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HSUS's Animal Protection Litigation Team Celebrates Five Years of Legal Victories

When The HSUS and The Fund For Animals joined forces in 2005, one of the first new initiatives was the creation of an in-house group of three attorneys whose singular mission was to confront animal abuse in state and federal courts around the country.

Five years later, our fledgling team has grown to a staff of 25 full-time attorneys, a network of more than 2,000 pro bono lawyers, and a pool of talented law students from our partnership with Georgetown University Law Center.

We have more than a hundred attorneys and law students working on more than three dozen animal protection cases all over the nation.

It's by far the largest legal team assembled in the history of the animal protection movement, and the most effective.

In the last five years, HSUS's legal team has gone on the offensive against animal abusers in 25 states, halted dozens of government programs that put animals in peril, shuttered major animal abusing industries, and helped law enforcement officials bring scores of animal abusers to justice.

This past year shattered all previous records, with nearly two dozen new legal actions filed in state and federal courts from coast to coast, and more than a dozen major victories to protect animals from cruelty and abuse.

Here are a few stories to mark our five year anniversary, and to celebrate the tireless work of our network of lawyers, law students, and supporters that have made these victories possible.

Puppy Mill Dogs Have Their Day in the Sun

One of our biggest stories for 2009 was the bankruptcy, closure, and seizure of dogs from notorious South Florida puppy dealer Wizard of Claws. The legal battle started years ago, with the filing of a major class action lawsuit against Wizard of Claws for selling sick and dying puppies to hundreds of unsuspecting consumers.

Wizard of Claws

HSUS/Enjoying the sunshine after being rescued from a Florida puppy dealer

The case, the first class action of its kind, was filed by HSUS lawyers and a team of class action experts at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLPwho donated over 5,000 pro bono hours to the case.

Things came to a head in May, when a Florida judge denied a motion to dismiss the case, and set it on the path for discovery and trial. Wizard of Claws immediately filed for bankruptcy, resulting in the shuttering of the store and the sale of its assets.

When HSUS attorneys learned the bankruptcy trustee intended to auction off the store’s remaining puppies, a board member of the SPCA Wildlife Care Center stepped in to sponsor the dogs, and The HSUS brokered a deal to have all 32 dogs rescued and placed for adoption by Broward County Humane Society. To see the video of the puppies' homecoming, click here.

See what you can do to stop puppy mills »

Victories for Wildlife, Fur, Research, and Companion Animals

While the rescue of the Wizard of Claws puppies may have been the most dramatic victory of 2009, our legal team also won more than a dozen other rulings to protect animals. These include orders and settlements banning the sale of raccoon dog fur in all 46 Lord & Taylor stores; blocking a federal policy allowing canned hunting of endangered species; halting the false advertising of cruelly produced foie gras as a humane product; requiring the Department of Agriculture to provide key information concerning research animal pain and distress; and halting the slaughter of endangered wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

rescued bird #52


2009 also marked the end of our longstanding legal campaign to stop the sale and circulation of illegal animal fighting magazines by Amazon.com and the Postal Service. After we won a court order in March directing the Postal Service to reevaluate its policies on animal fighting in March, one magazine called it quits entirely, two others changed format and were pulled from Amazon.com. When the farewell issue of The Feathered Warrior rolled off the presses in July, publisher Verna Dowd explained, "We have been under attack many times throughout the years, but nothing to compare with this day and time." This fall, the Postal Service sealed the deal by issuing new rules banning the shipmentof animal fighting materials once and for all.

New Faces and New Cases for 2010

Our litigation staff grew by leaps and bounds in late 2009, with the arrival of ten new lawyers to augment our existing litigation team.

Eight of these lawyers are part of a new program wherein the nation's leading law firms sponsor new associates to donate a year of litigation work to public interest causes before embarking on their legal careers. HSUS was chosen to host attorneys from Latham & Watkins; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; Weil, Gotshall & Manges; Morgan Lewis; Skadden Arps; and Dewey & LeBoeuf. The program not only expands our legal team, but also helps grow our existing pro bono relationships with the nation’s top law firms, and introduces more and more attorneys to animal law as a field of public interest practice.

The "big firm eight" are joined by an attorney completing a post-graduate fellowship funded by U.C. Berkley School of law, and another funded through HSUS's ongoing partnership with Georgetown University Law Center. The Georgetown fellowship in Animal Law is the first such program in the entire country, and was made possible by a generous endowment by Bob Barker.

These fresh troops are arriving just in time, since some of our biggest cases are set to proceed to trial in 2010, including our case against three major retailers for false advertising of fur products, our lawsuit concerning water pollution from a factory farm in New York, and our groundbreaking factory farm air pollution case in California's central valley.

Our expanded legal team will also jump into the three dozen other cases on our docket, including a major class action lawsuit filed this year against national puppy retailer Petland, and a first of its kind, multi-million dollar False Claims Act against the owners of the infamous Hallmark/Westland meat packing plant for abusing downed animals and defrauding the federal school lunch program.

For the last five years, HSUS has fielded the largest and most effective animal protection litigation team in the country because of people like you who choose to get involved, donate legal work, or make a financial contribution to help stamp out animal cruelty. With your help, the next five years will be even better, and take us even further towards our goal of making sure that all animals get the legal protection they deserve.

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