Saturday, February 28, 2009

Snowmobilers' Heaven Is Hell on Wildlife

Thanks to blog reader Bruce K. for the heads-up on an eye-opening, although rather depressing, article yesterday about the havoc snowmobilers are wreaking on Wisconsin's wildlife.

Read more in the Wall Street Journal by writer Joe Barrett.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Vick will finish prison sentence in home confinement

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Imprisoned NFL star Michael Vick will be allowed to finish his sentence under home confinement because there is no room at a halfway house for him, a government official told the Associated Press Thursday.

Read more from today's USA Today article...

Local gov'ts confront dangerous pets

Interesting article in USA Today this morning...

It seems the recent spate of highly-publicized animal attacks - such as Travis the chimpanzee's vicious attack upon a Connecticut woman last week - have sparked legislatures across the country to take another look at their animal control laws.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Depends what your definition of "cruel" is, I suppose...

A real head-scratcher out of Oklahoma...

Students and officials at the Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences are criticizing Madeleine Pickens, wife of billionaire T-Boone Pickens, for deciding against a $5 million dollar gift she was going to give to the Center. Mrs. Pickens had made some headlines when the gift was announced recently - but made even more headlines when she reportedly changed her mind after finding out about the school's veterinary practices, which she termed cruel.

According to Bridget Nash of the Enid News & Eagle, one student claims he was "shocked" at Mrs. Pickens' "misinformation" that a dog would be anethestitized maybe to "take out a kidney" then again to "break a leg." Sounds like he might have a point.

But the school's dean goes on to acknowledge “No more than two surgeries are performed on any dog,” he said in the statement. “Terminal dog surgeries are used at the majority of the United States veterinary colleges.”

Yikes. The reality is that most schools that still do terminal surgeries do only one surgery - and that many, if not most, vet schools are either in the process of, or have completely eliminated, live dog surgeries at all. (For more information, see

According to several of the students, the animals that the school purchases are going to be euthanized anyway, "so why not get something educational from it?”

Here's the best part: this student defends the school's practices as not cruel because the animals receive pain management after the first surgery. As for the second surgery:

“We don’t want them to suffer,” said Woodington, who said often, before euthanization, an animal is “spoiled” with a special treat, such as a cheeseburger. He said students become attached to the animals.

“It’s a very hard process for all of us,” he said.

Really? Very hard process? Why is that? Is that possibly because what the school - and YOU PERSONALLY ARE PARTICIPATING IN - is CRUEL????

C'mon kids. Anyone who is old enough to be in veterinary school is old enough to think for themselves. Whatever benefit there was to terminal animal surgeries in the past - before the advent of computer modeling and multiple other learning tools - now needs to be weighed against the fact that there now exists computer modeling and multiple other learning tools until students get to the point that they can begin practicing surgery just like any other surgeon. Moreoever, it is simply untenable that a practice which is good enough for medical students (not euthanizing just as a learning tool) is somehow not good enough for veterinary students.

Thank you. Mrs. Pickens, for at least trying to teach these students and this school the best lesson of all: compassion.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cruelty laws apply to livestock, lawsuit says

Animal rights group seeks more specific oversight

By Levi Pulkkinen
Seattle Post Intelligencer

In an attempt to expand animal cruelty criminal laws to cover the treatment of livestock, a Seattle-based animal rights group has filed a lawsuit arguing that existing laws give industry undue control over how animals are housed and slaughtered.

Read the rest of the article here...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Texas may let hunters shoot pigs from helicopters

Well, maybe the Lone Star State didn't get too far with its internet hunting efforts a few years ago...

...but one Texas lawmaker is now taking a cue from Alaska's Governor Palin and proposing to allow regular folks with shotguns and rifles to shoot wild pigs out of helicopters.

Read more about this story - that would be funny if it weren't true - in this AP/USA Today article.

Meat groups win round in food safety case

The Fresno Bee
Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009
John Ellis

Pigs that can't stand up on their own may still be butchered and their meat sold for human consumption despite a state law designed to prevent that, a federal judge ruled Thursday in Fresno.

Read more here...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Investigation Finds NY Retailers Flouting Fur-Labeling Law

The Epoch Times
Staff writer

NEW YORK—The Humane Society of the United States and N.Y. State Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal, Manhattan, revealed today at a press conference that some of the largest retailers in New York—including Bloomingdale's, Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue—have been selling unlabeled fur-trimmed garments in violation of state law.

Read more here...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

LA cracks down on animal cruelty

By Jack Leonard
Los Angeles Times
February 15, 2009

LOS ANGELES - Furious that his girlfriend had broken up with him and stopped taking his calls, Steven Butcher decided to take his anger out on the couple's puppy.

"Every time you . . . don't pick up the phone, I am beating the dog," Butcher said in a voice-mail message he left for his former girlfriend. In a later message, as the dog yelped in the background, he said, "You got some more of the dog getting beat."

Read more on how LA is cracking down, not only on the arrest of animal abusers, but now on their prosecution as well...

Judge orders that pit bulls be destroyed

Despite the undisputed successful example of rescuing and rehabilitating Michael Vick's fighting dogs last year, a North Carolina judge yesterday ordered that more than 127 pit bulls seized in December from a fighting ring be destroyed.

"Those dogs are going to be killed solely because of prejudice," said Ledy VanKavage, an attorney for Best Friends Animal Society, which had offered to pay to have the dogs evaluated and to spay or neuter the adoptable dogs.

Read the rest of the Winston-Salem Journal article by reporter Monte Mitchell.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Animals gaining more rights under state laws

February 15, 2009

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Some things shouldn’t happen, even to a dog. But they do.

In Pennsylvania last year, a warden ordered two kennel operators to examine some of their charges for fleas. Instead, Elmer Zimmerman of Kutztown shot 70 dogs; his brother Ammon, who had a kennel next door, shot 10.

Horrible, yes, said Jessie Smith, the state’s special deputy secretary for dog law enforcement, when the killings were reported. “But it’s legal.”

Click for the rest of the article here...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bird brain? Animal smarts surprise experts

The term 'bird brain' should be replaced by 'brainy birds,' say researchers

By Randolph E. Schmid
Associated Press
February 12, 2009

CHICAGO - Monkeys perform mental math, pigeons can select the picture that doesn't belong. Humans may not be the only animals that plan for the future, say researchers reporting on the latest studies of animal mental ability.

"I suggest we humans should keep our egos in check," Edward A. Wasserman of the University of Iowa said Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Wasserman, a professor of experimental psychology, said that, like people, pigeons and baboons were able to tell which pictures showed similar items, like triangles or dots, and which showed different items.

Read the rest of the article on

And if you are really interested in the subject of animal sentinence, check out Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights by noted attorney and scholar Steven M. Wise.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

South Korea's Pet Clone Wars

Sobering article by Jennifer Veale of Time Magazine on the competition between several South Korean companies to pave the way for this fledging industry...

...which views pet cloning as an opportunity to making huge money (up to $150,000 for a single puppy so far!) and apparently as a means to produce more and better dogs for research.

What caught my eye in particular though was one sentence about the dog originally cloned four years ago, Snuppy. He is no longer the object of the researchers' constant attention now that more dogs have been cloned, but nonetheless "still lives in the campus lab kennel." How sad for Snuppy. How scary for the rest of us.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

No lol. Lawmakers target texting motorists

Ok, this has absolutely nothing to do with animal law, but it really caught my eye so I'm posting it. According to the Daily Herald, "Illinois took the first step toward outlawing texting and driving Monday with a state House committee unanimously supporting such a ban."

Too bad there's no way to enact legislation that would actually require people to think while they are driving, but this is definitely a start.

First ever felony indictment for abuse of factory-farmed birds!

Three former employees of Aviagen Turkeys have been indicted for animal abuse at the company’s facility in Lewisburg, West Virginia. Eleven of the 19 indictments are felony charges marking the first time farm employees in the U.S. have been charged with felony cruelty for abusing birds.

Read more in this excerpt from Brownfield Ag News for America or this press release from PETA, whose undercover videotape led to the investigation. Excellent work!

Monday, February 09, 2009

And the winner is...

The Center for Animal Law Studies held the 2009 National Animal Law Moot Court and Closing Argument Competition this past weekend at Harvard Law School. I am happy to report first-hand that the event was a terrific success!

This year's competition was the first time for the new formal partnership between Lewis & Clark Law School and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, under the leadership of CALS Director Pamela Frasch. Also putting in yeomans' efforts were ALDF staffers Laura Handzel, Liberty Mulkani and Pamela Alexander. Everything from the first round of competition to the banquet dinner to the presentation of the final award went seamlessly.

For the first time, three federal judges heard the final moot court rounds - thanks to Judge D. Brooks Smith of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Susan P. Graber of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of the Southern District of Texas for volunteering time out of your busy schedules to be part of this event.

This year was also another first - a tie for first place in the closing argument competition. The winners were Cheyne Adam and David Lipschutz, both of the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. The moot court winners were Michele Delappe and Nicholas Hudson from the University of Washington School of Law. Congratulations to all!

Ringling elephant trial

I've done a few quick internet searches and don't see anything more recent than February 4th. If anyone has an update on this trial, please let the blog know. Thanks!

Update on trial of Smiley the shelter dog

A Washington state judge spent 45 minutes on Friday explaining why a Seattle area couple was unlikely to prevail in their efforts to save a shelter dog from euthanasia.

So why did the shelter's attorney object to her ruling?

Read more in this Whidbey News-Times update by reporter Jenny Manning.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

DC elephant trial underway

The trial over whether Ringling Brothers' handling of its endangered Asian elephants is abusive got underway in a DC district court yesterday. Several animal advocacy groups, along with plaintiff Tom Rider, who used to work for Ringling, are suing under the Endangered Species Act.

Here's one early report of the proceedings from a legal blogger. In case you're not familiar, here's a CBS news report and an LA Times article with some background on the story...

Legislative round-up

A quick check of recent animal law-related legislative efforts around the country finds that:

North Carolina is considering a bill to join the growing ranks of states that have eliminated the use of gas chambers as a method of euthanizing companion animals. House bill 6 is nick-named "Davie's law" for a puppy that survived a gas chamber only to be found later in a plastic bag in a dumpster by a woman who happened to be throwing out her garbage...

Animal advocates met earlier this week in upstate New York to discuss plans for amending "Buster's Law". The law, named after a cat who perished in a highly-publicized cruelty crime, upgraded some of the state's cruelty offenses to felonies. It was apparently not enough, however, to get prosecutors to press felony charges against a man arrested about a month ago for trapping and fatally stabbing a mare named Skye in her stable more than a dozen times...

Meanwhile in Massachusetts, state lawmakers are considering a bill to ban a surgical procedure called devocalization, more commonly known as debarking, unless it is deemed medically necessary. The procedure involves cutting an animal's vocal chords so it makes less noise and has long been decried by opponents as unnecessary and cruel...

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

RIngling Brothers elephant trial starts tomorrow

After what even a neutral observer writing for describes as "eight grinding years of litigation," attorneys for the circus and animal advocacy groups will face off in a bench trial Wednesday over how Ringling handles its elephants.

At its core, the lawsuit charges that Ringling's methods of training and managing its elephants - which includes chaining them for up to 20 hours at a time and use of piercing bullhooks - constitute abuse that violates the Endangered Species Act. Ringling, not surprisingly, maintains that its practices are necessary and commonplace in the circus and zoo industries.

If nothing else, both sides agree that the suit is attempting to break new legal ground. According to animal law expert and Michigan State law professor David Favre, "[t]he ESA until now has more or less dealt with nameless animals in the wild," Favre says. "This is the first time its dealing with wildlife in a captive situation."

While the suit only applies to the treatment of six particular elephants - the ones with whom the only plaintiff that was found to have standing interacted - Ringling paints a much grimmer picture. According to an attorney for Feld Entertainment: "If [the plaintiffs] had their way, the only way that Americans are going to be able to see elephants is in books and videos."

Of course, imho, the knowledge (legendary in animal advocacy circles and probably increasingly known by the general public as well) of how Ringling treats its elephants is a much grimmer thought for me. The reality is, there is substantial evidence that elephants are intelligent and sensitive animals who lead emotionally complex lives - and the strain of such oppressive captivity really is harmful to their health. The further reality is that other organizations, such as the San Diego Zoo, have dropped the chaining and bullhooks; the elephants have not run amok or otherwise endangered public safety. And then of course there is the pink elephant in the room: whether we have a "right" to keep such intelligent creatures in captivity at all. (Of course, there are many days when I would happily agree to stay in an apt in sunny Southern California rent-free with three squares a day if I could, but I digress...)

Nothing so lofty can come of this trial. But the issue that is up for grabs - whether keeping someone chained for up to 20 hours at a time or using skin-piercing hooks to train them is abusive - is pretty straightforward. Nor is it the first time Ringling has fought off efforts to curtail its practices.

In Chicago, for example, last year Feld successfully watered down, and eventually quashed, a proposed Chicago ordinance that would have banned chaining and bullhooks when the circus came to perform in the Windy City. I know this because I worked, in small part, on the ordinance effort. No matter that Ringling apparently already owned the electric fencing alternative. It threatened local lawmakers to pull out of its annual two-week performances at the United Center, and in typical Chicago political fashion - if memory serves - also made about $40,000 in "donations" to local city council members' campaign funds. Sigh.

Hopefully, this ESA lawsuit will be different. At one point during an earlier discovery hearing, D.C. District Court judge Emmet Sullivan called Feld's excuses for taking more than two years to turn over document production "crap". I, for one, hope that he feels the same way about their defenses at trial.

It’s not murder, it’s Smiley

Whidbey News Times Reporter
Today, 10:20 AM · UPDATED

Smiley’s saga drew an unusually large number of people to Island County Superior Court in Coupeville Thursday, all interested in Barbara Moran and Bob Baker’s efforts to spare the dog from euthanasia.

“Often we don’t receive this many people unless it’s a very bad murder case,” Island County Superior Court Judge Vickie Churchill told the audience of more than 40 people and one dog in her courtroom.

Read more about this courtroom drama, as renowned animal law attorney Adam Karp navigates Smiley's fate through the legal system, by clicking here...

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Collinsville attorney gets national post with animal rescue group

Belleville News-Democrat
Wally Spiers
Jan. 31, 2009

Ledy VanKavage, an attorney from Collinsville, has gone national in her new job as senior legislative analyst for the Best Friends Animal Society, a national animal rescue organization.

Her new job has her working on enacting progressive animal welfare laws and working on repealing ineffective breed discriminatory ordinances, she said.

"I sort through all the bills filed in all the states for animals," VanKavage said. "I try to figure out if what they are doing is good or bad for animals. I also get to write pro-active legislation."

Read the rest of the article here. Way to go, Ledy!