Year-End Review of State and Federal Animal Protection Laws and Enforcement

When I think of 2008’s contribution to animal protection laws, two themes come to mind: animal fighting and factory farming. Michael Vick’s high-profile federal conviction for dog fighting, although it occurred in 2007, seems to have affected state and federal animal fighting laws and correlating enforcement measures throughout 2008. Additionally, we witnessed a trend of several states legislating minimum space requirements for certain species confined in factory farms.


The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s (ALDF’s) website currently features a ranking of U.S. state and territories’ animal protection laws in 2008. The ranking is based on 14 categories of animal protection laws. In addition to being individually ranked, states are grouped into three tiers, and the best 5 and worst 5 are also highlighted. This year, the 5 states with the strongest animal protection laws proved to be: California, Illinois, Maine, Michigan and Oregon. Joining them in rounding out the top tier are Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Vermont, the Virgin Islands and Virginia. ALDF makes a point of noting, however, that even the top-ranked states can do much more to help animals through lawmaking.



Animal Fighting

Thanks to heightened public awareness and legal penalties for animal fighting, 2008 brought about amendments to numerous state dog fighting and animal fighting laws, some expanding their reach and some increasing their penalties. Apparently, 18 states expanded or otherwise strengthened their laws in 2008. This chart displays each U.S. state’s current laws pertaining to animal fighting and allows you to see when each was last amended. And here is a ranking of all states’ dog-fighting laws. Some of the newly strengthened laws and heightened pressure on police officers to enforce existing laws have already proven worthwhile, as in the large-scale bust of a Texas dog-fighting ring a few weeks ago. Texas had just made dog fighting a felony in 2007, in response to the Michael Vick case. Fifty-five people have allegedly been indicted, and more than 100 dogs have been seized.


Additionally, the Michael Vick scandal appears to have had an effect on federal law relating to animal fighting. In 2007, President Bush signed the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act (18 USCA § 49), which provides felony penalties for animal fighting and activities done in furtherance of animal fighting. Furthermore, the 2008 Farm Bill mirrors these sentiments by including similar language.



Factory Farming

2008 has seen some major leaps forward for U.S. “food” animals confined in factory farms. In April 2008, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released a study in which it concluded that factory farms are unsustainable not only because they are harmful to the environment and human health, but also because they harm animals. It press release sites one of the study’s key goals as being to “phase out the most intensive and inhumane production practices within a decade to… improve animal wellbeing (i.e. gestation crates and battery cages).”


Additionally, 2008 saw both Colorado and California pass legislation requiring minimum space allowances for certain animals in factory farms. Colorado’s law, which originated in its legislature, requires that both calves raised for veal and pregnant pigs be housed such that they can “stand up, lie down, and turn around without touching the sides of their enclosure.” The California Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, which goes into effect in 2015, came about through ballot measure, and goes further than any prior law by requiring minimum space allowances for not only veal calves and pigs in gestation crates, but also hens in battery cages. The requirements are similar to those in Colorado: animals must be able “turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.” But because the requirements apply to caged hens, they will effectively ban battery cages in California: an unprecedented development.


All in all, 2008 has been a splendid legislative year for animals in the U.S. The trend bodes well for 2009 — I suspect that animals will gain additional legal ground in the coming year.


 -Suzanne McMillan 






One Response

  1. What gives humans the right to cage unwanted and abused cats and dogs,etc. to animal shelter’s where the majority of them will go unnoticed? Why is it the “norm” to shelter in cages? Years ago, when I was growing up you only heard about dog catcher’s when there was a ‘mad’ or sick dog.

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