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Written by Janet Goodman, BT Contributor   
October 2019

The Animal Legal Defense Fund releases state rankings

TPix_PetTalk_10-19he 13th annual report published by the Animal Legal Defense Fund evaluates and ranks animal protection laws by state and territory after reviewing thousands of statutes.

Since 2006, its U.S. Animal Protection Laws Ranking Report has assessed different categories of animal protection law; the Defense Fund considered 19 categories in its latest report

Illinois has had the strongest animal protection laws 11 years running. For 2018, the top 15 states are: Illinois, Oregon, Maine, Colorado, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Louisiana, California, Washington, Indiana, Texas, Michigan, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania.

The ten states with the weakest animal protection laws: Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Iowa, Mississippi, Kentucky.

Among Florida’s animal law weaknesses:

• Florida doesn’t mandate post-conviction animal possession bans of persons convicted of animal cruelty.

• Doesn’t mandate court-ordered psychiatric evaluations and treatment for those convicted of misdemeanor animal abuse.

• Doesn’t mandate veterinarians to report suspected animal cruelty.

• Doesn’t mandate that multiple acts of animal cruelty against an animal be charged with a separate offense for each act.

Florida strengths:

• Florida outlaws the sexual assault of animals, with a misdemeanor penalty of one-year imprisonment and/or a $1000 fine.

• The state has “Good Samaritan” laws protecting rescuers of pets left unattended in vehicles in extreme conditions.

• Florida’s aggravated cruelty offense is a third-degree felony, punishable by five years in prison and/or a $5000 fine.

• Various animal fighting activities, including being a spectator at a fight, are third-degree felonies, punishable by five years in prison and/or a $5000 fine.

• Confinement/abandonment of animals is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and/or a $5000 fine.

• Anyone convicted of felony animal cruelty must undergo psychological counseling or complete an anger management treatment program.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF, www.aldf.org), founded in 1979, is considered the nation’s leading legal advocacy organization for animals. The group’s mission statement: “To protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system.”

The ALDF sponsors more than 200 student chapters (SALDF) on college campuses, mostly in the United States and Canada. These groups are important for the education and advancement of animal protection laws.

The organization, in collaboration with Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, inaugurated the school’s Center for Animal Law Studies in 2008. Every October since 1993, ALDF and the law school host an Animal Law Conference, a gathering of students, legal professionals, scholars, and activists involved in animal advocacy.

The Animal Law Section of the Florida Bar (www.flabaranimals.org) works to “inform Florida Bar members and the public of developments in animal law,” according to its website. The group accomplishes this through social media sites, seminars, and speaking engagements.

Jennifer Dietz is a Tampa attorney, adjunct professor at Stetson University College of Law, and one of a handful of attorneys who co-founded the Animal Law Committee in 2004. Over the succeeding 12 years, Dietz was instrumental in meeting the criteria to petition the Florida Bar in 2016 for the committee to become a “section” of the bar. “Getting section status now gives us greater standing in the legal community,” she tells the BT, but explains while the Law Section can inform the public and discuss issues, it can’t lobby elected officials.

Dietz speaks on behalf of the Animal Law Section at seminars and the annual Florida Bar Convention held each June. Her seminar at Stetson has a waiting list and she supports the student ALDF chapter on campus.

“There’s a great need for more attorneys practicing animal law,” she says. In 2010 she established her own firm, Animal Law Attorneys, the first in Florida to specialize exclusively in animal law, handling such areas as pet custody, wills and trusts, pet lemon law, and injuries.

Dietz views recent state legislation to phase out greyhound racing by 2020 a big success for the Animal Law Section. Their public discussions led to the November 2018 Ballot Amendment 13 approval by voters. She’s also keeping her eye on the reintroduction of the federal Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT) in a future session of congress.

The law section’s website notes: “In 2018, the Board of Governors granted our request for permission to support legislation that would increase the damages permitted in cases involving the death and injury of companion animals; legislation that would add threats against companion animals to the statutes related to seeking domestic violence injunctions; and legislation and regulations that would prevent the hunting of bears in Florida.”

High on Dietz’s wish list for Florida is mandatory spay and neuter legislation for dogs and cats over six months old. Rhode Island has adopted similar legislation for cats only, and Los Angeles has some of the toughest pet sterilization laws.

 

Janet Goodman is principal of Good Dog Bad Dog Inc. Contact her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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