Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


Volunteers threatened if they speak publicly about "shelter" conditions

February, 2009

The No Kill Advocacy Center has become increasingly aware that some officials who oversee shelters are threatening volunteers and rescuers that if they speak publicly about conditions at the shelter, they will be banned from volunteering or rescuing animals. But in actually banning or threatening to ban volunteers and rescuers, these officials nationwide are not only holding the animals hostage by threatening to kill them as punishment, they are also violating the civil rights of volunteers.

In 2008, Los Angeles rescuers teamed up with the No Kill Advocacy Center to file a lawsuit which alleged that the civil rights of volunteers and rescuers were being violated as retaliation for going public with their observations of inhumane conditions and neglectful treatment at the shelter. The court agreed.

In applying a federal civil rights statute to this area, the court gave animal activists a powerful weapon to reform the nation’s broken animal shelter system. Volunteers and rescuers no longer have to choose between remaining silent about abuses or risk losing their ability to help some animals by volunteering or rescuing them from death row.

Attorney Sheldon Eisenberg, who brought the ground-breaking lawsuit, argues that “Section 1983,” which was enacted as part of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 “can now help extend the protection of laws to those individuals committed to safeguarding the welfare and rights of the animals entrusted to our care.”

Read more: No Kill Advocacy Laws

Comment:  The same thing is happening in Canada, as well.  SPCAs and humane societies have been using their power to try to silence anybody who dares speaks out against their practices.  If you are a volunteer or employee who doesn’t toe the line, you’re through.  The public has been kept in the dark for decades in order to keep the donations coming.

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Atlanta Humane Society Can't Sue Internet Critic for Libel

Tuesday, July 12, 2005 JASON SCHOSSLER, Andrews Publications Correspondent

A Georgia appeals court has ruled that the Atlanta Humane Society cannot sue an animal welfare activist for allegedly defamatory comments she posted on an Internet message board.

Because the organization functions as a quasi-governmental agency, the state Court of Appeals concluded that it is barred from bringing an action for defamation under Georgia law.

"If plaintiff Atlanta Humane Society were not subject to the same types of criticism that governmental entities would be subject to," the court said, "it would frustrate the ability of the general public to complain and otherwise effectuate necessary and desirable change when those services fall below standards which the public demands."

The lawsuit concerned claims made by animal activist Kathi Mills in an Internet message board discussion about a local television station's series investigating the organization. The series severely criticized the AHS's euthanasia policies, its alleged failure to place animals for adoption and overall management of Fulton County animal control, among other things.

During the discussion, Mills made inflammatory statements about the AHS and relied upon the TV program's accusations to speculate that AHS policy with regard to euthanasia, adoption and other matters was calculated to "maximize profits." She also referred to AHS director Bill Garrett as "Mr. Kill," saying he "was not worthy to lick the dog or cat poop off our shoes."

Garrett and the agency sued Mills for defamation in the Gwinnett County Superior Court. Ruling in favor of Mills, the trial court determined that AHS was barred from proceeding with the case because it functions as a governmental entity.

The appeals court agreed, noting how Fulton County has delegated most of its statutory duties with regard to animal control to the AHS. When the AHS took over the county animal control facility, it was appointed to act as an agent of the Fulton County Board of Health concerning public health regulations, the court said.

The three-judge panel also ruled that Garrett could not prevail on his defamation claim because he is a limited-purpose public figure.

"Garrett is the director of and spokesman for AHS, an organization at the center of a controversy over its performance of the duties delegated to it by Fulton County," the appeals court wrote. "He voluntarily injected himself into the controversy by participating in the WSB Television investigation of AHS and in the consideration of AHS's performance by the Fulton County Commission."

The panel said Garrett failed to prove that Mills' statements were published with actual malice. "Mills' statements were made in response to the television broadcasts," the panel said. "Most were simply Mills' expression of her opinion, although in hyperbolic and sometimes scatological language, of Garrett and the organization he leads."

Private citizens also "are not required to investigate the investigators to ensure that programs aired by a major television station are accurate and correct before making comments based on those programs," the panel added. "[F]ailure to do so does not amount to actual malice in defamation actions against public figures."

Atlanta Humane Society et al. v. Mills, Nos. A03A2480 and A03A2481, 2005 WL 1315269 (Ga. Ct. App. June 3, 2005).

Never be silent. The animals need you! It only takes a moment to change the life of an animal facing abuse and exploitation.

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