The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) is an American non-profit law organization that aims to protect the rights and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. It was founded in 1979, by attorneys active in shaping the emerging field of animal law. The ALDF has campaigned for stronger enforcement of anti-animal cruelty laws and more humane treatment of animals. Their activities include filing lawsuits, providing legal assistance to prosecutors handling cruelty cases, working to strengthen state anti-cruelty statutes and hosting seminars, workshops and other outreach efforts. In addition to their national headquarters in Cotati, California, the Animal Legal Defense Fund maintains an office in Portland, Oregon.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s primary programs include a litigation program, aimed at stopping the abuse of companion animals, and animals abused in industries including factory farming and the entertainment business; a criminal justice program, which assists law enforcement agencies and legal prosecutors in seeking maximum penalties for those who abuse animals; and an animal law program, to advance the field of animal law in law schools and among legal professionals.
ALDF has "hundreds of dedicated attorneys" that may bring suits themselves, or the organization may retain outside legal counsel. Their civil actions include filing amicus curiae briefs arguing the case for "recognition of the bonds between humans and nonhuman animals." The ALDF also awards grants to attorneys involved in animal-related cases, provides expert testimony and assists those seeking non-economic damages in cases involving death or injury of a companion animal.
Examples of litigation by ALDF include suits filed in North Carolina, a state that permits uninvolved third parties to sue an animal abuser. One sought custody of 106 dogs held in negligent conditions by a dog breeder. A settlement was reached whereby the breeder surrendered ownership of the dogs. In 2005, the organization sued a Californian animal trainer who had they accused of violating the Endangered Species Act and anti-cruelty statutes by beating chimpanzees with sticks. The suit was settled without the trainer acknowledging any wrongdoing, however the chimps were retired from performing and transferred to an animal sanctuary in Florida. In 2007, the ALDF filed a lawsuit against a pig farming company, who they claimed were intensively breeding pigs at a Californian farm in conditions that were in violation of the state's anti-cruelty laws. The organization sought a court order to improve the treatment of the animals, and urged the Los Angeles Dodgers to cease buying hot dogs from the supplier to "avoid the stigma" of association. In 2008, the suit was dropped when the company stopped breeding pigs at the farm for a "variety of business reasons."
ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program is staffed by attorneys, including former prosecutors, with expertise in animal protection law who provide free legal assistance to prosecutors and law enforcement agencies. They aim to ensure that state criminal anti-cruelty statutes are vigorously enforced and that those convicted of animal cruelty and neglect receive appropriate sentences. They also work with state legislators to enact felony anti-cruelty statutes in states that do not yet have them and to upgrade existing laws in states that do. The Criminal Justice Program also maintains a nationwide database of animal cruelty cases and current and model animal protection laws available to prosecutors, legislators and researchers.
ALDF’s Animal Law Program works closely with law students and law professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law. The Animal Law Program also assists bar association members interested in forming animal law bar sections or committees and partners with pro bono coordinators interested in developing animal law volunteer opportunities at their firms.
In May, following a petition by ALDF, PETA, Orca Network, and others, the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed a rule to grant Lolita the same status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that covers all other Southern Resident orcas—the pod that she was seized from in 1970. ALDF and PETA believe that the current confinement conditions that Lolita is subjected to are prohibited by the ESA. This action opens the door to the prospect that she could be retired from performing and transferred to a seaside sanctuary.
In January Caltrans agreed to remove bird-killing nets at a local highway project, and vowed to use safer construction methods after settling with ALDF and conservation groups.
In July, ALDF filed the first lawsuit in the nation to challenge the constitutionality of an ag gag law. Utah’s law, which criminalizes the videotaping on factory farms, attacks activity protected under the U.S. Constitution’s First and Fourteenth Amendments.
In a groundbreaking end to its false advertising lawsuit against New York-based Hudson Valley Foie Gras, the national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) is celebrating the company’s decision to stop advertising its products as “humane.”
In July eleven bears were removed from gladiator-style bear pits at a North Carolina roadside zoo after ALDF sent the Chief Saunooke Bear Park a letter threatening to sue for ongoing harm to the grizzlies.
In March, the Clay County (Kentucky) Circuit Court entered an agreed order of judgment resolving ALDF's lawsuit against the county to stop systematic abuses at the local animal shelter.
In June, ALDF finalized a settlement and court order resolving a lawsuit alleging widespread egregious animal abuse and neglect at Cal-Cruz Hatcheries, Inc., a Santa Cruz, Calif. hatchery that processed millions of birds each year destined for the chicken and duck meat industries. Following the lawsuit, which was based on an undercover video, Cal-Cruz is no longer in operation, and the former owner may no longer work with animals.
In August, a North Carolina judge granted Ben the Bear permanent sanctuary at the Performing Animal Welfare Society as a result of a lawsuit against Jambbas Ranch—ALDF attorneys worked to represent the plaintiffs. Ben had languished for years on cement in a chain-link kennel—he now has the chance to live like a bear should, with plenty of space to roam, play, and forage in his new habitat.
In February, Guam voted to dramatically strengthen the territory's laws protecting animals. Guam’s new legislation adopts robust minimum care standards and other definitions which mirror much of what is contained in ALDF's model animal protection laws.
In November, ALDF won its lawsuit to free Tony the Tiger from the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, Louisiana. The judge ordered the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to revoke the current permit and prohibited it from issuing any new permits to the Truck Stop.
ALDF’s nationwide push to develop a system for law enforcement officials and the public to find out when a convicted animal abuser is in their community scored a historic victory when lawmakers in Suffolk County, New York voted unanimously to create the country’s first animal abuser registry.
On the same day ALDF launched its Expose Animal Abusers campaign, California State Senator Dean Florez announced a bill to create an animal abuser registry for the state that would require animal abusers to register in their communities.
After more than 100 live and approximately 150 dead Chihuahuas and Chihuahua-mixes were removed from Kenneth Lang Jr’s home in 2009, ALDF provided a grant of $3,500 to allow the Dearborn Police Department to conduct necropsies on 10 of the Chihuahuas whose bodies were removed from freezers on 56-year-old Lang’s property. Kenneth Lang Jr. pleaded guilty to animal cruelty in January 2010.
ALDF secured permanent custody of seven horses rescued from Michael, Judy, and Gayle Keating, the abusive North Carolina owners who allowed them to starve nearly to death, in the case of ALDF v. Keating.
On October 6, the United States Supreme Court directly addressed the issue of animal cruelty for the first time in more than fifteen years. ALDF submitted an amicus curiae brief in the case of U.S. v. Stevens, urging the Court to uphold the law and recognize that the prevention of cruelty to animals is a compelling government interest.
In August, ALDF filed lawsuits in Kentucky against Estill and Robertson Counties for neglecting their homeless animals, despite their legal requirement to provide basic humane care.
ALDF called on Kentucky's legislature to push for comprehensive changes in its laws protecting horses and other animal; the Bluegrass State ranked last in the nation for animal protection laws in 2008.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund's annual report comprehensively surveys animal protection laws of all U.S. states and territories. It is the longest-running and most authoritative report of its kind, assessing the strength of each jurisdiction's animal protection laws by examining over 4,000 pages of statutes. Each jurisdiction receives a raw score based on fifteen different categories of animal protection; the Report then ranks all 56 jurisdictions by comparing their raw scores. The Report also highlights the top, middle and bottom tiers of jurisdictions and notes the "Best Five" and "Worst Five" states overall.