final comment, made as an aside, caught my interest. He explained that agents with USFWS get their enforcement authority from the Lacey Act, which prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported, or sold. But something else falls under the Lacey Act, he said: preventing animal enterprise terrorism. “Fish and Wildlife Service is the agency responsible for enforcing the Lacey Act. There are no agents in Fish and Wildlife interested in the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, but the FBI is all over it!”

I have one minor quibble with “The Links,” and having considered this blog post for several days, I have to be candid. While the conference was motivating, informative, and very well executed, it featured one panel that was, in my opinion, a mistake — or at the very least, poorly handled. “The Role of Animals in Indigenous Cultures” was little more than a forum for justifying the exploitation of animals by Native American tribes and criticizing groups working to protect animals. Attendees sat dumbfounded as Native American activist Se-ah-dom Edmo and professor of law and tribal judge Robert Miller, a citizen of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, discussed why Native Americans have a right to kill animals for food and religious purposes. It was clear that the two panelists were as uncomfortable as their audience when no one laughed at their playful swipes at the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Though I recognize the value of understanding everyone’s legal rights, I had to wonder what these clearly intelligent speakers thought they were accomplishing by addressing a roomful of animal advocates. I’m neither an attorney nor a law student, so perhaps the significance of this discussion was lost on me; however, during the lunch break that followed this panel, many attendees complained that such a presentation had no place at an animal rights gathering. This isn’t the first time I’ve attended an AR conference that featured exploitation apologists, and my suggestion is that if such sessions are allowed, they should be moderated debates that allow ample audience participation. All questions at this panel had to be submitted in writing. A session arguing the need for killing animals and poking fun at activists only leaves attendees at these otherwise uplifting events feeling disempowered.

That criticism aside, the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) of Lewis & Clark Law School, which hosted the conference with the college’s Center for Animal Law Studies, did an extraordinary job. The sessions moved like clockwork, speakers were well prepared, and the subject matter was highly relevant. Kudos to the unflappable Liberty Mulkani, who coordinated the three-day event with confidence and a smile. My sincere thanks to the conference organizers for inviting me to speak this year.

njfawToday marks the beginning of National Justice for Animals Week, an effort launched by the Animal Legal Defense Fund to draw attention to the issue of animal abuse and urge law enforcement, prosecutors and lawmakers to protect our animals and our neighborhoods from abusers. With the theme “Fighting Animal Abuse, Honoring Animal Victims,” the week will be an annual event dedicated to raising public awareness in the US about how to report animal abuse and how citizens can work within their communities to create stronger laws and assure tough enforcement.


For 30 years, ALDF has been on the frontlines in the battle against animal cruelty, using the legal system to advance the interests of animals. With the launch of National Justice for Animals Week, ALDF embarks on an innovative way to educate the public about abuses that have become a hidden epidemic in the US. “Animal victims of abuse cannot speak for themselves, so concerned citizens and our legal system must speak up for them,” says ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells.


National Justice for Animals Week will also be an opportunity to honor individuals who have given their time, skills and energy to ensure their communities are safe havens for animals.


There will be plenty for everyone to do this week. By signing ALDF’s Animal Bill of Rights, for example, concerned citizens can support the legal recognition of the rights of animals to have their most basic needs met and justice for animals who are abused and exploited. 


Whether it’s puppy mills, factory farming, using animals in entertainment, keeping exotic animals as “pets” or anything in between, the public clearly has a lot to learn about animals. Thanks to National Justice for Animals Week, people will have a better understanding of how to recognize animal abuse ― and how to make sure abusers don’t get away with it.


For more details on this event, please click here.

I was fortunate to attend the 16th-annual animal law conference at the Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, last weekend. The three-day event brought together attorneys, law students, academics and animal advocates from around the world.


The field of animal law didn’t even exist 30 or so years ago, yet today it is one of the most popular fields for law students eager to make a difference for animals. Interestingly, the conference attracted activists who will likely never see the inside of a courtroom ― they simply want to learn how the law can be used to advance the interests of animals. Oh, and the food was all vegan, which means I put on about three pounds eating baked goods. I felt like Homer Simpson at a Dunkin’ Donuts buffet.


Conference speakers included Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary, Paul Waldau of Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, Joyce Tischler of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Zak Smith of the Natural Resources Defense Council and many, many more outstanding advocates.


The panel that made the biggest impression on me had to do with the state of animal law in China, which is to say none at all. Presented by Paul Littlefair of RSPCA International and Amanda Whitfort, who teaches law at the University of Hong Kong, the session covered the legal and cultural hurdles animal advocates must overcome in Asia. In mainland China, no laws exist to protect animals other than animals living in the wild. Paul Littlefair offered one example of a 22-year-old student named Liu Haiyang, who in 2002 brutally attacked bears at the Beijing Zoo with acid. Chinese officials could not charge him with cruelty to animals (since no such legislation exists in China); instead, they charged him with destruction of public property.


As Paul pointed out, a number of factors hamper the advance of animal-protection laws in China. The Chinese, first of all, regard “animal welfare” as a foreign concept incompatible with Chinese culture. They also see it as anti-human; that is, they’re reluctant to grant rights to animals when human rights are so often violated (sound familiar?). The Chinese also point out the hypocrisy inherent in working to help animals when billions of animals are slaughtered for food each year.


None of this means that animal activists should give up fighting for animals in China, of course. In fact, one bright spot Paul mentioned is that the Chinese are becoming more accustomed to having companion animals, which means they are beginning to see animals are more than simply commodities. If they can see that their dog or cat has feelings, perhaps there’s hope. That may seem like a very small advance, but it is a start.


The One Earth: Globalism & Animal Law conference was hosted by the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) of Lewis & Clark Law School.

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