Thursday, March 25, 2010

ISAR Interviews Lt. Col. Mark Eichelman

On March 18, 2010, ISAR Chairman, Professor Henry Mark Holzer interviewed Lt. Col. Mark Eichelman about his recent article in 16 Animal Law 153 (2009) entitled "Ringling Brothers on Trial: Circus Elephants and the Endangered Species Act," which discusses the dismissed case against Ringling Brothers circus for allegedly abusing the elephants it exhibits. Much of the Holzer - Eichelman discussion centers around the legal problem of "standing to sue" -- that is, who is entitled to bring a case against humans on behalf of animals.

According to Lt. Col. Eichelman, "organizations almost have to go through gymnastics to try to find someone to meet 'standing' requirements where the elephants are the ones being harmed on a daily basis. If we believe the allegations out there it doesn't matter, you have to find a human being who is suffering as a result to the harm being done to the elephants."

The full text version of Lt. Col. Eichelman's text itself, "Ringling Brothers on Trial: Circus Elephants and the Endangered Species Act," may be purchased from LexisNexis HERE.

Monday, March 22, 2010

ISAR Interviews Elizabeth DeCoux

As an adjunct to ISAR's other legal programs on behalf of animal rights we have instituted a program of commentary and interviews by ISAR Chairman, Professor Henry Mark Holzer.

Interviews will be available for download as they become available.

On March 11, 2010, Professor Holzer interviewed Elizabeth DeCoux of Florida Coastal Law School about her recent article in Volume 16 of the Animal Law Review (2009) entitled, "Speaking for the Modern Prometheus: The Significance of Animal Suffering to the Abolition Movement," which explores the distinction between "Abolitionists" and "Welfarists," and argues strongly that each movement could benefit from understanding, and even utilizing, techniques employed by the other.

According to Ms. DeCoux, "Neither welfare nor abolition has gotten us very far despite all the good and hard work." While discussing her article with Professor Holzer, Ms. DeCoux expressed her hope that her article "will shake things loose a little bit and give people some new ideas about directions we should go in." She goes on to say, "maybe we can take the goals of abolition and pair it with the tools of welfare and see if that can do these animals some good."

The full text version of Ms. DeCoux's article itself, "Speaking for the Modern Prometheus: The Significance of Animal Suffering to the Abolition Movement," may be purchased from LexisNexis HERE.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Putting animal offenders on a par with sex offenders.

California has often led the way in animal protection legislation, although the Golden State's attempt to enact a mandatory spay/neuter law a few legislative sessions ago was unsuccessful (for ISAR's opposition to that bill because of its loopholes, see OUR MONOGRAPH).

Proposition 2 in 2008 mandated more space for confined livestock animals (though the law accepted the premise that some confinement followed by slaughter was acceptable).

In 2008, California was the first jurisdiction in the United States to prohibit cutting off dairy cows' tails, a cruel practice, among others, designed to facilitate milking.

Now, the State Senate's majority leader, Democrat Dean Florez, who also serves as chairman of that body's Food and Agriculture Committee, has introduced legislation providing for an "animal abuser registry" which would mimic the sex offender registry found in California and elsewhere. Conviction of an animal cruelty felony would result, in addition to other penalties provided by law, in posting of the offender's name, photograph and other information on the Internet.

While ISAR has not seen the current bill, nor can know the actual language which may survive the legislative process and constitute the final draft (and thus reserve our right to oppose it), we support the current proposal in principle for at least two reasons. First, it does not break much new ground because states already maintain various publically-accessible registries, from lists of nail salon licensees to arsonists and sex offenders nor does it invade the oft-invoked "right" to "privacy." Second, under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States each state retains the power to legislate in furtherance of the public health, safety, welfare and morals--and a publicly-accessible felony animal-abuser registry falls squarely within that power.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Silencing the already silenced: De-barking/de-meowing/de-purring dogs and cats.

Unknown to most caring custodians of dogs and cats, there is a widespread practice in the United States of surgically cutting the vocal cords of canines (and occasionally felines). Known by the euphemism “devocalization,” the procedure is almost always performed for the convenience of the animals’ “owners.”

Among other reasons, large-scale breeders even in rural areas want to keep down the noise level of their captives, and backyard breeders have to be concerned with neighbors.

Sometimes, “devocalization” is a compromise between children who want a pet, and parents who don’t want animal vocalization.

Whatever the reasons, devocalization is inimical to the animal’s health, unnatural, cruel and yet another brutal example of humans seeing canines and felines not only as property, but as inanimate objects—and devocalization as nothing more than oiling a squeaky door hinge.

House Bill No. 344, which languished for over a year, seeks to prohibit the practice of devocalization. Having the express support of at least sixty legislators on March 3, 2010, it was finally approved by the House where it had the support of at least 60 legislators. It provides in part that:

“Section 80. (a) No person shall surgically debark or silence a dog or cat, or cause the surgical debarking or silencing of a dog or cat, unless a veterinarian licensed in this state has filed a written certification with the town clerk or in Boston, the police commissioner, stating that the surgical debarking or silencing is medically necessary to treat or relieve an illness, disease, or injury, or correct a congenital abnormality that is causing or will cause the dog or cat medical harm or pain.

(b) The written certification described in (a) shall contain the date and description of the veterinarian’s examination and evaluation of the dog or cat, statement certifying that surgical debarking or silencing is medically necessary to treat or relieve an illness, disease, or injury, or correct a congenital abnormality that is causing or will cause the dog or cat harm or pain; any supporting diagnosis and findings, the name and current address and telephone number of the dog or cat’s owner or keeper, and the name and current address and telephone number, state license number, and signature of the veterinarian.

(c) No person except a veterinarian licensed in this state, using anesthesia, may surgically debark or silence a dog or cat.

(d) Any person in violation of this section shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 5 years or imprisonment in the house of correction for not more than 2 ½ years or by a fine of not more than $2,500, or by both such fine and imprisonment. A court may also order any person convicted under this section to submit to a mental health evaluation as determined by the court and undergo any recommended counseling or treatment. In addition to any other penalty provided by law, a person convicted under this section may be barred from owning or possessing any animals, or living on the same property with someone who owns or possesses animals, for a period of time deemed appropriate by the court, and required to take humane education, pet ownership and dog training classes as ordered by the court.”

In addition the bill provides that: “Any person or business selling a dog or cat for profit shall disclose whether the dog or cat has been surgically debarked or silenced and provide the purchaser with a copy of the veterinarian certification required by Chapter 272, Sec. 80.”

One would expect that H.B. No. 344 enjoys the support of not only the many legislators who have endorsed it, but also of everyone in Massachusetts who cares about the wellbeing of companion animals—especially the Commonwealth’s veterinarians.


Although many veterinarians do support the bill, the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association, speaking for organized veterinarians, opposes the devocalization bill.

In a cynical, self-serving official statement approved on June 17, 2009, the MVMA had this to say, in its entirety [ISAR’s comments are inserted in brackets and Times New Roman bold-face]:

The Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association, the statewide association of veterinarians [a profession, not a trade, supposedly devoted to the care of companion animals], deplores [not “condemns,” “opposes” or “denounces”] devocalizing [i.e., surgically cutting the vocal cords] an animal to facilitate the animal’s sale or for reasons of convenience.

MVMA encourages [not “implores”] responsible pet ownership from the start, including selecting a breed and particular dog appropriate for the owner’s living situation and foreseeable family circumstances; undertaking behavior training while a puppy; being consistent and reinforcing behavioral standards; seeking veterinarians’ advice when problems arise; and consulting and working in earnest with veterinary behavior specialists, who can often help owners successfully address excessive vocalization
[excellent advice, but not exhaustive].

MVMA strongly urges pet owners to utilize behavioral interventions instead of devocalizing an animal [How about “urging” all MVMA members not to perform the procedure?].

In this imperfect world, however, we know that peoples’ life situations can change. There may be circumstances when devocalization is necessary [conveniently not defined], particularly when the owner has already undertaken behavior modification techniques pursuant to a veterinarian’s advice. When all acceptable [to whom, and by what standard?] avenues for correcting excessive barking have been exhausted, and the pet risks losing her or his life or home, we believe that surgical cordectomy needs to be available as a last resort. [The root of this problem is irresponsible pet ownership, and a refusal to live with the choices one has made. If a “change in life situations” includes marriage, divorce, having children, moving, then there will never be any reasons not to debark. The MVMA poses a false alternative: if “circumstances change,” cut the chords or kill (or dump) the animal.]

Ultimately, a decision to devocalize an animal should be made by the pet owner in consultation with a licensed veterinarian. Devocalization should be performed only in extreme [again, not defined] circumstances – as a last resort before turning a pet over to an animal shelter or performing humane euthanasia – and should never
be performed as a routine matter
[True, but again a false alternative].

While the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association strongly discourages canine and feline devocalization, the MVMA opposes House No. 344 for the following reasons [Now we come to it.]:

the bill requires that “otherwise confidential information” – such as the animal’s identification and medical diagnosis, and identification and location of the animal’s owner – be made public: we find no precedent for such public disclosure in medicine or veterinary medicine except when public health is at issue. [The MVMA offers not a shred of support for this naked assertion. We have inserted quotation marks above to emphasize the point. All sorts of non-public health information about dogs must be reported to the government, and thus to the “public,” including but not limited to licensing data. The MVMA’s objection is merely a red-herring, unworthy of further comment.]

the bill provides too narrow an exception for performing devocalization, in that “medically necessary” is not the only legitimate reason for this procedure to be performed: surgical cordectomy may be necessary to save an animal’s life when euthanasia is seen as the only viable alternative. [This, at best, is a non sequitur. First, the MVMA offers only one other “legitimate reason,” and that (“save an animal’s life”) would certainly be “medically necessary”—an exception that the MVMA itself accepts as “legitimate”.]

the bill infringes upon a veterinarian’s exercise of her or his professional judgment, taking account of the particular condition and circumstances of the individual animal. [Bluntly, this statement is patronizing double-talk, apparently put forth on the assumption that the MVMA’s opponents and the public are stupid. For one thing, earlier in its statement the MVMA encourages discussion with a veterinarian who, in no case, is the final authority concerning what is to be done with a companion animal; primarily it is the custodian and, in certain contexts like cruelty and malpractice, the state that has the final word. For another, in every situation the veterinarian can, indeed is required to, “exercise . . . her or his professional judgment”—and H.B. 344 no more impinges on that judgment than do any of the other laws and professional constraints governing the practice of veterinary medicine.]

Indeed, a good place to begin exercising that “professional judgment” is by every veterinarian in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts refusing to “devocalize” any dog (or cat)—a moral stand which should be strongly supported by the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association.

That association now has an opportunity to reverse its indefensible position and support the Bill in the Massachusetts Senate and thereby redeem itself.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Breeders May Court Disaster

Earlier last week the Associated Press reported that various dog breeders in Pennsylvania have sued the PSPCA and an organization named Main Line Animal Rescue, claiming that the defendants violated the former's "civil rights." ISAR has not seen the complaint. However, putting aside whatever it alleges, there is an important point that needs to be made. By suing, the breeders have opened themselves, their employees, their operations, their premises, and their books and records to the legal "discovery" process. This means that the defendants will be able to require production of virtually everything in the breeders' possession for examining and copying, to subpoena the breeders' books and records, to request that the breeders admit or deny a host of factual statements the defendants have a right to propound, and to examine breeders and their employees orally under oath.

In short, by suing, the plaintiff breeders have made themselves "defendants" with regard to everything they do in their breeding of dogs. (SEE OUR MONOGRAPH)

What a gift to the humane movement!

ISAR's lawyers will assist the defense in any way it can.