Animal Law 101

Animals are and have always been an intricate part of nature and our planet. The relationship of wild animals with the rest of Earth’s ecosystems is what makes life on the planet possible for all living things. Just like there are rules and laws for humans that make the world a safer and more organized place, there are laws created to protect animals and regulate the way they are treated.

Animal law addresses issues such as mistreatment of animals, laboratory research on animals, and conservation of endangered species. Most of the laws are carried out on the state level, but additional laws are carried out by the federal government.

Laws that operate on the federal level include: 

  • The Animal Welfare Act: One of the oldest animal protection laws, this regulation protects animals in zoos, laboratories, and breeding mills from exploitative and abusive handling.
  • The “28-Hour Law”: This law deals with animal transportation over long distances. It requires that animals get a rest for water, food, and exercise every 28 hours of travel.
  • The Humane Slaughter Act: This act covers the legal side of the slaughter of animals. It protects all slaughter animals besides chickens, turkeys, and other birds from being slaughtered before being stunned. This is done so the animals do not feel pain during slaughter.
  • Endangered Species Act: This act protects populations of endangered animal or plant species.
  • PACT (Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture) Act: The PACT Act forbids animal practices like burning, drowning, suffocating, crushing, or any other type of exploitation of animals.

Several other laws concern animals on the state and local levels. These are enforced only within the state or location where they operate. These measures pertain mostly to companion animals and wildlife. Animals raised as pets have similar rights as humans regarding protection from violence and neglect. Pets left in cars during hot weather or those staying outside on a leash for too long in hot temperatures are also subject to protection by law enforcement.

Other state regulations are aimed at protecting wildlife by controlling how wildlife can be hunted. Laws also address the treatment of animals that perform in circuses. Some states have passed laws prohibiting the use of elephants for entertainment, for instance.

Animal law has grown drastically in the decades since this field’s inception. The growth of the legal side of animal protection has included the development of new animal law curricula, the increase in awareness of animal law, and the growth of animal-defense committees.

One organization for the protection of animals, known as the Animal Legal Defense Fund, was created in 1979 for the support of animal protection. The work of the defense fund includes expanding animal laws, providing legal assistance to prosecutors on behalf of animals, strengthening anti-cruelty policies, making sure that the rules are upheld, providing education, and ensuring the future of animal laws.

Today, in most nations’ laws, animals are considered things, unlike humans. As human understanding of animals increases, it’s certain that animals are sentient beings who have feelings and suffer from abuse and cruelty. Animal law can ensure that animals are treated fairly. This emphasis hinges on the understanding that animals are individuals just like humans who are an important part of nature and should be treated with respect.

While animal laws are growing and expanding, there is always more that can be contributed to the cause. An act as simple as spreading the word and raising awareness of animal rights issues can help contribute to the welfare of animals. There are also plenty of programs and causes that can be joined in support of animal protection in different parts of the country.