Undercover video surveillance of animal cruelty in Tennessee will not have to be surrendered to law enforcement, thanks to the veto this week of an “Animal Cruelty and Abuse Act” that would have effectively criminalized abuse investigations. The bill would have required any “person who intentionally records . . . for the purpose of documenting the offense of cruelty to animals committed against livestock, within 48 hours, or by the close of business the next business day, whichever is later, to [r]eport such violation to a law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the alleged offense; and [s]ubmit any unedited photographs, digital images or video recordings to law enforcement authorities.” Failure to do so would have been a Class C misdemeanor offense.

Ag-Gag bills have been passed or proposed in some 17 states–despite significant First Amendment violations. As Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO, has said, “It’s the wrong policy to punish the person who exposes cruelty, instead of the person who perpetrates it.” In suppressing and chilling speech, Ag-Gag legislation aims at activists, not abusers. The effect of Ag-Gag laws is to silence whistleblowers and deny consumers the right to know how farmed animals are treated before being killed for food.

Multiple undercover investigations have recorded workers punching and kicking pigs, stomping on turkeys, and forcing crippled and sick cows onto fork lifts to be hauled to slaughter. The power of video to expose such egregious animal cruelty has led to slaughterhouse closings, animal cruelty convictions, and the largest beef recall in U.S. history. Video evidence can also expose environmental abuse. Farmed animal feeding operations, for example, generate huge amounts of waste that can and does threaten soil and water. Factory farms and other industrial facilities have been found flagrantly violating federal and state laws that require minimizing environmental damage because of undercover investigations that have exposed the violations.

But activists’ use of video to throw open the slaughterhouse door has the power to accomplish something even more important for animals and the environment. It can shape the perception that animal welfare improvements are not enough and that animal exploitation must end. As Professor Gary Francione has noted, we “need to get people thinking differently about animal ethics. We need to focus people away from the issue of treatment–and away from the idea that there is “abusive” treatment and “non-abusive” treatment–-and toward the idea that we cannot morally justify use. Period.” The more that Ag-Gag laws shield animal cruelty from public view, the less the public believes that it is occurring anymore, and the easier it becomes convinced that “humane” animal exploitation is not itself horrific cruelty that is simply not morally acceptable.

Our Portland animal lawyers consider cases involving defense of animal and environmental activism, including undercover investigations, whistleblowing, and protest activity. Contact us for a free confidential consultation.

Related First Amendment Resources
Lauren Gazzola, “Ag-Gagging”: Are We Kept in the Dark, or Willfully Blind When it Comes to Animal Cruelty?, Common Dreams, May 14, 2013.
Gary L. Francione, A Brief Note on “Ag-Gag” Laws, Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach.

Horse roping or horse tripping is the practice of roping the front or hind legs of a galloping horse, tripping and sending the animal crashing to the ground. Texas, California, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Florida, Rhode Island, and Maine have banned equine tripping. Oregon has not yet done so. But a ban on the cruel “sport,” S.B. 835, passed the Senate in April and is now making its way through the Oregon House.

Media covering a Salem hearing on S.B. 835 yesterday quoted State Representative David Gomberg as noting that “horse tripping is alive and very well here in Oregon. Horses used in these events suffer broken legs, broken necks, rope burn, cuts, and abrasions.” The proposed anti-cruelty law would prohibit the practice of rodeo equine tripping, making intentionally roping or lassoing the legs of a horse for entertainment or sport a Class B misdemeanor.

Not surprisingly, rodeo participants and supporters lined up to oppose the anti-cruelty legislation, with one quoted as arguing that “simply roping the legs of a horse is an act that should not be banned.” Such an argument implies that a roped horse is merely laid on the ground after having its legs pulled out from under it while running. But recent Oregon rodeo photos show that horse roping and horse tripping are physically and psychologically traumatizing experiences for the animal.

Animal Law Coalition attorney Russ Mead, who has documented equine tripping at an Oregon rodeo, has explained that the practice “involves riders on horseback chasing a horse and causing the animal to flee. When the horse has reached full speed, a rider lassoes one of the horse’s legs, then stops and pulls back on the rope, causing the horse to trip forward and smash full-force onto the ground. In other so-called horse roping practices, a horse is lassoed about the neck and the rope is then pulled down and taut, driving the animal’s head into the ground.”

As Portland animal law attorneys and animal rights lawyers, we believe strongly that equine roping and tripping is animal cruelty that needs to end. Oregon would do well to pass S.B. 835 without amendments immediately.

Related Animal Law Resources
Full text of Oregon Senate Bill 835
Video Oregon Rodeo Exposed, Horses Roped, Tripped, and Slammed to the Ground
Yuxing Zheng, Oregon Senate Votes to Ban Horse Tripping, Affirm Right to Rodeo, The Oregonian, Apr. 16, 2013.

A Pennsylvania no-kill animal shelter is in the news today for its decision to discontinue contracts with local municipalities to accept strays collected by police. According to an article in the Morning Call, the Center for Animal Health and Welfare will continue to serve as a county animal control resource but only on a first-come, first-serve basis. The shelter is reportedly at its capacity, housing some 500 homeless dogs and cats.

Notably for those healthy but unwanted companions, calls from some critics to “cull animals to make room for new strays” were resisted. Animals Attorney blog applauds the shelter’s board, which was quoted as saying that such critics “need to realize that killing dogs and cats isn’t getting at the root of a ballooning stray animal population.”

Spaying, neutering, shutting down puppy mills, and educating buyers on avoiding supporting the “pet trade” are all better methods of reducing homeless companion animal populations. As pro bono legal counsel to nonprofit animal rescue and support groups like the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon, we know first hand that spay/neuter helps significantly. Reducing both natural and artificial breeding is the only real answer. The alternative would be mass killing, on a scale approaching that of factory farms. In Oregon alone, for example, nearly 18,000 cats were euthanized in 2010, many because there simply were more cats than available homes.

If you run a nonprofit animal rescue in need of legal services, our Portland animal law office may be able to assist you. Contact us. And if you or someone in your family is looking for a furry friend, stop searching breeder ads and pet stores. Visit your local animal rescue or shelter instead.

The LA Times reported Friday that former Dreamworks animator Young Song pleaded no contest to a felony count of cruelty to an animal after jurors saw a security camera video of Song beating a neighbor’s 16-month-old German shepherd puppy to death with a hammer. “Prosecutors said Song entered a neighbor’s yard and shot the muzzled German shepherd with a pellet gun before returning to beat the animal with a hammer and disposing of its remains.” A NY Daily News report cited a prosecution source as saying that “Song was involved in a dispute with the dog’s owner and that both parties moved from the location after the dog went missing and was presumed dead.”

According to the LA Times article, Pasadena Superior Court Judge Darrell Mavis sentenced Song to one year in jail, plus three years of probation and a ban restricting him from owning or caring for any animal for ten years. The prison term appears to be the maximum available for the charged offense under California law. California Penal Code § 597 provides that “[E]every person who maliciously and intentionally maims, mutilates, tortures, or wounds a living animal, or maliciously and intentionally kills an animal, is guilty of an offense punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or by a fine of not more than twenty thousand dollars ($20,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment . . . .”

Mental health evaluations or counseling are mandatory probation conditions. That’s important given the statistical probability of animal abuse escalating to violence against other human beings. A 1997 study by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Northeastern University found that those who had committed a violent crime against an animal were five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people. Those statistics would seem to be borne out by the beating here being apparently rooted in a dispute between neighbors, with the dog bearing the tragic consequences.

The maximum prison term is entirely appropriate in this case, which involved two weapons, pursuit of the dog by the abuser, and deliberate concealment of the dog’s remains. But the maximum fine should also have been imposed. The Sacramento Bee reported the only information found on a fine in Song’s case, a requirement that he pay his former neighbors $75.00. Not nearly enough, even if the puppy’s life was assessed using mere market value.

If you are the guardian of a dog or other animal that has been killed or injured by someone, our Oregon animal law office may be able to help. Contact Portland animal rights attorney Dane Johnson for a free initial consultation.

A lawsuit filed yesterday by the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) seeks a temporary restraining order to protect sea lions while this latest civil action is pending. Although the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act supposedly safeguards these intelligent animals, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) last week reauthorized lethal take of sea lions documented eating salmon and steelhead after previous court rulings against the program.

The agency’s rationale for killing sea lions is based on the sea lions’ eating of endangered salmon. But that argument is no better now than it was when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a previous lethal take plan. According to the HSUS, greater threats to salmon come from dams that block their upriver migration, loss of quality spawning habitat, and competition with other fish.

NMFS claims that some of these impacts are more and some are less than the impacts from sea lion predation on salmon. Ironically, it acknowledges that there is “no magic bullet” that will address all impacts. According to the agency, however, “all sources have to be addressed and there is no requirement in the [Marine Mammal Protection Act] that requires us to eliminate the other sources of mortality before authorizing lethal removals” of sea lions.

That argument makes no sense, especially given the fact that NMFS admits that it can’t even tell for sure whether the sea lion killing done so far actually protected salmon populations. In responding to comments on the now-approved taking plan, NMFS cited a study hypothesizing “that the removal of 37 [sea lions] between 2008 and 2011 likely contributed to the decrease in level of salmonid consumption in 2011, but the data are not sufficiently complete to draw a firm conclusion at this time.”

Why kill sea lions when neither the effects on salmon of addressing admitted other threats nor the effects on salmon of shooting those intelligent marine mammals are known? It’s not the sea lions that should be targeted. It’s a premature, ill-conceived plan to turn them into easy scapegoats.

Our Portland animal law firm salutes Banks and Forest Grove Oregon firefighters for their compassionate efforts to rescue a deer from an old mill pond. The animal wandered across thinning ice and broke through near the middle of the body of water. The Oregonian reported that the deer, a Black-tailed doe, was lethargic with ice built up around her snout.

Firefighters used a rescue boat to break the ice and open a path for the deer to get out of the water. She then swam to the bank, where she rested before walking back into woods surrounding the pond. A fire official was quoted as saying that “the fire district isn’t really equipped for ice rescues, but the firefighters wanted to save the animal.” We are proud of those heroes for their selfless work in general, and especially for extending their compassion to a nonhuman animal.

Related Web Resources
Rebecca Woolington, Forest Grove and Banks Firefighters Rescue Deer from Icy Pond, Oregonian, Dec. 14, 2011.

Animal law attorney Dane Johnson was quoted in the November 24, 2011, issue of the Portland Tribune in an article titled “New Law School Program Unleashes Animal Rights.” The article discusses recent additions to the animal law program at Lewis and Clark Law School’s Center for Animal Law Studies.

The article, which also included interviews with professor Steven M. Wise, founder of the Nonhuman Rights Project, focused on achieving legal personhood for at least some animals, such as higher primates or marine mammals. Johnson described the challenges that these and all animals face under a legal system that generally considers them mere property. He noted, however, that law’s perception of animals must eventually change from a view that contrasts sharply with the reality of how animals are increasingly understood and appreciated. His comments were echoed by those by professor Pamela Frasch, whom the article quoted as explaining that “the law is lagging behind what science is telling us.”

Oregon state biologists are reportedly working on highway improvements that could reduce the numbers of animals killed in traffic collisions. According to AP News, the ideas under consideration include simple measures that could save the lives of deer, elk, foxes, and other species who often fall victim to drivers.

Modifications such as guard rails that migrating animals can see through, culverts for passing under roadways, and roadside brush clearing to prevent deer and foxes from dashing into danger would all help animals avoid death by motor vehicle. These are all good ideas. On a larger scale, keeping similar wildlife corridors open is essential to mitigating habitat fragmentation, which threatens critically endangered species who need to move through spaces bisected increasingly by human activity.

Western Environmental Law Center executive director Greg Costello explains that “[w]hen they put another subdivision in a river bottom, they don’t think of how that blocks species that would use that land to migrate along the river valley. Or how when they put trophy homes or resorts at the top of passes they’re impeding the ability of western icons like the grizzly bear to move from one watershed to another.”

Some statistics put the annual number of animal-vehicle crashes in the United States at between 725,000 to 1.5 million. Unfortunately, Oregon lags states like Colorado, which last year enacted a law requiring drivers to slow down or risk doubled fines in zones where wildlife cross highways. That’s a common-sense measure that lawmakers in Salem should implement. As the Ashland Daily Tidings reported, however, “Oregon has had few wildlife-friendly highway projects. [And u]nlike fish-passage requirements for roads crossing streams, Oregon has no law requiring critter-friendly passage for roads except when there’s potential for impacts on threatened or endangered animals.” According to an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman, “Oregon’s only projects to date are a stretch of Highway 97 near Bend altered to improve mule-deer migration and a piece of Highway 244 near Elgin altered for lynx passage.”

Not nearly enough. Oregon legislators should now implement measures to rectify the results that Oregon biologists’ studies will surely confirm: “[M]ajor highways not only cause animal deaths via collisions, they also can lock animals out of suitable habitat, and over time alter the genetics of migratory animals all because some animals become chicken while crossing the road.

Related Web Resources
Western Environmental Law Center, Highway 82 Slowing for Wildlife
Mark Freeman, State Tries to Make Freeway More Animal-Friendly, Ashland Daily Tidings, Jan. 27, 2011.
Portland Animal Law Attorney

Red-winged blackboards fell from the sky by the thousands, apparently brought down by an Arkansas town’s midnight fireworks display. According to an Associated Press (AP) report, “fireworks appeared to have frightened the birds into such a frenzy that they crashed into homes, cars, and each other. Some may have flown straight into the ground.”

The article goes on to state that the dead birds “will not be missed,” because red-winged blackbirds are “among North America’s most abundant birds . . . .” I find that to be a profoundly disturbing sentiment. At one point, another species darkened the skies to a similar degree. The last Passenger Pigeon, however, eventually joined the rest of her species in a human-caused extinction. The Chipper Woods Bird Observatory puts it aptly: “Who could have dreamed that within a few decades, the once most numerous bird on Earth would be forever gone?”

New Year’s insanity as expressed in things like fireworks and people shooting into the air has long kept me inside on December 31. Tragically, these Arkansas birds had no such shelter.

Oregon Animal Law Attorney
If you have a matter involving legal rights or responsibilities related to animals, our Portland animal law office may be able to help. We practice injury law and consider the interests of all—regardless of species—who suffer because of others. Contact us toll free at (800) 714-3204 or online.

According to news reports, the Sapphire Princess, an ship operated by Princess Cruises, struck and killed a juvenile humpback near Juneau, Alaska today. This whale’s death being caused by a recreational vessel, rather than by one in commercial shipping, highlights the increasing danger to cetaceans from ship strikes of all kinds.

Data published in a 2004 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) Technical Bulletin documented that “injuries and deaths resulting from ship collisions with whales remain a significant threat.” An analysis of ship strikes by species showed that fin whales “are the most often reported species hit (75 records of strike), followed by humpback (44 records), North Atlantic right (38 records), gray (24 records), minke (19 records), southern right (15 records), and sperm whales (17 records).” NOAA admitted that the data “may represent only a fraction of the actual number of strikes,” likely because it relied on self-reporting by the vessels involved. Most of the impacts came from commercial vessels, but cruise ships accounted for about 14% of whale strikes.

Incredibly, fatal collisions between ships and whales occurred even in three National Marine Sanctuaries: Stellwagen Bank (humpback, fin, and right whales), Channel Islands (gray and several
unidentified whales), and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale sanctuary (humpback whales). 68% of whales included in the NOAA data died from the impacts.

U.S. shipping lanes were moved to address whales only in 2008 and only in one sanctuary. Nearly 5,000 ships transit the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, home to endangered finback, humpback, and right whales, each year. Adding just ten to twenty minutes, depending on ship speed, to the travel time through the sanctuary allowed vessels to avoid the places where whales are most likely to cross. Estimates put the reduction in risk to cetaceans at around 81%.

Shipping lanes for cruises should be moved similarly. Economic barriers are often cited as arguments against rerouting sea lanes for whales—the need to move goods to market as fast as possible is offered as a compelling reason to risk the lives of critically endangered marine mammals. Such logic, however, isn’t really applicable to changing ship traffic in the cruise injury. Passengers—who probably book passages to places like Alaska hoping to see whales—would likely accept surcharges needed to offset slight increases in fuel costs, or be willing to shorten their voyages by an hour or so to allow a wide berth around whales. If sightings are from a greater distance, the knowledge that the very creatures contributing to the wonder of the trip remain alive to see should bring sufficient comfort to avoid impacting reservations.

Related Web Resources
AP, Cruise Ship Strikes Whale in Alaska, July 28, 2010.
NOAA, Large Whale Ship Strike Database (Jan. 2004).
EarthSky, David Wiley on Moving Shipping Lanes to Save Whales (Aug. 18, 2008).