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The 10 Most Groundbreaking U.S. Animal Welfare Laws

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Originally published at aspca.org

In honor of National Animal Advocacy Day, the ASPCA compiled what we consider the 10 most groundbreaking U.S. animal protection laws, in chronological order by date of enactment.

These laws passed because caring citizens made their voices heard and elevated the consideration of animals in our laws and in our conscience. Please join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade to play your part in passing the next groundbreaking law for animals!

1. In 1641, the first anti-cruelty law in America was enacted. When the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony created the 100 individual rights in their legal code -- many of which would later be included in the Bill of Rights -- number 92 was “Cruelty to Animals.” Far ahead of its time, the law read: “No man shall exercise any Tirranny or Crueltie towards any bruite Creature which are usuallie kept for man’s use.”

2. In 1867, just after Henry Bergh secured the incorporation of the ASPCA in New York State, he successfully lobbied for an upgrade to the state’s anti-cruelty law that included granting enforcement power to the ASPCA. Recognizing that an effective law hinges upon its enforcement and confident that goal would be best served by taking enforcement into his own hands, Bergh vested agents of the ASPCA with the authority to investigate abuse, make arrests, and seize animals in danger.

3. The 28-Hour Law, initially passed in 1873, was the nation’s first federal humane law. Aimed at reducing the horrors of long distance travel in crowded rail cars, this law requires unloading, feeding, water and rest for most species (birds are exempt) if trips exceed 28 hours. In 2007, the USDA expanded its interpretation to include trucks as well as trains.

4. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, passed by Congress in 1958, codifies the need to prevent the suffering of animals raised for food, requiring that they be rendered unconscious prior to slaughter. Exclusions include poultry, fish, and rabbits. The law was amended in 1978 to give USDA shut-down authority if violations were observed. In 2002, following a shocking investigative series in The Washington Post entitled “They Die Piece by Piece,” Congress passed a resolution urging that the law be fully enforced.

5. The Animal Welfare Act, first passed by Congress in 1966, is a federal statute to protect animals in research laboratories, bred for commercial sale, transported commercially, and used for public exhibition. Amended seven times since enactment, the AWA has been expanded to include provisions for the psychological well-being of dogs and primates in research, welfare standards for animals in the pet trade, and protections against animal fighting.

6. The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was enacted in 1971, declaring that mustangs and burros be protected as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.” In 1959, Congress first passed the Hunting Wild Horses and Burros on Public Lands Act in response to massive public outcry over the merciless mass killing of mustangs at the behest of ranching interests who wanted to use rangeland to graze their cattle. Controversy rages today over the care and treatment of residual populations of mustangs, as well as what their fair share of land should truly be, but the backdrop of the WFRHBA clearly states that they are to be preserved as part of our landscape and treated humanely.

7. The Endangered Species Act, signed into law in 1973, provides for the conservation of threatened and endangered animals and the habitats where those animals live. The powerful protections provided by the ESA have led to the recovery of wild populations of bald eagles, grizzly bears, and peregrine falcons, among other animals.

8. The Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, passed in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina, ensures that state and local emergency agencies address the needs of people with pets and service animals following a major disaster or emergency. The law recognizes that animals are vital members of families and that no one should have to choose between abandoning a beloved pet and personal safety.

9. In 2006, the Albuquerque city council passed a ban on retail sales of dogs and cats, encouraging pet stores to work with rescue groups to offer their pets for adoption. At the time, New Mexico was faced with high euthanasia rates at public shelters, and took this innovative approach, which has been spreading to communities all across the country.

10. In 2008, California voters were given the opportunity to demonstrate at the ballot box that extreme confinement of farm animals is unacceptable. Passed by the widest margin of any ballot measure in California’s history, Proposition 2 requires that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be allowed to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs, and turn around freely.

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