Basic Defensive Preparedness for Animal Owners

By Genny Wall, Attorney at Law


There are "animal rights extremists" who hold the political view that animals should not be owned or bred by anyone. Since their extreme views are not accepted by the general public, these extremists seek to force their political views on others.

One of the tools that these extremists use to accomplish their goals is the "Unwarranted Animal Seizure". This is a tactic which usually targets a breeder of animals so that the breeding program and animal bloodlines are destroyed and the animal owner is financially devastated. An Unwarranted Animal Seizure occurs when the conditions under which an animal or group of animals are kept do not justify the seizure and subsequent disposition of the animals in question.

Over the last several years, animal owners have been targeted by these extremists who seek to remove animals from their owners. Sometimes the extremists are "officials" who hold the extreme anti-animal-ownership views, and sometimes the extremists are individuals or organizations who have no "official" or "law enforcement" capacity, but who act "under color of law" and who mislead well-meaning "officials" into seizing animals when there is no valid reason to take such devastating action. These Unwarranted Animal Seizures harm not only the owners whose animals are seized, but they often harm the animals themselves.

In most Unwarranted Animal Seizure cases, while conditions at the site may not meet our "Good Housekeeping" standards, they are not as bad as the extremists would have us believe. The animals are not seriously ill or in danger of dying, and the animals could easily be left on the owners premises, with supervision by the appropriate animal authorities, while any animal abuse allegations progress through the legal system. This approach would save many animal lives and reduce animal care and legal costs.

But this approach doesn't accomplish the goal of the "animal rights extremists" to destroy the breeding program and to destroy the breeder financially, and is rejected by the extremists who push for animal seizure.

So, even though seizure is not necessary to save the lives of animals, Unwarranted Animal Seizures take place because the extremists insist that the animals be seized.

Often these Unwarranted Animal Seizures are carried out with complete disregard of the Constitutional rights of the animal owners, and, in particular, with complete disregard for Due Process. Often Unwarranted Animal Seizures are carried out with extensive on-site media coverage of "the largest animal seizure in the history of XYZ" and repeated media and online appeals for donations to the seizing agencies to "care for" the seized animals - even if the seizing agency doesn't keep or continue to care for the seized animals (which is often the case).

In Unwarranted Animal Seizure cases, the seized animals are frequently neutered, placed or sold, or euthanized, before any hearing takes place where the defendant can defend himself in court or seek to an order to have his animals returned to him. These dispositions are made quickly, before any hearing is scheduled or held, to try to deter the animal owner from pursuing his rights, and the return of his animals, in court.

In many cases the animal owner is required to post a bond for the "care" of his animals by the agency who seized his animals, while the legal proceedings drag on, sometimes for many months. Often the cost of the bond is so high that the innocent animal owner cannot raise the funds to post the bond.

The owner also has to hire and pay a lawyer to defend himself in the civil and criminal proceedings that invariably follow. Plea bargains are only made with animal owners who "voluntarily" give up their animals. Many innocent animal owners cannot afford to defend themselves in these protracted civil and criminal cases, and many innocent animal owners give up ownership of their animals so that they won't be charged criminally, or they accept a plea bargain and are given probation for a "crime" they never committed.

If a hearing does take place, often the process is biased against the defendant animal owner. Often the judicial officer who hears the case is biased to believe that the "evidence" presented by animal control or other organization who prompted the seizure is true, and that anything the defendant may say to contradict the prosecution is suspect. Often the judicial officer doesn't think he is being unfair to the defendant - but he does tend to believe that "where there's smoke there's fire". Also, usually the judicial officer, like most people, has no understanding of the extremists' anti-animal-ownership agenda, nor does he have an understanding of the details of what are acceptable animal husbandry practices.

If a hearing is actually held where the judicial officer is not biased towards the prosecution, and where evidence and motions are fairly considered, and a court order is obtained to return the animals to the owner, the owner often finds that his animals are no longer alive, or healthy, or that they can no longer be used for breeding if they have been neutered. The animal owner wins the battle, but loses the war.

In some cases of Unwarranted Animal Seizures aggrieved animal owners have successfully sued the extremists for their bad acts, and have obtained settlements or judgments against them. In some cases they get their animals back, but in many others they find that their animals have "disappeared" into the "animal welfare underground", never to be returned. Unfortunately, in many cases, the extremists are not held to account for their bad acts, and they simply repeat the process against their next victim.

As an animal owner, your best protection against these extremists is to be aware that these extremists exist, to understand that they hold an anti-animal-ownership view, and to be prepared for a potential attempt to seize your animals, even if you provide the best care possible to your animals. While you do not need to be paranoid - you need to be prepared. Awareness and Preparation are two of your best defensive tools. This article will try to help you put those tools in place.

KEEP GOOD RECORDS - ON SITE AND ONLINE

  • Keep good records, and upload them to the cloud so that you can access them in the event your files or your computer are seized, or your computer crashes.
  • Check online for online storage. Some examples are:
    • Dropbox - offers free online storage for up to 2 GB https://www.dropbox.com/pricing
    • Carbonite - provides automated backup service of your computer to the cloud at a reasonable annual price (in 2012 at $59 per year). An automatic backup service saves you the hassle of constantly uploading your documentation to the cloud. You can access your online backup from any computer (very handy if your computer crashes or is seized). www.carbonite.com
  • Keep every animal related receipt. Your records don't have to be tidy - they just have to be accessible to you. Scan receipts in batches as you accumulate them so that they can be uploaded to the cloud.

DOCUMENT THE CARE YOU PROVIDE TO YOUR ANIMALS

  • Document where every animal on your premises came from, and if purchased or accepted for free, the condition of the animal when it came through your door (include dated photos). Upload scanned records and digital photos to the cloud.
  • Take pictures of your animals and their housing and environment at least once a month (and preferably more frequently, especially right after the area is cleaned). Be aware of what is in the background, and be sure that the photos show that your place is clean and your animals are housed in appropriate conditions. Document the date and time, and upload it to the cloud.
  • Keep records of weights, condition, any issues being treated, and other care given to your animals. Upload to the cloud.
  • Do not have ANYTHING -- empty dirty cages, too-small cages, etc. -- in the vicinity of where you keep the animals that could be used to stage photos depicting "deplorable conditions" even if there are no animals housed in them. "Rescuers" and law enforcement have been known to move animals into dirty cages or too-small cages stacked without trays, or give them dirty dishes for photo ops.
  • If you have a sickly or unthrifty animal, actively treat it by proven and/or provable methods with good records of all treatments. If you do choose to keep unsightly, old, or ill-appearing animals, consider separating them from the rest of the group if appropriate, and make sure you have clear evidence that you are aware of and handling the condition. Veterinary care is the safest way to prove this, although even veterinary records may or may not be accepted as adequate evidence of care before/during a seizure.
  • As much as possible, keep detailed records of the animals' health, weight, any illnesses and how they were treated, births/deaths, routine care, cleaning, veterinary care, medications, etc. "Best case scenario" is to have both electronic (documents or scanned images, and loaded to the cloud) and keep paper copies of everything on the premises. Make your life simple, and just keep all the paper records together in a file or box in chronological order. If you ever need them, you can find what you need at that future time.

HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH A VET YOU TRUST

  • Have a relationship with a vet you trust. Make sure you get copies of all documentation whenever they see your animals, and keep that hard copy information on file and available on the premises so you can prove vaccinations, medication, examinations, and other treatment. "Best practice" is to also scan everything and upload the scans to the cloud. Also ask the vet to note in writing the condition of the animals when they see them, if they don't automatically do that (most do).
  • Regular physical exams can be a way to document veterinary care. If you have a relatively large number of animals, check with your vet to see if the vet will come to your premises for the exams - you may be able to save some money on the vet bill.

HAVE A DISASTER EVACUATION PLAN

  • Have a formal evacuation plan to remove your animals from the premises in case of a disaster (fire, flood, etc.). Plan for where they will be housed until they can be safely returned to the premises. Keep the plan available for your own use, and to show it to legitimate authorities who may ask to see it.

KNOW WHO WANTS TO ACCESS, OR WHO IS ACCESSING, YOUR PREMISES

  • Identify every person who seeks access to your premises, and don't let unauthorized people on or in your premises. Document and keep a log of every single person who sets foot on your property or sees your animals or operation. Ask to see their photo ID or official badge, and record it (take a photo, or use the camera in your smart phone). Take a photo of the person too (this tends to make unlawful strangers nervous). Don't allow strangers on the premises who have no valid reason to be on the premises. Post "No Trespassing" signs if you feel comfortable doing that.

 KNOW YOUR RIGHTS

  • "Officials" violate people's rights under the U.S. Constitution every day, because they know that many people are not aware of their rights. Laws that violate the U.S. Constitution are passed all the time, because lawmakers know that the average person doesn't have the ability to challenge them, and that unless and until a court strikes down an unconstitutional law, it is still "on the books".
  • The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires a warrant for anyone, including "officials" of the government or of humane organizations acting "under color of law" to set foot on your property to search or seize any of your property (and animals ARE property).
    • Amendment IV - "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
    • The Fifth Amendment requires that you be provided with due process and that you shall not be compelled to testify against yourself.
      • Amendment V - "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

    Read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights at http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution.html

HAVE AN EMERGENCY EVACUATION PLAN TO USE IF YOU ANTICIPATE AN UNWARRANTED SEIZURE

  • Have an evacuation plan in case things look like they may go badly with little warning - if you suspect that you are going to be subjected to a warrantless raid - who do you know who can take your animals - how quickly and for how long?

NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING

  • Anytime you hear "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" - be wary. Never assume that an "official" (of any kind) who wants to inspect your premises or inspect your animals is there "to help you". An "official" who comes to your home, acting in their official capacity, who insists on entering your premises, is not there for a "friendly visit" - their job is to obtain evidence to be used against you in a legal proceeding.
  • Do NOT assume all "authorities" will obey the law or abide by deadlines they set or timelines they give you. In many unwarranted animal seizure cases they have said they would check back at a certain date or have given people until a certain date to do something, or even that they were going to close a case, and then showed up with a warrant to seize the animals well before that deadline.

READ "WHAT TO DO WHEN ANIMAL CONTROL COMES KNOCKING"

by California attorney George J. Eigenhauser Jr. - http://www.ckcscsc.com/animal-control.htm