A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Jan 30, 2017

Alaska is First State to Consider Well Being of Pets in Divorce Proceedings

Animals are legally considered property despite the fact that said designation often feels weird. It feels weird because both the humans and the animals can feel love, can hurt, can grieve and can suffer. No matter how much you love your car, your car can neither love you back nor suffer if you don't gas it up.

The courts and legislators struggle with this all the time as there is a universal recognition that animals are a unique form of property. Hence, animal welfare laws prohibit humans from treating their pets poorly and can actually prohibit some offenders from having pets at all. California was an early adopter of a set of statutes that permitted pets to be listed on restraining orders in cases of domestic violence. This was revolutionary at the time as doing so was akin to ordering someone to remain 100 yards from a stereo!

Alaska is the first state to go even further and now requires that in divorce proceedings judges may decide the issue of custody of the pets based upon "the well-being of the animal" rather than merely looking at who purchased the pet as one might look at a house or furniture. In other words, courts may analyze pet custody issues in an analogous manner to child custody disputes in that single or joint custody will be awarded based on the pet's needs rather than those of the humans.

Like infants, pets can't testify as to their preferences. I bet there will be some interesting witnesses and other evidentiary offerings to help the judge determine the issue and make a just and righteous call.

Stay tuned ....

Jan 17, 2017

The Final Curtain to Fall on Ringling Brothers After 146 years

courtesy Google Images
Ringling Brothers is finally closing the circus  after 146 years.

Henry Bergh, the founder of spcaLA (1877) was reputed to be seen frequently fighting with P.T.Barnum on the streets of New York City in order to persuade him that such a use of animals was shameful and immoral. If you do the math you can see that the use of animals in entertainment has been a core issue for as long as we have opened our doors.

For me, it's also personal. The first day of my first animal welfare job ever, required me to go to Madison Square Garden to check on a unicorn that was premiering in the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Baily circus. I was horrified to see that the unicorn was a goat with a horn surgically implanted in her skull. Of course, we were outraged that it wasn't enough that circus animals already had to endure travel hardships, harsh training practices, abnormal environments and extreme stress, but it appeared that surgically transforming animals to look like something else was not off the table. It made me very sad as it pulled the curtain back and forever altered my very positive childhood memories of my father, in a suit, taking my brothers and me, all dressed up, to see the animals and swing our little red circus flashlights as elephants marched and trapeze artists flew. 

Ringling cited poor attendance, bullhook bans, elephant bans and animal activists as the reasons for their decision. I say, that we all evolved, community standards changed and that we collectively agreed that magic and illusions are fun as long as the man behind the curtain is not actually beating an animal or any living being to create the effect.

I would like to thank my colleagues for their persistence in this matter and, yes, also Ringling Brothers for finally doing the right and humane thing.