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October 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Free Pass for Factory Farms?

Mark Twain noted that “No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.” Apparently the efforts to combat global warming aren’t safe either, as an obscure procedural vote in the House of Representatives this week threw a major roadblock in the way of science-based solutions.

Worldwide animal agriculture accounts for nearly one-fifth of
all greenhouse gas emissions.

By a vote of 267-147, the House passed a motion by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), instructing the conference committee on the Interior Appropriations bill to keep an amendment by Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) that prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from being allowed to gather any data on the contribution that animal agriculture makes to climate change. The House bill had included this Latham provision, but the Senate had rejected a similar amendment by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), meaning the conferees from both chambers had to negotiate on whether it stayed in the final bill.

The Senate and House leaders of the Interior Appropriations subcommittees, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), fought hard to defeat these hostile maneuvers by lawmakers too closely aligned with agribusiness and to preserve the EPA’s authority to collect data on greenhouse gas emissions from the largest industrial factory farms. After the House vote, though, the bill was finalized with the Latham amendment included, and will soon be sent to the president for his signature.

The HSUS and a coalition of environmental and public health groups have petitioned the EPA to begin regulating air pollution from factory farms, and the agency recently announced that the largest animal factories (only those emitting more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases from manure) would have to report on their emissions. But now Congress will block the agency’s action.

The rhetoric on the House floor from Simpson and others would make one think that a simple reporting requirement would force every American farmer out of business, and all the agricultural jobs would move to Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. Simpson even opined: “If the EPA had existed in Biblical times, there is no question in my mind that it would have regulated gas emissions from Noah’s Ark. Poor Noah and his livestock; they could withstand a 40-day flood, but they would never have survived the EPA.”

But Noah wasn’t confining animals in industrial factories, dumping thousands of tons of manure into lagoons, polluting our air and water, jeopardizing public health, or harming rural communities. Chairman Dicks pointed out the narrow focus of the agency’s rule, noting “that thousands of small farmers would be exempted, and only the 90 largest manure management systems in the country would be required to report their emissions, those who annually emit as much in greenhouse gases as 58,000 barrels of oil.”

It’s a setback for science and transparency, and it ties the hands of the U.S. at a time when our federal officials are about to sit down with leaders of many other countries in Copenhagen to try to reach an agreement on how to meet this global challenge. How can we develop good public policy solutions based on sound science if we can’t even collect data? With worldwide animal agriculture accounting for nearly one-fifth (or perhaps more) of all greenhouse gas emissions, Congress must stop giving the livestock sector a free pass—every industry must come to the table and be part of the solution.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

There Oughta Be a Law: Q&A with Cheryl Woodcock

I hosted a nationwide conference call with thousands of animal advocates this weekend to announce the winner of the Humane Society Legislative Fund’s first-ever “There Oughta Be a Law” contest. Animal rescuer Cheryl Woodcock of Baldwin, N.D., joined the call, and I gave her the news that her proposal was selected by our panel of judges—Reps. John Campbell (R-Calif.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) and myself—out of more than 3,500 other entries from all 50 states.

The winner of HSLF’s 2009 “There Oughta Be a Law” contest,
Cheryl Woodcock, with her four foster kittens who were
found in a Dumpster.

Cheryl’s winning idea: a tax credit for spaying and neutering pets. It’s a timely and innovative proposal that incentivizes personal responsibility and encourages pet owners to do their part to help reduce pet overpopulation. “Cheryl’s Law” could become part of the solution toward ending the euthanasia of three million healthy and treatable dogs and cats each year in America’s animal shelters, and reducing the financial burden of animal care and control on local communities.

HSLF will bring Cheryl to Washington, D.C. to lobby for her bill. I had a chance to visit with her and want to share with blog readers a bit about her work and her winning entry.

Michael Markarian: Tell us about yourself and your animals.

Cheryl Woodcock: I am married with six kids. We live on 80 acres. We raise sheep, and Chesapeake Bay retrievers. We have three Scottie dogs, many farm cats, and a sheep herding dog, all of whom are spayed or neutered. Many of our cats and our sheep herding dog are rescues from the city pound. We have even rescued a few house birds. We also have horses, chickens, and calves. Currently, I work for two vet clinics and make homemade dog treats that I sell at some pet stores and at craft shows. Animals are my passion.

MM: What’s it like being an animal advocate and rescuer in rural North Dakota?

CW: Baldwin is a town of 736 people—a mostly rural population—although we have 18 families who live right in the town of Baldwin. We have a post office and a GREAT school. The school has grades K-8 with 15 students, two teachers, and a teacher’s aide. We fight a battle with the state legislature every two years—they try to close small rural schools and we fight to keep our schools open.

A few years ago, I was asked to help our local pound by raising an orphaned kitten. He needed to be bottle-fed. I took him home and he has been with me since. Right now, I have four kittens who were about two days old when they were tossed in a Dumpster at a gas station. A worker at the gas station found them and called the police. The police took them to the pound and I got a call from one of the animal wardens. I stopped at a store, bought formula and a bottle, and went to see my new friends. They were very frail and very, very cold. I really didn’t expect to see them all make it through the night. I had to feed them every two hours, day and night, for the first few weeks. My female Scottie dog, Maggie, helped care for them, by cleaning them for me. Luckily I was able to take them to work with me—I work for two vet clinics. They are growing and they just FINALLY started eating on their own. I will be looking for good homes for them in a week or so.

I am the person in the neighborhood who gets a call and takes the sickly animals from neighbors. I have gotten two sickly lambs and a calf and they have survived—for me. I love the challenge and the satisfaction of caring for them and watching them grow and flourish. I have even had baby lambs in my house when they were sick and too young to be outside. One lamb even walked around my house in a doggie diaper. I try to find homes for as many cats and dogs as I can. The city pound has a volunteer who is great at finding homes or rescue groups for the dogs who need homes. I am all about animals. I love animals.

MM: You have a pet treat business as well?

CW: Yes, the name is Farmer Tillie’s Homemade Dog Treats. I wanted to make quality wholesome dog treats for my Scottie dogs. I sell them in a few pet stores and at some craft shows. My dogs totally enjoy it when I make treats. They get to sample them. I have many satisfied returning customers.

MM: How did you hear about HSLF’s “There Oughta Be a Law” contest, and what made you enter?

CW: I was on Facebook one night, when I was up feeding kittens, and saw the ad for the contest. I thought I should enter. I was mad at what the abandoned kittens had to go through. I decided to enter because of the kittens and all the animals I see at the pound who look so lost and need homes. I hate it when animals have to be put down when there are no homes for them. It’s a better solution than them starving or freezing to death, but if there was an incentive for people to get their animals spayed or neutered, maybe this issue could become a thing of the past.

MM: Why is spaying and neutering dogs and cats so important to you, and how can a tax credit help?

CW: The reason I am so passionate about this issue is because of the tiny baby kittens I have taken care of. There are always abandoned animals at the city pound. Those who don’t get adopted or rescued get put to sleep. I hate seeing that as much as I hate seeing abandoned baby animals. I think if there was a tax credit for people to spay or neuter their animals, more of them would get spayed or neutered and there wouldn’t be so many abandoned animals. I think, in this day and age, with everyone looking for a way to save money, a tax credit would really make them think about it.

MM: Are you looking forward to your trip to Washington?

CW: I am TOTALLY excited about winning a trip to Washington, D.C. I have never been to that part of the U.S. I think it will be great to be able to see the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam Memorial Wall. It’s all so much a part of our history.

MM: Who are your federal legislators in Congress?

CW: Senators Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, and Representative Earl Pomeroy. I would love to work with them in getting a bill passed!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chimps on the Hill

The U.S. House of Representatives will host a special exhibit tomorrow featuring photographs and video footage that tell the powerful story of chimpanzees currently confined in U.S. laboratories—some for more than 50 years—and those living in sanctuaries. If you are in the Washington area, I hope you will be there.

While many Americans were experiencing the excitement of the first man walking on the moon, some of these chimps were growing up behind bars. Approximately 1,000 of these highly intelligent and social creatures are languishing in cages, while ironically are largely unused in active research. Five hundred of them are owned by the federal government at great cost to American taxpayers. This warehousing and research is expensive—to the tune of around $25 million per year. And it takes a major toll not only on taxpayers but also on the chimps themselves.

The Great Ape Protection Act (H.R. 1326) will end the
use of chimps in invasive research and also stop the
fleecing of American taxpayers.

That’s why Congress needs to pass the Great Ape Protection Act (H.R. 1326), championed by U.S. Reps. Ed Towns (D-N.Y.), Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), and Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.). The legislation would require that the 500 federally-owned chimps be retired to sanctuary, that invasive research on all 1,000 chimpanzees be phased out, and that National Institutes of Health administrative ban on breeding chimps for research be codified.

Chimpanzees have proven to be ineffective for research purposes, despite their extraordinary similarity to people. The 2% difference between their DNA and that of humans accounts for significant differences in immunity and disease progression. Researchers discovered this when studying HIV—finding that chimpanzees do not develop AIDS from HIV like humans do.

Given the fact that chimp research has hardly been critical to research efforts, the high cost of caring for a chimp in a laboratory (ranging anywhere from $36 to $60 per day), and the serious ethical implications involved, it’s not surprising that there has been a significant decline in the use of chimps in invasive research over the past few decades. Retiring these animals to sanctuaries is not only the right thing to do, but would also be less expensive—saving taxpayers millions of dollars annually.

While chimpanzee research is expensive and rarely applied, Americans also find it simply unethical. A 2006 study found that 71% of respondents feel that chimpanzees housed in laboratories for more than ten years should be retired. In 2001, 54% of people surveyed were opposed to chimpanzee research that caused pain, even for human benefit. The United States is, after all, the only developed nation in the world where chimps are still used in invasive experiments.

One-fifth of all House members have already signed on as cosponsors of the Great Ape Protection Act. It’s time to pass this common-sense legislation to not only give these chimpanzees the reprieve that they deserve, but also to stop the fleecing of American taxpayers.

I invite you to join us from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 28, in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building, to learn more about this critical bill and the creatures whose lives are at stake.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Reckless Killing of Yellowstone’s Celebrated Wolves

When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this year removed wolves from the protections of the Endangered Species Act, it paved the way for the same reckless sport hunting and persecution that put these animals on the endangered species list in the first place. And now we’ve learned that the first sport hunting season on wolves to occur in the lower 48 states since the 1980s has claimed the lives of some of Yellowstone National Park’s most celebrated wolves and has shattered years of critical research by wolf biologists.

The de-listing of wolves has claimed the lives of
Yellowstone’s most celebrated wolves.

Just weeks after Montana’s wolf hunt began, about half the members of Yellowstone’s famed Cottonwood wolf pack—including two radio-collared females known as Wolf 527 and her daughter, Wolf 716—were killed by hunters outside the park. Yellowstone’s wolves are famous to the world thanks to television documentaries on National Geographic, PBS, and the BBC. As one of the very few unexploited wolf populations in North America, their behavior, life history, travels, and genealogy have been carefully studied by scientists since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995.

But not anymore. Kim Murphy reported in the Los Angeles Times on the impact the wolf hunt has had on scientific research:

“Whether the pack exists anymore or not, to us the pack is gone,” said Doug Smith, the biologist in charge of the Yellowstone reintroduction program that helped bring wolves back from the brink of extinction in the Northern Rockies. Cottonwood “was a key pack on the northern range,” he said, giving researchers a window into the existence of animals that had little or no interaction with humans.

We knew the de-listing of wolves would have tragic consequences. But even Montana state officials were shocked by the ease with which wolves were gunned down by hunters, and they suspended the hunt along a section of Montana’s backcountry near the northern border of Yellowstone.

Wolf hunting advocates in Montana and Idaho argued that the hunts were needed to control predation on livestock, and they trotted out their usual bromides about scientific wildlife management. But what they’ve done instead is roll back years of science, and target wolves who weren’t any threat to livestock at all—wolves who were feeding on elk and were part of Yellowstone’s natural ecosystem. In fact, Montana’s wolf hunting season overlapped with its elk season, and it seems the Cottonwood wolves were attracted to the gut piles left by elk hunters just outside the park’s borders.

More than anything, it demonstrates that the decision to take wolves off the endangered species list was unscientific and premature. Federal courts have rejected the government’s de-listing proposals six times, but it wasn’t enough to save Wolf 527 or Wolf 716. While it’s open season in Montana and Idaho, a lawsuit by The Humane Society of the United States has provided a stay of execution for wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Many environmentalists and animal advocates around the country voted for President Obama because they just couldn’t stomach Sarah Palin’s retrograde policies on wolves—now they’ve been saddened and let down by the Administration’s de-listing decision. It’s time to call off the wolf killing before it sets wolf conservation back any further and destroys more of their close-knit families.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Loss for Alaska’s Wild

In Alaska, some people use airplanes to shoot wolves. But Dr. Gordon Haber used airplanes to help wolves and study the species.

Dr. Gordon Haber was an important voice for wolves in

I was heartbroken to learn that Dr. Haber died last week in a plane crash in a remote area of Denali National Park, after embarking on a single-engine flight over the northern end of the park to monitor his beloved Toklat pack. The pilot, Dan McGregor, suffered severe burns but survived. 

Dr. Haber had been studying Denali’s wolf packs for more than four decades, and had been a critically important voice for wolves in Alaska where the state professional wildlife biologists were aligned in an unholy way with the hunting lobby. He brought knowledge and understanding about one of the world’s most misunderstood and wrongly persecuted predators. He was particularly critical of Alaska’s state policies of mismanaging wolves, through trapping and airborne hunting, to artificially boost populations of moose and caribou for trophy hunters.

My colleague John Balzar interviewed the renowned wolf biologist in 1994 for a Los Angeles Times story on Alaska’s wolf killing program, and here’s what Dr. Haber said at the time:

We are shredding their social structure—the very thing that makes them wolves. We’re not talking about just having four-legged canines survive out there, but wolves. And what makes them wolves is their very sophisticated social structure. That’s what sets this species apart.

Wildness and wild animals have lost a true champion. We can honor Dr. Haber’s memory by fighting for the protection of wolves everywhere—from Alaska, where the state continues to wage its war on wolves, to the halls of Congress, which must pass the Protect America’s Wildlife (PAW) Act to stop the unnecessary and unscientific aerial gunning of these creatures.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Helping Vets, Pets, and Primates

Congress took two steps in recent days on animal issues, as part of its larger bills related to the Department of Defense and military spending. 

I wrote back in July about legislation introduced by Senators Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Representatives Ron Klein (D-Fla.) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) with the goal of helping to place service dogs with disabled veterans. I’m pleased tell you that that the final National Defense Authorization Act for 2010 approved by both the House and Senate includes a provision backed by Franken, Isakson, Klein, and Whitfield, which instructs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to partner with nonprofit organizations to conduct “a three-year study to assess the benefits, feasibility, and advisability of using service dogs for the treatment or rehabilitation of veterans with physical or mental injuries or disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Pairing vets with pets is good for both the
soldier and canine.

A study doesn’t translate into immediate action, but it does provide a pathway for pushing a new issue forward in a military culture that is sometimes resistant to change. We expect a study to confirm what we’ve long known: that pairing vets with pets is good for both soldier and canine. For wounded warriors and disabled veterans, caring for a pet can help them reenter society and minimize stress and depression. Service dogs can also reduce the suicide rate among veterans, and provide other critical help—such as letting them know when it’s time to take medication, waking them from terrifying nightmares, or detecting changes in their breathing, perspiration, or scent to ward off panic attacks.

We hope that such programs will be designed to help rescued dogs as well as service members, and such inspiration can be found in the work of retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman and celebrity dog trainer Tamar Geller. Tamar’s program, Operation Heroes and Hounds, for example, is teaching wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan how to train shelter dogs to make the dogs more adoptable. Both canines and humans learn a new set of skills that will make a positive impact on their future.

Secondly, the Department of Defense Appropriations bill for 2010 included a provision by Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) directing the Army to produce a report on the use of live primates in training relating to chemical and biological agents. In one form of chemical casualty management training, anesthetized primates are given a chemical called physostigmine, which simulates exposure to a nerve gas by causing cholinergic intoxication. This intoxication may include symptoms such as salivation, difficulty swallowing, diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, increased heart rate, muscle twitches, weakness, paralysis, seizures and coma.

Byrd’s provision—which was approved unanimously in the Senate version of the bill and still needs to be reconciled with the House version—seeks to examine the fiscal and animal care issues involved with keeping these long-lived creatures in research, and the costs of phasing out the use of primates and converting to human simulators or other alternatives in such training. Byrd, who is a lifelong champion of animal protection and the recipient last year of The HSUS’s Joseph Wood Krutch Medal, said that, “It is right and humane to call attention to our responsibility for the welfare of animals and I look forward to the findings in the DOD report.”

We are grateful to Senators Byrd, Franken, and Isakson, and Representatives Klein and Whitfield for advancing these important measures, which reflect the broader celebration of the human-animal bond and the need to confront practices such as invasive research on great apes. Thanks to these leaders, Congress continues to make progress toward improving our care for the men and women who serve our country, and improving our care of animals, too.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Talk Back: Thanks and Spanks

I always like to hear your thoughts on my blogs and today I’d like to post a few reader comments to recent posts.

I’ve received many comments praising Ben Byrom, a 14-year-old Californian, who has been a stellar advocate for animals.

Awww, kids like Ben are very inspiring to me. As a teacher, I deal with a lot of apathetic and narcissistic kids. Hearing stories like Ben's reminds me that there are nice and caring children around the world who take the initiative to end injustices when they see them. Thank you for your good heart, Ben!—Sara N.

Ben has touched my heart and gives me hope because children are our future and their voices do count. He is an inspiration and a real hero!! Way to go Ben!!!—Lisa K.

Last month, The Ad Council, The Humane Society of the United States, and Maddie’s Fund launched The Shelter Pet Project, a national public service advertising campaign urging pet lovers to make shelter adoption their first choice.

It’s always good to hear about new pet programs but I really am only concerned with ones that actually do something to increase ownership responsibility. We need to pass a breeder permit law for everyone who wants to keep their pet from being fixed. We need to stop the selling of dogs and cats in all flea markets, newspapers, and out of their cars. I want to see every pet owner commit to keeping their pet for their entire life and if they must relinquish their duty, a system is in place to keep accurate records of where this animal goes. It should be the same responsibility one would have if they had a child.—Michael A.

Virginia state Sen. Ken Cucinnelli is an apologist for cockfighting and has a record of extreme opposition to animal protection policies. This November, he is running for attorney general in Virginia.

This person is a disgrace to the human race. How on earth he could be elected is beyond me. Thank you for exposing him and his philosophy to the voters in Virginia. I have faith in them; now that he has been exposed. I have faith he will be defeated.—Penny B.

A federal court in Kentucky made a step in the right direction this week when it upheld nearly every component of Louisville’s animal care and control ordinance, which protects pets and their owners.

A kennel club tried to overturn prohibitions on animal cruelty? What on earth is wrong with them? Good for the courts for not giving in to temptation to demonize a whole breed of dog. The owner should bear responsibility for how the dog was trained (or not!). Every pet deserves a loving home and a chance to be valued as a living family member.—T.A. P.

Thank you all for submitting these comments, and please keep the feedback coming. If you have a question or comment and would like to join the conversation, please send me an email. Thanks for all you do for animals.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

It’s Animal Cruelty, Not Animal Planet

I had the privilege of sitting in the U.S. Supreme Court this morning as the nine justices debated whether to uphold the federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law, which Congress passed in 1999 to bar the commercial trafficking in videos of illegal animal torture for profit. The justices asked thoughtful questions about the balance between freedom of speech and the governmental interest in stamping out deplorable cruelty to animals. Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal did an outstanding job defending the anti-cruelty statute and making the government’s case that the measure is narrowly constructed to stop inhumane and illegal conduct, not expression.


Today, the U.S. Supreme Court considered a landmark case
regarding the commercial sale of videos showing
illegal acts of animal torture.

But the most interesting turn of events came later on the high court steps, where proponents and opponents of the law gathered to offer their comments to reporters. For some time leading up to the hearing, the man convicted under the law for peddling several dogfighting videos, Bob Stevens, has been described by the press and by his own attorneys as a documentary filmmaker, someone who is not involved in dogfighting but is rather just a journalist seeking to inform others about the issue—as if he doesn’t represent the dark underworld of dogfighting, but rather represents Animal Planet or National Geographic. This despite the fact that Stevens says at the beginning of one of his own videos, “Japan Pit Fights,” that he flew his own dogs to Japan to participate in staged combat.

When Stevens’ attorney, Robert Corn-Revere, was questioned after today’s hearing about whether the man was in fact a reporter or a dogfighter, here’s what he had to say:

Mr. Stevens is not a dogfighter, he is not a dogfight promoter, he is a pit bull enthusiast. And yes, he has dogs who have been involved in fights.

So he fights his dogs, but he’s not a dogfighter? It sounds like his own version of what the definition of “is” is.

The fact is the law includes a broad exemption for depictions with any “serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value”—it’s just that selling videos of animals being maimed and tortured to people who are titillated by the violence and the bloodletting doesn’t qualify. We’ve already seen a huge resurgence in “crush videos”—where scantily clad women crush mice, kittens, and other small animals to death with their bare feet or high heels—readily available for sale again over the Internet due to Stevens’ constitutional challenge. If this important anti-cruelty law is not upheld, we can be sure that dogfighters like Stevens, too, will retreat from their dark corner and cause more and more animals to suffer for their snuff films.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Court Upholds Law Protecting People and Pets

While the U.S. Supreme Court tomorrow will consider a landmark case on the commercial sale of videos showing illegal acts of animal torture, another decision just issued by a federal court in Louisville could also have a meaningful impact on animal protection policies nationwide. The court upheld as constitutional nearly every component of Louisville’s comprehensive animal care and control ordinance, which protects pets and their owners in the metro area.

A federal court upheld Louisville's comprehensive animal
care and control ordinance

The controversy began in November 2005, with two fatal attacks by pit bulls in Louisville, and city lawmakers reacted by proposing a pit bull ban. The city’s animal control ordinance was set to expire anyway, resulting from the merger of the Louisville and Jefferson County governments, so lawmakers decided to take the opportunity to address more wide-ranging problems, such as Louisville’s overpopulation of stray dogs and cats.

HSUS and other groups that oppose breed-specific legislation argued that a ban on pit bulls would be ineffective at addressing dangerous dog problems, and that other factors, such as the level of training and socialization provided by the dog’s owner, have a greater impact on aggressive behavior. To their great credit, lawmakers opted to pursue a measure that was not breed-specific but instead placed primary responsibility for a dog’s behavior on owners, and encouraged owners to consider spaying and neutering their dogs in order to decrease the likelihood of biting and aggression. 

The new law passed in 2007 not only took a proactive approach to dangerous dogs, but also strengthened other areas of the law—protecting dogs from continuous tethering, imposing certain requirements on dog owners and kennels to provide basic necessities to their dogs, disclosing information to consumers who purchase animals, and incentivizing the spaying and neutering of pets through differential licensing fees. Given that Louisville’s shelter euthanasia rate was three times the national average, something had to be done to address particularly acute and escalating animal control problems.

In their zeal to prevent any restrictions on animal use, however, the Louisville Kennel Club, local hunting organizations, and other plaintiffs filed a broad and haphazard lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of nearly two-dozen provisions of the law, including both newly enacted provisions and provisions that have existed in the Louisville animal control ordinance for years. The Kennel Club sought to invalidate the entire ordinance, which would have deprived the Louisville metro government of its ability to provide critical public safety protections for its citizens, divest the county’s animal control department of virtually every one of its functions, decriminalize acts of cruelty to animals, and put the county back on track toward becoming one of the most prolific dog and cat killing jurisdictions in the nation.

On Friday, the federal district court resoundingly rejected the Kennel Club’s challenge to the law. The court did not strike any of the language of the ordinance, and enjoined implementation of only one aspect of the law in a very narrow class of cases—the forfeiture of animals where a court has determined that there is probable cause that a violation of the law has occurred, but the owner is not able to pay a bond to cover the costs of care for the animal pending trial, and the owner is eventually acquitted of the offense. The court did not strike the bond requirement, nor the provision requiring forfeiture of animals to the metro government in certain cases after an owner is found to be in violation of the animal control ordinance.

The Kennel Club’s effort to invalidate key provisions of the ordinance was rejected over and over again in the court’s opinion. Important sections of the animal control law challenged by the Kennel Club and upheld by the court include the:

  • prohibition of cruelty to animals;
  • provisions preventing animal nuisances;
  • restrictions on tethering animals in a cruel or neglectful manner;
  • provisions concerning impoundment and license revocation;
  • restrictions on sales of dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs;
  • provisions granting animal control the authority to seize animals of owners violating the ordinance;
  • requirements for veterinarians to report public health information, such as vaccination records and animal bites, to the government; and
  • definitions of “dangerous dog,” “potentially dangerous dog,” “proper enclosures” for unaltered dogs, “nuisance,” “attack,” “restraint,” and “cruelty.”

Notably, the court also resoundingly rejected the Kennel Club’s challenges to the enforcement authority of the director of Louisville Metro Animal Services, discarding the claims of “arbitrary” and “selective” enforcement. Responding to the allegation that the director intends to conduct warrantless searches in enforcing the ordinance, the court stated that the Kennel Club and other plaintiffs “are doing battle with a bogeyman of their own conjuring.”

Other municipalities have adopted more sweeping ordinances, such as pit bull bans or mandatory spay and neuter. Louisville policymakers, after a long and unusually deliberative legislative process, adopted a comprehensive but measured approach, striking a balance between the governmental interests in public health and safety and the interests of animal owners. And the court, in upholding the core provisions of the measure, sent the message that the protection of animal welfare is an important governmental responsibility.

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