New York Animal Law in Perspective

Many believe that state animal cruelty laws are not tough enough and that states ought to implement an “eye for an eye” approach.  Others believe such approaches would be no more effective for crimes against animals than for crimes against people.  In New York, laws are evolving but what’s going on elsewhere?

Similar to New York, Oklahoma has defined certain acts of cruelty as felonies —  as, for example in a recent case in which a women shot and skinned a puppy.

Pennsylvania State Representative Thomas Caltagirone is holding up all Pennsylvania Senate bills until the State Senate stops sitting on his Animal Cruelty Bill (noted here).

The Mayor of Sioux City,  Iowa, recently agreed to impose steeper penalties for animal abuse.  The city is currently drafting an ordinance that will prohibit anyone with prior convictions of animal abuse from owning animals in Sioux City.

Texas courts have begun increasing bond on people accused of animal cruelty and have even sentenced some to prison.

Furthermore, 25 states attorneys general have joined the Florida Attorney General and the Humane Society in filing a brief in support of a federal law that bans “crush” videos and other depictions of animal cruelty (others have also filed briefs — see here).

That is not to say all is good.  In Connecticut, “it would take a minor miracle to take a dog from its owner” even when the owner is suspected of running an illegal backyard kennel.  According to the Connecticut Animal Cruelty Statute, as long as a dog has food, water and ventilation, the statute has been satisfied regardless of the conditions.  Similarly, a Pennsylvania man who ran a puppy mill was nevertheless allowed to keep 25 puppies “as pets,” even after a finding of poor conditions and neglect.  And then, 4 states, including  Mississippi, do not have any felony animal abuse statute at all.

–David Cassuto

h/t: Stephen Iannacone

Citizen Suits and Cruelty Laws

One would not expect to find a progressive animal cruelty law in a state that leads the (un)civilized world in the factory farming of hogs.  Yet, North Carolina’s animal protection statute contains a citizen suit provision — which means that private citizens can bring suit against violators of the law.  This private right of action (a rarity in the world of animal law) has yielded some noteworthy successes.

Private rights of action do not solve the problem of cruelty nor address the inequalities underlying the human/nonhuman dynamic.  But this is true throughout environmental law.  Most of the major environmental statutes contain citizen suit provisions even as the laws fail to resolve or even address many of the most urgent issues regarding our relationship with our surroundings.  Ultimately, though, there is no question (in my mind, anyway) that it is better to have laws than to not and that it is better to enforce those laws than to not.  Citizen suits help enforce laws and thus, despite the imperfections of the current legal regime, it would be nice if we had more of them.

David Cassuto