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).

Emotional support animals have been proven to be extremely effective at helping those with psychiatric disabilities. These special animals provide therapeutic nurture and support for symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health conditions.

Most people know that the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) gives disabled individuals with service animals the right to access places of public accommodation. Unfortunately, the ADA does not guarantee access for emotional support animals in public places. The ADA and other federal and state laws do, however, support the right to emotional assistance animals in housing.

Right to Emotional Support Animals in Housing
The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and ADA Title II protect the right of people with disabilities to keep emotional support animals, even when a landlord’s policy prohibits pets. Like service animals, emotional support animals are not “pets.”

The law generally requires landlords to make an exception to “no pet” policies so that a tenant with a disability can fully use and enjoy his or her dwelling. In most housing complexes, so long as the tenant has a letter or prescription from an appropriate professional, such as a therapist or physician, and meets the definition of a person with a disability, he or she is entitled to a reasonable accommodation that would allow an emotional support animal in the apartment.

The definitions of “disability,” “reasonable accommodation,” and other terms can be both confusing and critical. Fortunately, helpful resources for people with disability and psychological service animals include an emotional support animal housing rights fact sheet published by the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. If you or loved ones are facing disability discrimination in the form of restrictions on an emotional support animal, contact Oregon animal law attorney Dane E. Johnson. We offer a free case evaluation to discuss your options. Call toll free (800) 714-3204 or use our online lawyer contact form.

Related Web Resources
Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Fact Sheet, Right to Emotional Support Animals in “No Pet” Housing.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) has announced the granting of a full license to the vaccine against canine influenza virus (“CIV”), also known as H3N8. A conditional license was awarded on May 27, 2009, and the product has been in limited use as its safety has been evaluated. Manufacturer Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health recently issued a press release announcing the full approval.

According to the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, no “influenza viruses circulated in dogs until genetic changes in an equine influenza virus allowed this virus to spread efficiently in the canine population.” The H3N8 virus was first reported in and appeared to be confined to racing greyhounds, but it has since spread and caused respiratory disease in a variety of breeds in the general canine population.

Common symptoms appear to be persistent cough, purulent nasal discharge, and low-grade fever. Two canine influenza cases were reported in Oregon in 2005, but no known H3N8 outbreaks have appeared since then. The The Oregon Veterinary Medical Association (“VMA”) nevertheless points out that “the virus is considered to be endemic in the United States and cases could reappear in Oregon in the future.”

All dogs are now considered to be susceptible, although those that are kept in closed rooms with other dogs for at least six hours may be at greater risk. VMA notes that “if your dog stays at home and rarely contacts other dogs, its risk of contracting the virus is likely low. If your dog is boarded, goes to day care, or the dog park, it may be at a higher risk.”

University of Florida veterinary researcher Dr. Cynda Crawford, who discovered the canine influenza virus in 2004, has reported that “there were no side effects or safety issues [with the vaccine] in a field trial that included more than 700 dogs ranging in age from six weeks to 10 years and representing 30 breeds.” Given canine influenza’s potential to progress to secondary pneumonia if not treated properly and the vaccine’s apparent safety, owners of at-risk dogs should consider having them vaccinated.

Related Web Resources
Press Release, Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health, Nobivac® Canine Flu Vaccine Granted License by USDA (June 9, 2010).
Or. Veterinary Med. Ass’n, Canine Influenza (H3N8) Virus: Vaccine For Dogs Now Available (Dec. 15, 2009).
Iowa State Univ. Coll. of Veterinary Med., Fact Sheet: Canine Influenza (Jan. 2009).
Cynda Crawford, 10 Things to Know About the H3N8 Dog Flu, N.Y. Times, July 2, 2009.

According to its website, Banfield “has become the largest pet general veterinary practice in the world, with more than 750 hospitals in neighborhoods across the U.S.” In a recently filed lawsuit, however, Dr. Robert Nix alleges that the company’s veterinary and business practices endangered animal patients and charged owners excessive fees for substandard care.

In a complaint filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, Dr. Nix describes being told to help boost income by accepting animals in need of urgent care after hours at Banfield’s Nyberg Woods clinic in Tualatin. He asserts that the company planned to “take patients regardless of their needs and collect revenue from lab work and initial triage treatment. If a patient’s case was very serious, doctors would then call the [animal owner] after conducting some costly tests and ask them to take their pet to Tualatin Emergency Clinic.” Dr. Nix asserts that Banfield was ‘promising a service they knew they could not deliver and forcing pet owners to pay two veterinarians to treat their sick animal instead of one, while the sick or injured animal bore the risk of delay in medical treatment.”

The complaint further accuses the company of firing him for challenging veterinary care that he asserts fell seriously below professional standards and Oregon practice standards. Banfield reportedly denies the allegations contained in the 28-page complaint filed by Dr. Nix, the former chief of staff at Nyberg Woods. He claims that the discharge was wrongful because it was in retaliation for whistleblowing.

If you believe that your companion animal may have been harmed by an unprofessional veterinarian or veterinary technician, our Oregon animal law office may be able to help. Contact us for a free case evaluation.

Related Web Resources
Edie Lau, Veterinarian Fired from Banfield Sues Company, Veterinary Info. Network, Inc., June 1, 2010.

A new federal lawsuit will soon challenge the unauthorized taking of endangered species by the continuing flood of oil soaking the Gulf of Mexico. Southern Environmental Law Center and Defenders of Wildlife will sue BP directly under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).

Endangered species in the Gulf include five kinds of whales, Hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, and leatherback sea turtles, sturgeon, sawfish, the West Indian manatee, and two coral species. The ESA prohibits “taking” any of them, which the law defines as meaning “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” “Taking” may include “significant habitat modification or degradation that kills or injures fish or wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns including breeding, spawning, rearing, migrating, feeding or sheltering.”

Announcing the intent to sue letter sent to British Petroleum, Mike Senatore, vice president for Conservation Law at Defenders of Wildlife emphasized that

BP must be held accountable for the grave threat posed to sea turtles, whales, seabirds and other endangered wildlife as the result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Not only does the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico pose an immediate and long-term threat to endangered wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico, but the company’s unprecedented application of chemical dispersants poses additional risks.

Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Catherine Wannamaker added that the environmental organizations are

concerned about the oil-covered wildlife that we may see onshore, but we’re also extremely concerned about what’s happening below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. This is shaping up as an unprecedented disaster for the people and wildlife of the Gulf. From plankton to endangered sperm whales to fishermen, BP has put an entire ecosystem at risk and must be held accountable.

Even if the oil torrent is plugged or slowed, the environmental disaster that started in the Gulf will continue expanding for decades. Oil and chemical dispersants will continue to spread through ocean currents, affecting sea life far from the Deepwater Horizon site. Wildlife is already being destroyed on an increasingly horrific scale, with the numbers of killed animals and birds far exceeding those found oiled but still alive.

Our Portland, Oregon animal law firm strongly supports aggressive litigation against BP for the full extent of the Deepwater Horizon debacle on wildlife. BP is supposedly paying for rescue efforts—but that’s the least that the multibillion dollar global corporation can do. Please join in holding it fully accountable by donating at the links below.

Related Web Resources
Southern Environmental Law Center
Defenders of Wildlife
NOAA, Endangered and Threatened Species and Critical Habitats under the Jurisdiction of the NOAA Fisheries Service: Gulf of Mexico