Animals Law 101: What is animal law and how does it work?
The legal system can be a maze for even the most skilled professional. For a layperson, it offers challenges, beginning with basic terminology and the workings of government. Here are some tips to help you through the maze.
What is “animal law?”
Simply defined, animal law is any legal issue that involves animals. More specifically, it is a combination of statutory and case law in which the nature of non-human animals, whether legal, social or biological, is an important factor. And it includes all animals—companion animals, animals raised for food, animals used in research, education and entertainment, and wildlife. (For more information see pages 6-9 of A New Perspective.)
That leads to more fundamental questions:
What is a law?
Law: A rule, order or injunction that it is obligatory to follow. Also known as a statute or in local government as an ordinance.
Laws concerning animals occur on the federal, state and local level. The federal government, as well as individual states, make laws regarding animal control provisions (licensing), animal welfare, hunting and trapping restrictions, and by providing criminal penalties for animal abuse. Some states have laws concerning the use of alternatives in education or prohibiting the use of animal testing in cosmetics manufactured within the state. Counties and municipalities may also have laws requiring the licensing of dogs or animal-based businesses within their limits. They may also have leash laws and laws affecting the running of animal shelters and pounds. Part of the process of passing laws is having government agencies enact regulations that more clearly spell out the specifics of how a law will be administered.
What is a regulation?
Regulations: rules or guidelines developed by government agencies—federal and state—to help administer laws and carry out their functions.
Agencies are part of the executive branch of government. The Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Homeland Security are examples of federal agencies. The heads (Secretaries) of these agencies are appointed by the President, with the approval of Congress. While lower level administrators at the agencies are also there by appointment from the President, the staff is made up of civil service employees. On the state level, the Governor is the executive. Every state has agencies that oversee specific functions of government, from Fish and Wildlife, to Agriculture, to Natural Resources. The heads of these agencies are also appointed by the executive.
On the county level, the executive is the County Chairman (or similar title) and on the local level it could be the Mayor or President of the Board of Trustees. These positions do not usually have the multiple levels of administrative government appointments, although in large cities that may be the case. Commissioners or trustees are generally elected positions, while most operational positions are filled by civil service employees.
While the legislative branch of government (Congress), passes laws, but the executive branch is charged with developing the guidelines on how to apply the law. Agencies of the government develop, publish and finalize regulations. And while proposed regulations do not pass through “congressional committees,” they are still subject to a public comment period before they can become final.
So how does a regulation differ from a law? Unlike a law, where committee hearings are held for review of the legislation, regulations are subject to public comment through a written process; however, the final content of the regulations are determined by the agency itself. Regulations must conform to the law, although it may take an act of Congress or a ruling by a federal court to overturn a regulation that does not comply with law.
When a law is passed, it generally falls into an existing category of regulation. A particular regulatory agency will be charged with drafting regulations to detail the specifics of the law. For instance, regulation of animals used in research is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is based on guidelines set out in the federal Animal Welfare Act. The Department of Agriculture has the authority to draft new regulations to reflect new general policy or attitudes in a particular regard, so long as the regulations do not clearly conflict with the law that they are implementing.
How does the legislative process work?
From the birth of an idea to the passage of a law is a long and arduous process. The first step is identifying what kind of law you want to pass—municipal, state or federal—and who is the person who has the authority to move it through the legislative process.
The following excerpt pages from our 2008 publication, A New Perspective provides a quick visual overview of the process.