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April News

  Curious about changes to state animal-related laws in 2021? Look no further! Our Table of Statutory Amendments from 2021 allows you to see all of the major changes right in one table with links to the new or amended law. Highlights include Arizona adding a possession ban for those convicted of animal cruelty crimes, making it the 39th state with such a law. Washington became the fifth state to ban the sale of dogs and cats at retail pet stores. Nevada and New York now prohibit discrimination against dog breeds in home owners insurance policies by state insurers. Hawaii became the first state in the nation to mandate microchipping of dogs and cats. Texas strengthened its dog tethering provisions through passage of the Safe Outdoor Dog Act. On the wild animal side, Maryland banned brutal "killing contests" and Virginia outlawed wildlife exhibitors from offering direct contact with dangerous wild animals. Check out the table for all the changes last year!

  Nevada and now New York pass legislation to prohibit discrimination based on dog breed by insurance companies. Over the summer, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed SB 103 into law, which prohibits an insurer from refusing to issue, cancelling, refusing to renew or increasing the premium or rate for certain policies of insurance on the sole basis of the specific breed or mixture of breeds. On October 30th, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed Senate Bill 4254, which states, “[w]ith respect to homeowners’ insurance policies . . . no insurer shall refuse to issue or renew, cancel, or charge or impose an increased premium or rate . . . based solely upon harboring or owning any dog of a specific breed or mixture of breeds.” Animal advocates contend that insurance breed bans were the result of sensationalized news stories on pitbulls from the 1980s. Other small dog breeds are statistically more aggressive and insurance claims for liability related to dog bites are actually a small percentage of all claims according to a NYS Animal Protection Federation white paper developed in support of the NY legislation (see also The Case Against Dog Breed Discrimination by Homeowners' Insurance Companies, 11 Conn. Ins. L.J. 1 (2004)). At least 22 other states have previously enacted such legislation.

   Texas passes Safe Outdoor Dogs Bill, which prohibits dogs from being left unattended or cruelly restrained outside. Senate Bill 5 was signed into law on October 29, 2021 by Governor Greg Abbott and goes into effect on January 18, 2022. Under the changes, owners will be barred from tying up their dogs outside with chains or weighed-down restraints. The length of an outdoor restraint must be 10 feet long or five times the dog’s length from nose to tail. The law removes the 24-hour waiting period before law enforcement can intervene that existed in the 2007 tethering law. The new law establishes a Class C misdemeanor violation for first-time offenders and a Class B misdemeanor for subsequent offenses. Owners must now provide "adequate shelter" to leave a dog outside, which includes protection from direct sunlight, drinking water, and sufficient space for dogs to avoid standing water and exposure to excessive animal waste.

News archives

Cases

Washington Supreme Court holds animal cruelty is a crime of domestic violence. State v. Abdi-Issa, 504 P.3d 223 (Wash. 2022). The incident stems from an evening after defendant insisted on taking his girlfriend's dog, a small Chihuahua and Dachshund mix, for a walk. The girlfriend testified that defendant had a history of disliking the dog and had previously threatened to kill both her and her dog. On that evening, two witnesses heard "a sound of great distress" and saw defendant making "brutal stabbing" motions toward the dog and then saw him kick the dog so hard that she flew into the air. Police officers responded and then transported the dog to a veterinary clinic where the dog subsequently died. One of the two witnesses had a panic attack at the scene and testified later that she continued to have panic attacks thereafter with flashbacks of the experience. Defendant was charged and found guilty of first-degree animal cruelty with a domestic violence designation and also two sentencing aggravators. On appeal, the Court of Appeals vacated the domestic violence designation and the impact on others sentence aggravator. On appeal here, the Supreme Court found that animal cruelty could be designated a crime of domestic violence. The statute defining domestic violence has a non-exhaustive list of what crimes can constitute domestic violence. While animal cruelty is not listed, the court found that testimony of defendant's prior controlling behavior coupled with research showing how abusers use violence toward their victims' pets to manipulate and terrorize victims was sufficient. As to the sentencing aggravator, the court found that defendant's actions had a destructive and foreseeable impact on the witnesses who saw the animal cruelty. Thus, under these facts, the Court ruled that animal cruelty can be designated a crime of domestic violence and that the jury was properly instructed that it could find the impact on others sentencing aggravator. The judgment of Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. 

After private complaint filed by organization, Pennsylvania court reverses district attorney decision not to charge local farm for animal cruelty based on undercover investigation. In re Priv. Crim. Complaint Filed by Animal Outlook, 2022 WL 588181, 2022 PA Super 37 (Feb. 28, 2022). The requested charges stem from information obtained from an undercover agent who was employed at Martin Farms, where she captured video of cruel mistreatment of animals on the farm that AO contends constituted criminal animal cruelty. Ultimately, the PSP issued a press release in March 2020 that indicated that the District Attorney had declined prosecution. After this, AO drafted private criminal complaints that were submitted to the Magisterial District Judge who concluded that the DA correctly determined that there was not enough evidence for prosecution. AO then filed a petition of review of the disapproval of its private complaints pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 506(B)(1) before the trial court, which again dismissed AO petition for review. AO filed this appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. In reviewing the trial court's decision, the Superior Court found that the trial court committed multiple errors of law. This court found that AO provided sufficient evidence to show prima facie cases of neglect, cruelty, and aggravated cruelty with respect to the incidents. The court then analyzed whether the record supported a defense of "normal agricultural operations" defense that would counter the charges. This court found that incidents like the dehorning of cattle that already had horns fused to the skull and extreme tail twisting and shocking were sufficient to overcome the affirmative defense. The trial court's dismissal of AO's petition for review was reversed and the trial court was ordered to direct the DA to accept and transmit charges for prosecution.

Iowa's new "ag-gag" law ruled unconstitutional due to viewpoint discrimination of protected speech. Animal Legal Def. Fund v. Reynolds, --- F.Supp.3d ----, 2022 WL 777231 (S.D. Iowa Mar. 14, 2022). Plaintiffs contend that Iowa's new "ag-gag" law criminalizes their actions in gathering information through undercover investigations at animal production facilities. Both parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. Plaintiffs contend that the new law violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution because it discriminates based on content and viewpoint and cannot survive strict scrutiny. The court first noted that the issue with § 717A.3B, and other laws aimed at prohibiting trespassers at agricultural facilities, is the law seeks to single out specific individuals for punishment based on their viewpoint regarding such facilities. This law operates in a viewpoint discriminatory fashion because it prohibits the deceptive trespasser who gains access or obtain employment at an agricultural facility with the intent to cause “economic harm ... to the agricultural production facility's ... business interest" as opposed to trespassers with an intent to benefit the facility. Thus, Section 717A.3B does not focus solely on the right to exclude, the legally cognizable harm of trespass, but only on the right to exclude those with particular viewpoints. While the court noted that a state legislature may determine whether specific facilities—such as agricultural facilities, nuclear power plants, military bases, or other sensitive buildings—are entitled to special legal protections, the First Amendment does not allow those protections to be based on a violator's viewpoint. Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment was granted and Defendant's was denied.

Case Archives

Articles

From Factory Farming to A Sustainable Food System: A Legislative Approach, Michelle Johnson-Weider, 32 Geo. Envtl. L. Rev. 685 (2020).

Backyard Breeding: Regulatory Nuisance, Crime Precursor, Lisa Milot, 85 Tenn. L. Rev. 707 (2018).

When Fido is Family: How Landlord-Imposed Pet Bans Restrict Access to Housing, Kate O'Reilly-Jones, 52 Colum. J.L. & Soc. Probs. 427 (Spring, 2019).

Does Every Dog Really Have Its Day?: A Closer Look at the Inequity of Iowa's Breed-Specific Legislation, Olivia Slater, 66 Drake L. Rev. 975 (2018).