We present our annual coverage of all things animal law and advocacy in two parts. First is a list and discussion of notable stories about animals throughout the year. In Part II, we analyze developments, identify trends, and go out on a limb with some predictions.

Certainly 2017 has been a challenging one, especially for wildlife. On the federal level, the courts have been the backstop, often blocking what we believe to be some of the excesses and bad policy of the legislative and executive branches. On the state level, particularly here in Michigan, the focus is on the state legislature and on local government. But we also have witnessed the importance of animal attorneys and activists not giving up or giving in.   

Links at the end of the article provide additonal information.  

2017 Top Animal Stories 

  1. In early February, the USDA without warning removed from its database inspection reports about the treatment of animals at thousands of laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities it regulates under the Animal Welfare and Horse Protection Acts, announcing that these records would only be available through Freedom of Information Act requests. These records had been used by attorneys, animal advocates and the general public; it created an uproar and several lawsuits. The USDA had restored some of the records by year’s end, but without identifying information.
  2. Ringling Brothers circus folded its tent and went out of business after 146 years
  3. Endangered Species Act under attack in Congress: various bills to weaken the 1973 law have been introduced. Several were voted out of committee in October, including measures that would prohibit non-native species from being listed; require more consideration of economic interests; defer to state-collected data; make it harder for citizen suits to enforce the Act; strip gray wolves in the midwest of protection under the Act and block court review of government decisions.
  4. War on Wildlife: generally, with the efforts to weaken the ESA noted above being a significant specific, with efforts to protect economic interests and promote hunting at the expense of the animals and environment. For example, in 2017:
    • Congress allowed inhumane hunting practices targeting wolves and other native carnivores in Alaska Wildlife Refuges, turning control back to the state. This was signed into law in April.

      Yellowstone grizzly, from Interior Dept. website
    • US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) delisted grizzlies in the Yellowstone region, turning over management to states (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming) which plan to conduct trophy hunts. A lawsuit against this action is pending.
  5. Trophy hunting policy in state of transition and confusion:
    • US Department of Interior announced a new policy: hunting can contribute to conservation, e.g. saying “killing of African elephant trophy animals in Zimbabwe … will enhance the survival of the African elephant.”
    • Confusion at year’s end regarding importation of trophies into US, with the ban on elephant parts lifted, then put on hold after president’s tweets; but the ban on lion parts remained rescinded, until a late December ruling by US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled that the bans on importing “trophies” of both these animals (ivory, skins, etc.) must remain in place; and the agency must be more transparent in future actions
  6. California became the first state to ban the retail sale of companion animals unless they come from a shelter or rescue, AB 485
  7. Smoke, Debo and Mama: “Contraband”

    Smith v City of Detroit: a court held that unlicensed dogs are “contraband”; their guardians lose ownership and have no right to bring civil rights case for the killing of three dogs by police. The case is on appeal, with Attorneys for Animals signing on to a “Friend of the Court” brief in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

  8. Great Lakes wolves at risk: Congress: we have mentioned wolves before, (see 2, 3 above) but this continues to be a topical and divisive issue in Michigan, with the following developments:
    • Resolution (SR 105) introduced in Michigan senate calling on Congress to delist the wolf and turn management back to the state; measure passed out of committee after procedural rules suspended
    • Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit upheld a lower court decision invalidating the US Department of Interior’s 2011 decision to de-list this gray wolf population, citing faulty analysis of the Endangered Species Act by the agency
  9. Migratory Bird Treaty Act, first passed in 1918, under attack: USFWS revised a regulation so that corporations can only be prosecuted for intentional killing of birds, effectively giving companies little incentive to minimize the killing; the December action prompted an Audubon official to say the government “gave an early Christmas to bird killers”
  10. American Bar Association passed a resolution supporting TNVR (Trap/Neuter/Vaccinate/Return) programs for community cats; the resolution was put forth by the ABA’s Animal Law Committee
  11. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued two positive rulings on California laws:
    • Reinstated a ban on foie gras sales in unanimous ruling
    • Rejected challenge by Safari Club International to a law prohibiting importation, transportation and possession of mountain lions within the state
  12. Protections for egg-laying hens challenged in US Supreme Court, in cases pitting state vs state:
    • The high court declined to hear a challenge brought by several states to a California law (AB 1437) requiring that all eggs sold in the state, regardless of where produced, come from hens who have not been subjected to extreme confinement. At year’s end, however, another case had been filed seeking to address concerns raised by the high court in the first lawsuit.
    • Similar challenges to the Massachusetts initiative passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2016 to ban sales of eggs and other agricultural products if raised under extreme confinement
  13. USDA proposed significant changes to the Animal Welfare Act licensing regulations, including requiring renewing licensees to demonstrate they have complied with the law, and to disclose animal cruelty convictions. The comment period closed in early November with more than 35,000 comments; watch for the USDA’s response/further action in 2018
  14. Ann Arbor deer cull will enter its third winter, with significantly more deer to be killed (250), fewer sterilized, ability to use firearms to kill deer on private property and elimination of the 450 foot safety zone; one headline sums it up: “More Killing, Fewer Sterilizations”
  15. Michigan’s mourning doves and Sandhill cranes
    Photo: Sandhill crane, Songbird Protection Coalition

    are at risk, as hunting groups and the State House are urging the Natural Resources Commission to allow these birds to be hunted, with the NRC likely to consider a Sandhill crane hunt early in 2018

  16. Local governments continued to address various hot-button issues that often generate controversy and can have major impact on animals and on people. Here’s a sampling
    • Regulation backyard breeders (big story was Oakland County breeder finally put out of business; but what happened to the dogs?)
    • Backyard chickens: disease and proper care remain issues
    • Anti tethering: Detroit passes comprehensive prohibition
    • Community cats: cats and caretakers unwelcome in some localities
    • Breed specific legislation: local governments continue to weigh in, although a bill pending in Michigan legislature would prohibit local governments from enacting BSL (SB 709)
  17. Mario, Luigi got a reprieve after more than six months on “Death Row” in Ionia County, and were reunited with their guardian, a military veteran, after prosecutor pursued a dangerous dog case despite evidence by local officials that the dogs were not responsible for killing a neighbor’s goats
  18. Puppy Mills: while one pet store in Michigan that sold puppy mill dogs was forced to close, another re-opened amid protests; meanwhile the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Chicago’s puppy mill ordinance, dismissing a challenge brought by two of the city’s pet stores and a Missouri puppy mill operation
  19. This under-reported story deserves attention: the Yellville (AR) Turkey Drop (where the animals are dropped 500 feet from airplanes for entertainment) is notable for its sheer cruelty and purposelessness; this year animal advocates filed a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration that the turkeys falling from the sky violated FAA regulations, but were unsuccessful
  20. Xanda, photo credit:  Bert Du Plessis

    RIP: Mary Tyler Moore; Tom Regan; Tony the Truckstop Tiger; AnnaBell Washburn; Xanda, Cecil the lion’s son; and the estimated 55 elephants killed each day

    Tony, photo from ALDF website







Correction: an earlier version of this post gave an incorrect date for original passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It was 1918.

End Notes
  • Migratory Bird Treaty Act here
  • ABA Community Cat resolution here