Animal Legal & Ethical Issues

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

There are more Tigers in captivity in the U.S. then there are in the wild

Giving a legal voice for all animals

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) seeks to give a legal voice to all animals. They work with issues such as animals on the verge of extinction, animals used in research, captive animals, companion animals, animal cruelty cases, farmed animals, wildlife, and fighting against puppy mills. One of the big issues ALDF addresses is working towards creating stronger anti-cruelty laws, and enforcing the ones that do exist. This is an important step in the direction of giving animals legal status and protection.

"The Animal Legal Defense Fund files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm, provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors in their fight against animal cruelty, supports animal protection legislation, and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the field of animal law."

One case they are working on is with a horse named Justice. "In 2018, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a groundbreaking lawsuit on behalf of an 8-year-old horse named Justice. If successful, this lawsuit will be the first to establish that animals have a legal right to sue their abusers in court."

Just one more reason why it is so important to protect animals from individual acts of cruelty is there is a high correlation between people who harm animals and will later commit violent crimes and crimes against people. According to the ALDF "Studies have shown that animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violence against people. In addition, many the recent perpetrators of severe acts of violence have had a history of abusing innocent animals before turning their weapons on innocent people." This is often seen in cases of domestic abuse, that there are animals in the situation who were also harmed.

Animal cruelty does not occur in a vacuum, and the failure to fully examine its origins would likely lead to future criminal acts and the continued cycle of abuse and violence.”

Hon. H. Lee Chitwood, Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, Pulaski, VA

Do Animals Have Habeas Corpus Rights that Can Be Legally Defended?

The organization Non-Human Rights Project is dedicated to legal defense of animals, arguing for their release from various forms of captivity. They believe that:

"Humans are not the only animals entitled to recognition and protection of their fundamental rights."

“We are on the cusp of changing the legal relationship between nonhuman animals and humans. The time is now to push even harder, as hard as we can. And keep pushing until we win."

- NhRP President Steven M. Wise

Below NhRP President Steven Wise explains the issues of "Personhood" rights for animals. A wonderful documentary about the fight for this right is called Unlocking the Cage.

Animal Testing Labs

These dogs have never been outside. When they are finished testing, they are euthanized

According to the ALDF, there are more than one million animals in laboratory research in the U.S. They do not have any rights, are not protected from harm, are often kept in isolation from members of their own species, and usually get no play time. Some dogs are kept in cages their entire lives and have never walked on grass.

As the ALDF says on their website, "Animal testing is a cruel and gruesome industry.

Animals are subjected to horrifically painful experiments, oftentimes without pain killers. There is little regulation or meaningful oversight of the labs in which animals are experimented on. And for all that pain, experts say that the testing isn’t even effective."

In many cases, since the animals are so stressed from captivity and pain, the experiments done on them are not useful to understand how the drugs will work with humans. In short, animal testing is not effective. They are cruel and useless.

Since 1929 The National Anti-Vivisection Society has fought against the cruel practices of animal experimentation and has sought to educate researchers to consider more effective methods that do not involve animal cruel testing.

Wild Animals Kept in Cages

Keeping a wild animal in a cage is torture

More tigers live in cages in this country than exist in all the wild," according to the ALDF website. "They are just some of the millions of wild animals living in captivity across the United States. Some are in aquariums, circuses, theme parks, and zoos, others live caged at private homes. But few federal laws protect these animals, who may be forced to perform or kept confined in small cages with little to keep their minds occupied and bodies well.

State laws vary considerably, with some states banning the ownership of wild and exotic animals while others have virtually no regulation whatsoever. Captive animals need better laws and better enforcement of those laws."

The Animal Welfare Act of the United Kingdom (2006)

The Animal Welfare Act of 2006 in the UK protects domesticated animals under the care of humans. A person would be considered to have committed an offense if he “does not take such steps as are reasonable in all the circumstances to ensure that the needs of an animal for which he is responsible are met to the extent required by good practice.”

The Act takes into account what is known as the basic minimum of quality of care or the Five Freedoms that an animal should experience in the care of a human. These are the basic needs of: a suitable environment, a suitable diet, the freedom to exhibit normal behavior patterns for that animal, the ability to be either housed with or apart from other animals as appropriate for that individual, and the need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury, and disease.

The Five Freedoms of the UK Animal Welfare Act:


(by ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor).


(by providing an appropriate environment, including shelter

and a comfortable resting area).




The UK Animal Welfare Act also refers to doing no harm to animals and has stipulations to define what harm is and to protect against unnecessary suffering and cruelty. This would refer to mutilation, administering poisons, allowing or encouraging animals fighting or other forms of deliberate abuse. In England, if a constable or inspector believes that an animal is in distress, he may take actions to assist the animal.

In the UK, The Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs has added a comprehensive Code of Conduct for the basic minimum requirements of both dogs and cats. This explores in detail the five freedoms or basic standards of care in ownership. While an offense of this code is not punishable, it is a standard whereby a complaint against an owner can be evaluated. In regard to the thoroughness of this code, the UK is a leader in promoting animal welfare.

Animal Welfare Act in the U.S.

The US does not have a federal law that is as comprehensive or protective as animals as the UK Animal Welfare Act of 2006. What the US does have is The Animal Welfare Act enacted in 1966 (and amended by congress three times since). Congress assigned the responsibility for carrying out the AWA to a federal agency - the Department of Agriculture. Within this Department, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has day-to-day responsibility for the law. The law operates by requiring all persons covered by the law to have a license issued by the government and then having animal care standards which those with a license must follow.

Please do not buy products that have been tested on animals

There are approximately 60 APHIS inspectors for the entire US. According to research published in 2002 by David Favre, for the year 1999, “Some facilities are inspected twice a year, others every year or so, and research facilities, each year. The inspection is to assure the rules and regulations are being followed. In 1999 APHIS carried out over 9,000 inspections, 313 cases were investigated for violations, and over $500,000 in fines were imposed by administrative judges for violations of the AWA.”

And the US AWA law only protects certain animals in certain situations, such as in commerce, interstate travel, how animal dealers operate, and some aspects of life in research labs, or the attempt to dissuade labs from purchasing stolen pets. It governs the transportation, sale and handling of certain animals. More specifically, it ensures that animals are provided with humane care and treatment during transportation, purchase, sale, housing, care, and handling by persons or organizations using them for research or exhibition purposes or as pets.

Many animals are not covered in this act such as snakes, lab rats, mice, birds, pets sold in stores, state or state and county fairs, livestock shows, rodeos, purebred dog and cat shows, and fairs or exhibitions intended to advance agricultural arts and sciences. It also does not cover how farmers treat animals. How individuals care for their pet animals is not covered by this federal law. This means that aside from some basic provisions such as temperature control animals in research labs are not covered, such as 1.2 million rats, 4.2 million mice, 1.9 million birds annually just to mention a few breeds.

According to the NAVS (National Ani-Vivisection Society), 60,979 dogs were used in research, testing, or experimentation in the year 2016. Many of them are beagles, since they are so gentle, and most of them are euthanized after the research is complete. NAVS states that “nearly 95% of drugs that pass through preclinical testing on animals ultimately fails in human clinical trials.” They believe that animal testing is often not warranted and the level of stress, anxiety and fear animals experience in laboratory settings can have a negative effect on the accuracy and efficacy of these studies.

There are some groups working to get laboratory animals put up for adoption rather than euthanized when the experiments are complete. One group is the White Coat Waste Project. The VA has promised to make progress toward this goal.

Thus the US Animal Welfare Act is a federal law that is limited in scope. The primary areas that it does address are:

· The theft of pet dogs and cats that were being sold to research and testing facilities

· Animals in zoos & exhibitions

· Animal fighting (dogs and bird cocks primarily)

· The breeding and wholesale distribution of some mammals

· Auctions of animals

· Animals in research labs (universities and private industry)

· The transportation of listed animals by other than common carriers

This federal law is not concerned with many basic levels of animal freedom, quality of life, and conditions such as are referred to by addressing the Five Basic Needs or freedoms in the UK. Just a few of the issues not covered are:

· Veterinary care of animals outside licensed institutions.

· Use of animals in K-12 education

· Hunting & fishing & trapping issues

· Slaughter of animals (some issues are addressed by the federal Humane Slaughter Act)

· Animals in agriculture production

· Retail pet stores

· Injuries by animals or inflicted upon animals

Moving Toward an Enlightened View of Animals

In the eighteenth century Madame Roland, a supporter of the French Revolution, who died by guillotine during the reign of terror, famously said "Plus je vois les hommes, plus j’admire les chiens." Translation:

“The more I see of men, the more I admire dogs."

Animals have rich emotional lives, strong intelligence, and a capacity for such evolved experiences as joy, tranquility, and love. They suffer both physically and mentally from prolonged captivity.

Peter Singer, the author of Animal Liberation, first published in 1975, has been speaking to the issues of better treatment of animals. And it all starts with viewing them as our equals in terms of rights. They are sentient beings who must be protected.

It is time for us to take compassionate action. Protect the rights of animals in any way you are drawn to. Animals teach us empathy, patience, focus, responsibility, and the ability to be in the present moment. As well as physical companions, they are also spiritual companions. They can teach us to appreciate their exquisite consciousness, and how to feel the oneness with all life. Through protecting them, perhaps we will learn to be better humans.

Compassion, one animal, one moment at a time....

Genie Joseph, PhD

Director: The Human-Animal Connection


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