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Pet fanciers and others who live or work close to animals have always known that many if not most of the more familiar domesticated or wild species have feelings, if not precisely thoughts, as shown in their obvious capacity to suffer. That awareness, echoed in certain religious beliefs, is increasingly underscored by scientific research and academic debate which in the last century or so has resulted in  secular theories to the effect that how humans treat animals is a matter of ethics, not just sentiment.

The conflict between arguments for animal rights on the one hand and animals’ utility as research subjects or recreational performers on the other rages here in California at least as fervidly as anywhere else, and has shown up in a variety of disputes about what can be shown or even said about the treatment of animals in different circumstances.  One of the leading cases on the issue of speech rights on public property under the California Constitution concerned precisely where, on the grounds of the Cow Palace, animal rights protesters were allowed to hand out leaflets concerning a rodeo being held in the arena. The court concluded that the establishment’s permissive contact areas were unreasonably restricted, and that, for example, the leafleters must be allowed to follow patrons throughout the parking lot. Kuba v. A-1 Agricultural Association, 387 F.3d 850 (Ninth Circuit 2004).

Just in the last few days several other instances of the animal rights struggle and its implications for open government and free speech values have surfaced.

        >>> A bill amended on April Fool’s Day by Assembly Member Gene Mullin (D-San Mateo) would enact sweeping provisions aimed at suppressing certain information about those working in a wide variety of capacities in connection with animals. AB 2296 would criminalize, and expose to civil damages liability, the posting on the Internet of a home address, telephone number, or image of any employee of an “animal enterprise,” defined as:

  • “a commercial or academic enterprise that uses or sells animals or animal products for profit, food or fiber production, agriculture, education, research, or testing;
  • “ a zoo, aquarium, animal shelter, pet store, breeder, furrier, circus, or rodeo, or other lawful competitive animal event (or)
  • “a fair or similar event intended to advance agricultural arts and sciences.”

Criminal liability would arise only if the posting was done with the specific intent to threaten or harm the animal enterprise worker, but he or she could demand, backed by a court order if necessary, that his or her information be withdrawn from public exposure, with no requirement to prove a criminal intent. The bill would also allow public agencies to withhold “information relating to animal research activities when there is a reasonable basis to conclude that public disclosure of the records would result in harassment of individuals involved with the research.”  Finally, AB 2296 would provide that any lawsuit filed for damages or injunctive relief concerning violations of animal industry employees’ rights under the bill could not be stopped by an anti-SLAPP motion, thereby exposing those publishing or posting such information to frivolous and costly lawsuits.

        >>> The San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune reports that Sheriff Pat Hedges has instituted a new policy barring county Animal Services volunteers from making public statements criticizing the shelter or its operations.  While it’s not clear what kind of criticism the sheriff wants to discourage, the report does say that the new policy comes

after volunteers have stepped up their public complaints to county leaders about what some allege is poor management at Animal Services. Those complaints led the county Board of Supervisors to spend nearly $23,000 to have the Humane Society of the United States evaluate the agency’s operations.

        >>> The Long Beach community news website LBReport.com discloses that

under the CA Public Records Act . . . LBReport.com is today requesting access to data showing the annual number of euthanasias performed over the past three years by the City of Long Beach at its Animal Control facility. LBReport.com is also separately requesting the opportunity to video record the euthanasia procedure, carried out in the manner specified by management on a dog and a cat.

The latter request is explained more fully in the request letter:

LBReport.com separately requests the opportunity to video record a euthanasia procedure carried out on a dog and a cat in the manner specified by management. We request the opportunity to video record the animal prior to the procedure, preparations for the procedure as relevant, the actual euthanasia and the animal's disposal. The video will be shown on LBReport.com unedited from start to finish.