LE: ALDF has been advocating for nonhuman animals in relation to the law for over 30 years. What are some of the key changes you have seen during this time?
AA: When the Animal Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1979, there really was no such thing as “animal law”—it hadn’t been invented yet. The whole notion of using the law as a tool for animal advocacy was a new one, on the heels of the growing environmental law movement. Nearly everything was yet to be done.
The fundamental problem that animals face under the law is that they are considered property—no different than a table or a chair. And so they cannot advocate for themselves in courtrooms or legislatures—this is the task that ALDF has taken on. We’ve tackled issues like enforcement of the federal Animal Welfare Act, standing to sue, animal custody battles, the right to kill animals pursuant to will provisions, landlord-tenant issues, and damages and recovery for injury to or death of an animal.
Changes in the legal landscape can be slow—but there have been very significant victories since ALDF’s inception. Many judges are now beginning to recognize that animals, even if they are still considered “property,” are at least a special kind of property, who have interests of their own that merit consideration. We’re starting to see significant prison sentences for convicted animal abusers, and even farm workers now being charged with acts of cruelty against so-called “livestock.” And just this month, South Dakota finally became the 50th state to adopt a felony cruelty provision.
LE: In Canada, we are closely watching the implications of Ag-gag legislation in the U.S. Can you talk about your efforts to defeat these bills?
AA: Ag-gag laws aim to silence animal advocates and prevent the documentation of animal welfare, worker safety, and food safety violations. By doing so, the ag industry is “gagging” free speech, writing its own laws to protect its interests, while violating the constitutional rights of those who would expose the industry’s illegal behavior. Last July in Utah, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, supported by a coalition of animal protection, food safety, journalists, and civil liberties groups, filed the nation’s first lawsuit against a state ag-gag law, and now, with a similar coalition, we have just filed a law suit against the state of Idaho, the seventh state to pass such a law.
As a nation, we rely on these exposés to keep the powerful agriculture industry in check. A 2012 consumer survey by Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Department of Animal Sciences found that the public relies on the information gathered by animal protection groups and investigative journalists more than they rely on industry groups and the government combined. The importance of constitutionally protected free speech and the public’s need for this information cannot be overstated.
LE: THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE is excited to be partnering with ALDF, to help towards your goal of achieving 1 million signatures of the Animal Bill of Rights petition. Can you talk about the origins of this initiative and what ALDF hopes to accomplish with the success of this campaign?
AA: The Animal Bill of Rights campaign is one of ALDF’s longest-running initiatives. Our Bill of Rights enumerates cherished essential rights including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly. However, as far as the law is concerned, the situation for animals in this country is dire. ALDF’s Animal Bill of Rights is a petition to the United States Congress, stating the basic, inalienable rights that all sentient beings have—and that our government should protect.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is now expanding this campaign with our new video message about liberty and justice for all—including animals—and we are so excited to be teaming up with THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE in our efforts to show Congress a groundswell of support for legislation that protects animals. More than a quarter-million Americans have already signed the Animal Bill of Rights…and we are pushing to gather one million signatures.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is our Featured Animal Ambassador for March 2014.