If you are an animal lover, you are probably aware that there is a body of law that is specific to animal issues. For example, most people have heard about anticruelty statutes that protect animals from abuse and neglect. However, animal law is actually much broader than that.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), a national organization that uses the legal system to improve animal welfare, defines “animal law” as “the combination of statutory and case law that relates to or has an impact on nonhuman animals. It encompasses companion animals and wildlife and animals used in entertainment, research and ones raised for food.” Animal law can be a component of many common and familiar types of law: tort, contract, environmental, property, criminal, family, trust and estate, and constitutional law can all intersect with animal issues.
While animal law began emerging as a special field of legal practice in the ’70s alongside the environmental law movement, there are animal welfare statutes and cases that are much older than that. For example, the Michigan statute prohibiting animal cruelty was originally passed in 1877. The Michigan Dog Law, which addresses dog licensing and other issues related to keeping dogs, was enacted in 1919.
Michigan animal law has developed and grown over the years. MHS’ legislative efforts and the efforts of other animal welfare advocates have resulted in the enactment of animal protection laws that are among the strictest in the country. ALDF ranks each state’s animal protection laws each year, and according to ALDF’s ranking system, Michigan’s animal protection laws are in the top tier in the country.
Of course, there is always more work to be done. For more than a century, MHS has taken a leadership role in affecting Michigan legislation to address animal welfare issues. Michigan’s legislative sessions are two years long, and we are just embarking on the 2019-2020 legislative session. The 2017-18 session brought improvements in Michigan law related to animal cruelty and neglect, animal fighting, and the training required and drugs available to perform humane euthanasia. We are going to keep working to improve animal welfare in Michigan.
If you are interested in learning more and helping with legislative issues, please join the Michigan Humane Society’s Legislative Action Network and help advocate for legislation to address animal welfare issues in Michigan. You will receive updates about our legislative activities and alerts letting you know when and how you can take action. Together, we can make a difference in animals’ lives in Michigan.
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