Animal Legal Defense Fund

By Lisa Franzetta

For many people faced with a legal situation involving a companion animal, it comes as a shock to discover that the laws protecting their families, neighbors, and friends from violence and abuse fail to protect their four-legged loved ones. Despite the important role they play in so many of our lives, animals in this country are still considered “property” by law—in most cases no different than a table or a chair. Existing laws are often inadequate, full of loopholes, or lack enforcement. There are still states where no matter how badly someone abuses or tortures an animal, he cannot be charged with a felony. The federal Animal Welfare Act explicitly excludes birds, rats, and mice, and there are no federal laws protecting the billions of animals being raised for food from the most egregious abuses on factory farms.

For 30 years, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has been fighting to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. This mission is based on the premise that lasting change can only come when the law reflects what most Americans already believe to be true—that abusing an animal is wrong. Attorneys are in a unique position to push the envelope toward a more humane, and just, future for animals.

A nonprofit organization formed by a handful of attorneys in 1979, ALDF has won landmark cases that have shaped the face of animal law. ALDF has filed suit against large federal bureaucracies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure they uphold their duty to protect animals; drafted historic animal protection laws, from state anticruelty statutes to international treaties protecting endangered species; and worked to get neglected and exploited animals out of the hands of their abusers.

ALDF’s Animal Law Program is dedicated specifically to nurturing the growth of animal law among legal professionals and in law schools. When the program launched in 2000, there were 12 Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapters in U.S. law schools; today, there are 140 chapters across North America, including a chapter at every top-ten law school in the United States. ALDF’s Future of Animal Law conferences bring together the leading minds in animal law to discuss cutting-edge topics in the field.

Through its Criminal Justice Program, ALDF provides free assistance to prosecutors and law enforcement agencies to ensure that state criminal anticruelty statues are vigorously enforced and that those convicted of animal abuse receive tough sentences. With a special emphasis on cases where the lives of large numbers of animals hang in the balance, ALDF makes sure prosecutors punish criminals who beat, torture, and neglect animals; ALDF exposes the link between violence to animals and violence to humans.

ALDF’s Litigation Program files groundbreaking lawsuits to stop animal abuse and expand the boundaries of animal law. Recently, ALDF lawsuits have used creative legal strategies to get neglected dogs, cats, and horses out of the hands of animal hoarders and singled out factory farms for using confinement practices that violate state anticruelty laws. ALDF also files amicus curiae briefs in pet custody and damages cases, arguing that judges should consider the best interests and emotional value of animals in weighing their decisions in civil cases involving animals.

Today, ALDF’s work to push the legal system to end the suffering of abused animals is supported by hundreds of dedicated attorneys and more than 100,000 members. Visit for more information on ALDF’s work and how to get involved as a volunteer attorney.

Lisa Franzetta is director of communications for the Animal Legal Defense Fund; she may be reached at For more information on the Animal Legal Defense Fund, visit

Copyright 2009

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