Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals

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Happy New Year! Looking Back at 10 Posts from 2010

As we ring in 2011, here’s a quick recap of 10 facts and lessons from last year’s posts:

  1. Although federal law only requires labeling of fur garments, Virginia law actually prohibits garments made of dog or cat fur.
  2. The ADA definition of “service animal” is changing to limit service animals to basically only dogs.
  3. The videos involved in the US v. Stevens First Amendment case involved depictions of dog fighting, not animal crush videos.
  4. The American Veterinary Medical Association just changed the veterinarian’s oath to include animal welfare and the prevention of animal suffering.
  5. The Lynchburg Fire Department honored a search and rescue dog it recently lost by distributing pet oxygen masks on rescue vehicles.
  6. An appellate court in Wales just upheld legislation banning shock collars.
  7. Suffolk County, New York was the first jurisdiction to establish a public Animal Abuser Registry.
  8. Many home owner insurance carriers charge higher premiums or even exclude coverage for animal liability if the household contains a dog such as a pit bull, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Husky, Chow or Akita.
  9. Many Northern Virginia jurisdictions limit each household to three dogs, and require a kennel license for more than three dogs.
  10. A California Court of Appeals decision determined that the “exigent circumstances” exception the warrant requirement can include protection of the life of an animal.

May 2011 be peaceful, positive and prosperous for you and your loved ones!

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Time To Celebrate! President Obama Signs Anti-Crush Video Legislation HR 5566 Into Law

If you’ve been watching updates about animal crush videos on my blog, or getting the news elsewhere, you’ve been anxiously awaiting the day for President Obama to sign Amended HR 5566 into law.  That day has finally come!

Amended HR 5566 addresses the void in the law left by US v. Stevens, in which the United States Supreme Court struck down Congress’s previous effort to criminalize animal crush videos. 

For further details about the history of Amended HR 5566, check out either my October post, November post, Govtrack, or the Humane Society for the United States.  Thanks to Govtrack, you can also link to the latest version of Amended HR 5566.

The only lingering question is whether Amended HR 5566 will also address depictions and videos of other forms of animal abuse – most notably dog fighting, which was precisely the issue in Stevens.


Read All About It! Great News On Anti Crush Video And Shock Collar Legislation!

It has already been a great week, with very positive news regarding two pressing issues — crush videos and electronic collars. 

In Cleaning Up The Mess After United States v. Stevens:  Amended H.R. 5566, I recently talked about how previous federal legislation designed to combat “crush videos” ended up being struck down by the United States Supreme Court.  The House immediately introduced a bill to fix the problem, which the Senate tweaked.  The next step was reconciling the differences between the House bill and the Senate amendments.

Just yesterday, the House made a resolution to pass Amended H.R. 5566, but wanted one minor change regarding how to punish attempt or conspiracy under the new law.  That means the Senate will have to take a look at the House’s proposed change before the bill goes to the White House.  Considering there was a surge of crush videos in the market after the Stevens ruling, this process needs to come to a full resolution soon.  But at least things are continuing to move along.

In Get A Grip!  Does An Electronic Collar Count As  A Leash Under The Leash Laws?  Should It?, I discussed a local leash law, and whether a shock collar would qualify as a leash.  Of course, this begs the question of whether you should use a shock collar at all! 

Today, an appellate court in Wales upheld legislation banning the use of shock collars.  The law was passed in March, but was challenged by Petsafe Ltd., a pet product manufacturer, and the Electronic Collar Manufacturers Association.

Here’s to two definite steps in the right direction!

UPDATE (Nov. 20, 2010):  Here’s to rounding out this week with a huge victory in the Senate!  Just yesterday, the Senate just gave unanimous consent to pass the changes the House wanted in Amended H.R. 5566, and it is on its way to the White House to be signed into law!


Cleaning Up The Mess After United States v. Stevens: Amended H.R. 5566

Robert Stevens owned and ran a business called “Dogs of Velvet and Steel,” selling graphic videos depicting pit bulls participating in dog fighting or attacking other animals.  Two of these videos were “Japan Pit Fights” and “Pick-a-Winna:  A Pit Bull Documentary,” with 1960s and 1970s footage of American dog fights, along with contemporary dog fights in Japan, where dog fighting is supposedly legal.  A third video, “Catch Dogs and Country Living,” shows pit bulls hunting wild boar, and has a scene in which a pit bull gruesomely attacks a domestic farm pig.

Stevens was charged with violations of 18 U.S.C. §48, which made it a crime punishable by up to five years in prison if someone knowingly “creates, sells, or possesses a depiction of animal cruelty,” if done “for commercial gain” in interstate or foreign commerce.  A depiction of animal cruelty under Section 48 was one “in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed,” if that conduct violates federal or state law where “the creation, sale, or possession takes place.”  Section 48 had built-in exceptions for any depiction “that has serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value.” 

Section 48 was designed primarily to target crush videos, which show horrendous acts of animal cruelty that are punishable as a crime in all fifty states and the District of Columbia.  Congress felt the need to enact Section 48 to combat the fact that law enforcement typically cannot identity of the participants in crush videos, which may only show the person’s leg or foot.  Like animal cruelty, dog fighting is illegal in all fifty states and the District of Columbia, and has been regulated federally since 1976.

In the Stevens opinion, the Court first looked at what kinds of “speech” are so unworthy of protection that they fall completely outside of the First Amendment, such as child pornography.  The Government argued that depictions of animal cruelty should be carved out of First Amendment protection just like child pornography, but the eight Justices in the majority (sans Justice Alito, the lone brave dissenter) did not buy it. 

Next, the Court looked at Stevens’ challenge to Section 48 “on its face,” arguing that Section 48 was so overbroad that it captured too many lawful acts its sweep.  The Court was deeply disturbed by the fact that the terms “wounded” and “killed” in the definition of a depiction of animal cruelty presumably had no requirement that the underlying acts be “cruel,” capturing videos about livestock and hunting in Section 48’s sweep.  Section 48’s exceptions did not give the Justices enough comfort that livestock and hunting videos would escape prosecution.

The Court struck down Section 48 and relieved Stevens of his conviction and well-deserved thirty-seven month sentence.  However, at the end of the opinion, the Court limited its decision to its finding that Section 48 was overbroad.  This left the window open for the possibility that a more narrow statute would be upheld as constitutional.  For a wonderful analysis of what the Court did and did not do in Stevens, be sure to catch Matthew Liebman’s post on the Animal Legal Defense Fund Blog, Clarifying the Supreme Court’s United States v. Stevens Opinion.  In that post, Liebman found the silver lining of the Stevens opinion to be the potential that the Justices would uphold a statute specifically tailored to crush videos and dog fighting. 

Stevens was decided on April 20, 2010.  In the days that followed, organizations like the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Humane Society urged Congress to pass a new statute that could overcome the issues raised by the Court in Stevens.  Fortunately, Congress responded swiftly.  

On June 22, 2010, the House of Representatives introduced H.R. 5566, which specifically targeted animal crush videos and depictions of animal cruelty, and specifically excluded videos depicting hunting, trapping, fishing, and veterinary or animal husbandry practices. On July 21, 2010, Democrats and Republicans came together to pass H.R. 5566 by a vote of 416-3.  The 3 nay-sayers were Paul Broun and Tom Graves from Georgia, and Ron Paul of Texas.

On September 28, 2010, the Senate responded by passing H.R. 5566 EAS (“Engrossed Amendment Senate”), targeting the “extreme animal cruelty” depicted in crush videos.  The new statute seems plenty narrow to withstand constitutional attack.  My fear is that it is too narrow, arguably allowing dog fighting videos – the very situation raised in Stevens – to squeak by unprosecuted.  The bill now goes back to the House to resolve the differences between H.R. 5566 and H.R. 5566 EAS.

UPDATE:  Please take a look at Steve Dale’s recent post on the Facebook Legalizing Dog Fighting page.  Their message?  “Legalize dog fighting. Pets are not people. They are your pet. something you own. If i’m not mistaken when you own something you can do what you want with it.”  Seems they need to read up on the animal cruelty and animal neglect laws in all fifty states and the District of Columbia.  Steve Dale describes how to help shut down the page for its blatant promotion of illegality and violence.  Please take the time to do so.

UPDATE #2 (10/17/2010):  Facebook took down the Legalizing Dog Fighting page, only to have the group put up a new one.  Please take a moment to go to Steve Dale’s new blog post and report this page, too.

UPDATE #3 (10/18/2010):  The second page is also down!

UPDATE #4 (10/18/2010):  There is a third page up.  How is this for their new message:  “Dog fighting is good clean fun and a great activity to bring families together for an evening of entertainment. The best part is there is an abundant supply of FREE pit bulls available through your local shelter and craigslist.”  Please take time to report this page.

UPDATE #5 (10/19/2010):  And the third page is down now.