Episode 27 – Part 2, Stephen Wells, Animal Legal Defense Fund

27 Steven Wells_FB 27 Steven Wells_FB Stephen Wells is the executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Stephen founded and served for six years as the director of ALDF’s successful Animal Law Program, which provides support and resources to ALDF’s law professional and law student members. The ALDF organizes law firms across the country and coordinates pro bono opportunities for attorneys and firms to assist ALDF with its mission of protecting animals. Stephen joined the ALDF in 2000 and eventually took the leadership role of Executive Director in 2007. He has committed himself to animals and environmental protection and continues to lead the ALDF to make significant changes in laws supporting animals. We continue the podcast from last week with part 2 where Stephen tells us how the ALDF is in it for the long run, their methodology for state rankings in animal laws, the biggest accomplishments of the past year and where animal law is headed and so much more! For more information on the ALDF you can visit their website here, http://aldf.org/ Welcome to the Professionals and Animal Rescue podcast, where goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. This’ll Podcast is proudly sponsored by Joubert dot com. Do Bert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only site that automates rescue relate Transport. Now on with our show today, we’re doing Part two of our interview with Stephen Wells as reminder. Stephen is the executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and has been with the organization since 2000. Particularly like you said, it’s been years worth of work to put these cases together. So you guys were really playing the long game? Yeah, yeah, we really do. And sometimes that’s what it takes. You know, I mentioned before the Crooked Hollow Zoo case. Um, and that was another one that, you know, we filed and and we were, you know, trying trying out to use a lawn in a different way. That hadn’t been done before. So it went to trial, and, you know, it takes sometimes months and sometimes years. But ultimately the payoff is is really worth it and ah, I should say and follow up to the the results from the cricket hollow Zoo case. We also challenged the USDA filed a separate lawsuit that challenged practice. The USDA was essentially rubber stamping permits that these roadside zoos have for keeping these animals. So even when there were violations by these roadside zoos of animal cruelty or, you know, having unsafe or unsanitary conditions those sorts of things, they would still reissue their permits year after year after year. So we filed a challenge on that as well, and were able to find that that this was the practice, essentially, that the USDA was rubber stamping these things, and I didn’t even think it needed to look at whether or not these roadside zoos were violating the law. Amazingly, and so they kept re issuing cricket Hollis permit. And so now the USDA is going back. They’re going through an entire process. Um, and we won the case that says that the USDA now has to justify the re issuance of permits, and this is a huge victory because this means that in every case and there are so many where these, you know, roadside menagerie zoo of animals that violate laws like the Animal Welfare Act. They now have to justify and say why they would reissue a permit to a place that violates the law that way. So this has could have potentially huge, sweeping consequences. And we’re very excited about that. And then lastly, Ah, as a result of our challenges to the way the USDA treated cricket, Hollis do. They have now revoked their permit based on past behavior. So now the animals that the cricket Hollows who had that were not listed under the Endangered Species Act could be finding new homes. And we’re working now to try and make sure that the rest of its animals go to sanctuaries as well. So you can kind of see the, you know, a lot of times doing this legal work is the gift that keeps on giving. You know, when we win, it has consequences and ripple effects that can that can roll out, you know, not only for the animals directly involved in that specific case, but potentially for other animals and, most importantly, for us law in U. S. Policy. Yeah, no. One of things I thought was really cool that you guys produce that I wanted to highlight here was a state ranking. You know, some number one to number 50 tells a little bit about that kind of the methodology and how people can take a look at that for what’s going on in their particular state. Sure, yeah, Every year the Animal Legal Defense Fund issues a ranking of all 50 states, and we actually include the territories as well, like Guam and Puerto Rico. And we rank them all according to how strong their animal protection laws are at the state or territory level. And so, you know, it’s a great tool. First of all, for people to have an idea of how their state stacks up against others and we’re seeing it used, which was our hope on a regular basis. When you know people or state based rescue groups or whatever, see how weak their laws are, they can use it as a tool to go to their legislation. Say, you know, you know, look, we’re were ranked, you know, 30th. Um, and that’s unacceptable. You know, we need toe up our game and the our rankings go into great detail on, you know, what the specific aspect of the laws are. You know what the provisions are? Ah, that make a state particularly good or particularly bad. So it gives, you know, activists and legislatures in those states, the tools to say, Wow, that’s a really great provisions in that, you know, they have in Illinois, which, by the way, is is typically has been our number one ranked ST Ah, for many years running Now, Um, and we don’t have that. So we can, you know, go to our Legislature and talk to a legislator about introducing a bill that will add that provision to our law. So it’s a great tool. Um, and it’s also something that you know, his media friendly. So the media likes to pick up on it. They love lists and rankings. So it gets, you know, the status of animal cruelty laws into the public’s attention as well. Yeah, no, I definitely think it’s great. And I was pretty excited myself being from Iraqi Wisconsin to see that Milwaukee, as per our Wisconsin has moved up in the rankings. Not not quite near the top to yet, but we’re headed in the right direction, so yeah, Yeah, Yeah, I like to see that, too. Yeah, it’s fun to watch, you know which states go up. And then we have Kentucky, which is, uh, sadly been perpetually at the bottom of our rankings. And, ah, you know, they have they have a ways to go. But I was excited to see that, You know, that’s being called out in the media in Kentucky. Um, where you know, they’re the media and and rescue folks and so forth are able to sort of shame their state in the religiously turn their governor and say, you know, this is unacceptable. We don’t want to be at the bottom, you know, of the pyramid here. So it’s a really great, too. And it’s available on our website, and and, ah, as there are lots of tools for folks, um, we’re talking about, you know, getting involved in legislation and so forth. And we have tools where people can find out who their representatives are. And we regularly post things on our website for where we ask people to get involved and, you know, send an email, write a letter, those sorts of things, their legislatures. So our website is ailed the like Animal Legal Defense fund dot org’s ale. The f dot org’s, Um, and you can also sign up for our newsletter there so you can kind of stay tuned on what we’re working on and when we put out alerts for people to get involved in that sort of thing. And we’re also on Facebook so people can like our Animal Legal Defense Fund page on Facebook and stay tuned with the things we’re doing there as well. Yeah, and you know, one of things I was just thinking about Stephen is in your position, right? You get to see the long game, not only what you’ve accomplished, but also what you’re planning to do. Can you give us some perspective? Maybe on some of the things as we record this were in January of 2018. So maybe looking back on 2017 and looking ahead, what what’s been really big accomplishments and where we headed? What are the trends telling you? Yeah, that’s that’s a great question. So, you know, I’m very happy to say that specifically within the world of animal law were singing tremendous change and tremendous momentum. And let me give you one example that’s that I think will be very heartening for people. So when I started working for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, my my first year was Ah, in 2000 and I saw an opportunity. I saw a lot of interest at the law student level in law schools who would contact us and ask us about our work. And they were very excited that there was a group like LDF in the legal world working for animals. So I started a program to help students organize and form chapters of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which we call student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapters. And the interest was amazing. So at the end of that first year, we had signed up about a dozen student chapters at law schools around the country, and there were, at the time, about 15 law schools that were teaching an animal law class. It was something brand new and experimental, and um so with the help of chapters, and they began that it really began a snowball with the level of interest and with students kind of forming chapters and organizing and pushing their law schools offer something an animal law the number of classes really shot up. So to give an example today, 17 years later, we have 220 student chapters of the Animal Legal Defense Fund at law schools across the country, which is already virtually every loss every accredited law school in the country. Um, and there are about 175 law schools that are teaching at least one animal law class. So yeah, it’s wonderful. And it has meaning. I mean, one of the. At the same time as I started the student program, I started to reach out to lawyers and law firms out in, you know, in the professionals here to ask them to get involved in the L. D. EFS work as well. So we started what we now call our pro bono program, where we invite lawyers and law firms to do pro bono work for LDS. Um, and likewise, you know, from that start in 2000 simultaneous with the student chapter program. Today we have about 450 law firms, and over 2000 individual attorneys signed up willing to do pro bono work for LDF. Ah, really tremendous outpouring of support from the legal profession. So we’re seeing now both at the law school level and in the legal professional world. Animal laws being taken seriously. Um, law, professionals of all sorts are excited about it and most importantly, seeing the need seeing the need for change and seeing the need to get involved and the many opportunities there are to protect animals and make lasting change through legal change. So that’s an exciting development. So, you know, in answer to your question, um, I think the future is very bright and a, you know, with with the help of our pro bono partners, for example, were able to file far more cases than we used to because we can now sort of use our in house experts to develop cases. Think them through, prepare them. Ah, but often times are pro bono partners, you know, which includes the biggest firms in the country, will litigate. The case is for us, which is a tremendous according leveraging of our you know, relatively small budget were able to get a lot of help to do that and allows us to do farm. Or so you know, the future looks very bright in the animal law world and speaking specifically to, you know, animal protection in general, I think it’s safe to say there’s there’s a tremendous amount of more awareness, Um, in the last decade or two. Ah, animal protection and you know, ah, whether whether you call an animal rights or animal welfare, you know, I used the general term animal protection because I don’t think the semantics matter as much as what we’re actually accomplishing. And we, you know, we’re seeing tremendous improvement. Um, we’re seeing, you know, greater recognition and that animals are not simply property. Um, and that’s something that will continue to build, I believe, until we see fundamental change in the law. Um, and we’re also seeing a lot more attention to how animals are treated and a lot more concerned. A good example, you know, in 2008 was the state of California through citizen action, placed the ballot measure related to treatment of farmed animals on the ballot and 72% of Californians, which is a tremendous victory in the ballot initiative world voted though there were all kinds of scare tactics tactics from the AG industry, saying that improved welfare for animals would lead Teoh price increases and collapses of industries and all these scare tactics, you know, Nevertheless, California voters voted overwhelmingly, and I think that that would be true. And virtually every state, many other states have passed similar ballot measures as well. Where people are saying, you know, we’re were that concerned about how animals are treated now and ah, and I think that’s a change that that bodes well for the future. More people are aware more people are getting involved. More people are saying we’ve got to do better as a society, um, in how we view and treat animals. Yeah, I know. And I definitely agree with you on where they’re trends. Airheaded. What advice would you give to somebody that wants to get more involved with this? They hear what you’re talking about with some of these laws. Me? Where does somebody get involved to support the efforts that you guys were leading? So, yeah, again. You know, people wanna know how to get involved with the Animal Legal Defense fund specifically Ah, we would love that. And you can find us on Facebook or Twitter or instagram, uh, where you can find us at an animal legal defense fund or a L D. F. Like Frank. We have ways that people can get involved. If you’re a law student or a law professional or just a member of the public, there are various things you can do and we do encourage. As I said, you know, people to get involved with their local, state and federal lawmakers get to know them and know what their views are on animal issues and let them know how strongly you feel about it. That’s really important. And then, of course, to the Animal Legal Defense Fund is virtually entirely sports supported by individual donors. So ah, people can join to become a member and support our work in that way. We’re truly grateful because we don’t get ah, you know, we don’t get government funding or corporate funding or those sorts of things we really rely on on. Ah, you know, private individuals who believe in our work to help us make it happen. And so you know, and then there are so many ways, and I think you know, the your show is a good example of that because you talk to people across the country doing all kinds of different amazing things for animals. Many of them volunteers, uh, you know, have regular jobs on top of it, which is I think these people are our heroes, you know? So there are many ways depending on you know what? Issues are most important to people as individuals that they can get involved, you know, I mean, we see people doing everything from, ah, you know, volunteering at their local ah humane society or or ah, shelter group walking dogs and cleaning kennels to, you know, people that are out doing wildlife rescue, which you know, is often badly needed. And there are a few resource is for, you know, two people who are ah, farmed farmed animals are important to them. So their ah, you know, table ing at, ah, local event and educating people about how farmed animals are treated and, you know, ah ah, vegetarian diet. You know, that sort of thing. I mean, they’re just depending on the issues that speak to people. There are so many ways that people can get involved as individuals as well. And I think the work that the Animal Legal Defense Fund does is, you know, it’s unique and our focus exclusive focus on the law. But I think it’s also unique in that you know how the way our laws treat animals, um, is one thing. And then also, you know, it’s important, as we see with ag gag laws, to monitor how the law’s impact are people’s capacity to do good work, you know? So we are constantly monitoring and trying to improve the laws that make it possible for people to do rescue work. Uh, and the laws that you know would would, as ag gag laws do try and prevent, uh, citizens from being able to document and report animal cruelty properly, you know? So where the legal sphere is important, no matter which, you know which way people get involved. And I think that that’s one thing that’s unique, um, and really important with the work. The Animal Legal Defense Fund does as well. Yeah, well, thank you for all that, Stephen. So is there anything else you want to share with our listeners before we wrap things up? The only other thing I’d, uh, I’d add is so the Animal Legal Defense Fund. We posted a video online at the end of last year’s we typically do that outlines the successes and challenges we had in the prior year. So our 2017 videos online and, ah, if people want to know more specifically about some of the work that we accomplished, uh, encourage Geo Teoh, go to our website and check that out. And then, you know, we we we generally post a lot about, you know, current cases were working on, and it’s a new year, and we have tremendous plans for building on the victories that we’ve already had. And picking on new challenges will continue to challenge ag gag laws. Um, we’re continuing to go after, ah, the conditions for captive wildlife in roadside Jews and other places where they’re horribly treated. You know, puppy mills are going to be a big issue for us. So watch for our work continuing to go after puppy mills and the laws that enable them and likewise factory farming and some of the worst forms institutional cruelty are happening to farmed animals. And we’re challenging those laws as well. So, you know, I encourage people toe check out our website, Um, see what we’re doing, and ah and and what we plan to do in the coming year and beyond. Um, and really just want to say ah to your listeners because I think you have a lot of listeners who are have rolled up their sleeves and are actively involved in some way in helping animals. Ah, and I just want to personally thank them because, really, our work is impossible. Many of the cases we get many of the ideas we get for legislation that we can work on, you know, come from those people who are in the trenches, so to speak. Ah, and contact us and let us know about things that are happening, that there might be ways we can, uh, fix. So when I shout out to them and say thank you very much for the work you’re doing and ah, I hope we can continue to work together. Yeah, definitely could not have stated any better than people that are in the trenches Air are the ones that motivate us to keep going in and give us some support and direction. So So thank you very much, Steven, I really appreciate you coming on the program and sharing things, and we hope to have you on again in the future. Thanks so much, Chris. It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me. Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. If you’re not already a member, joined the Air P A. To take advantage of all the resources we have to offer. And don’t forget to sign up with do bert dot com. It’s free and helps automate the most difficult tasks in animal rescue.
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