6 important new laws helping animals in 2024

6 important new laws helping animals in 2024

Bans on bear selfies. Prohibitions on pet store sales. Finding forever homes for some research animals. State laws across the U.S. are slated to improve animal welfare in the year ahead.

Published January 16, 2024

The new year ushered in a spate of laws across the United States designed to improve the lives of wildlife and domesticated animals alike.

In Maryland, a first-of-its-kind law requires—starting this week—that any facilities conducting experiments on animals pay into a fund that finances alternative non-animal research methods. Meanwhile, several western states’ cage-free egg requirements went into effect at the beginning of 2024, as did Illinois’s ban on taking selfies with bears and monkeys.

“We’ve been trying to systematically protect wildlife,” says Illinois State Senator Linda Holmes, a sponsor of the animal selfie bill as well as earlier legislation that made Illinois the first state to prohibit using captive elephants in traveling circuses. She adds that legislative protections are needed for the safety of both people and animals.

Here are the latest animal welfare changes coming in 2024.

1. An end to wildlife killing competitions in New York 

New York’s governor last month signed a new law barring wildlife killing contests across the state. The provision, which goes into effect on November 1, will prohibit large-scale killing events such as an annual coyote hunt in the Catskills investigated by National Geographic in 2022. At that event, hunters competed to kill the biggest and largest number of coyotes for cash prizes and bragging rights.

The state’s law makes it illegal to organize or participate in such killing contests for numerous species, including coyotes, crows, squirrels, and rabbits. Nine other states have already enacted similar wildlife killing competition prohibitions, but as National Geographic previously reported, tens of thousands of animals are still killed annually at these U.S. contests, including in Texas, where there are as many as 60 such cash-to-kill competitions each year.

2. No more bear selfies or other close contact with monkeys 

In Illinois, a new law went into effect on January 1 prohibiting the public from coming into close contact with bears or nonhuman primates.  If someone tries to take a selfie with a bear or monkey—or if they get caught harassing wild bears—they could face a hefty fine or a jail sentence. The new law bars “physical contact or proximity where physical contact is possible,” covering anywhere without barriers separating the animals. That means someone could still snap a photo of themselves at an accredited zoo where the animal is behind a full physical barrier, Holmes says. But she hopes that the state’s law will disincentivize captive breeding of wild animal species for use as photo props and entertainment at places like roadside zoos, where people may come to feed, touch, or otherwise interact with captive animals.

(Related: U.S. law bans tiger selfies and the industry ‘Tiger King’ made famous)

3. Alternatives to animal research gets a financial boost

This week marks the first time that facilities conducting research on animals must pay into a fund that will pay for programs to develop non-animal research methods.

The Maryland state legislation was signed into law by the governor in May 2023, but the payments into the new fund, which are required on a sliding scale based on number of animals used, weren’t due until January 15, 2024. Facilities must now pay between $5,000 and $75,000 annually to the Maryland Department of Health by January 15 of each year or face a penalty of up to $1,000 per day.

“I think this is a good idea for growing the funds available for non-animal approaches in science,” says Elizabeth Baker, director of research policy for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a U.S. nonprofit which opposes animal-based research. “The momentum for moving away from animal experiments has never been stronger,” she says. 

(Read more: The U.S.’s only research chinchilla supplier has been shut down. Here’s why that matters.)

4. Pet store sales of puppies, cats, and rabbits face new prohibitions 

Retail sales of dogs and cats at pet stores will no longer be allowed in New York state or Louisville, Kentucky. The New York state law, which goes into effect in December 2024, also bars rabbit sales in pet stores, and it will stop about 50 stores from selling puppies, according to the Humane Society of the United States. The Louisville prohibition, which goes into effect in September 2024, blocks the area’s two pet stores from selling dogs and cats.

Pet stores, which need large numbers of animals since they typically sell quickly, often obtain dogs from puppy mills—high-volume breeders that keep the animals in inhumane conditions and frequently have poor sanitation. To target this issue, another law in Pennsylvania will require pet stores to post health and breeder information for puppies starting this month.

By reducing the demand for puppy mills with these type of retail restrictions, the number of pets bred on an industrial scale should decline over time, says John Goodwin, who directs the Stop Puppy Mills Campaign at the Humane Society of the United States.

The New York and Louisville laws both note that pet stores may still partner with shelters who want to use the stores for adoptions. Prospective pet owners can also still obtain cats and dogs at shelters or directly contact breeders, Goodwin says, adding many breeders raise small numbers of animals and keep them in their homes.

5. The next chapter for dogs and cats in research: adoption

A new Michigan law going into effect next month makes the state the 16th to ensure dogs and cats used for research are then given the opportunity to be adopted after the research has concluded. A related law also requires research facilities to submit annual reports to the state government detailing the total number of lab animals used by the facility and where the animals were sent. Currently dogs are used for purposes that include investigating drug side effects, and cats are used, to a lesser extent, for brain and eye research, among other studies.  

Exactly how many animals might go up for adoption under the new law remains unclear, though the Humane Society states that hundreds of these animals are euthanized in the state each year after experimentation is completed. Generally, many of the dogs and cats do not survive experimentation, or the work itself requires that the animals be killed in order to analyze their organs and tissues, says Baker of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Some surviving animals, she notes, may also require extensive and expensive care, which may make finding an adoptive home difficult. 

(Read more: Hundreds of beagles died at facility before government took action)

6. Cage-free legislation grows across the U.S.

It’s now illegal to produce or sell eggs from caged hens in three more western states—Oregon, Washington, and Nevada—as of the beginning of this year. In Oregon, eggs produced and sold from commercial farms with 3,000 or more chickens must now be cage-free, offering perches, nests, and scratching and dustbathing areas, and similar provisions are also required in Washington and Nevada.

The states’ chicken actions are part of a larger trend to move hens to cage-free offerings, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimating that almost 40 percent of the U.S. laying flock are cage-free. Eleven states have already passed cage-free requirements, but the laws in Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Rhode Island, and Utah are not yet in effect. Moreover, there are also now an increasing number of similar protections for other food production animals, including for pigs in California, as of this year.

The number of cage-free eggs on the market already far exceeds what is required by state regulations. Kate Brindle, who oversees farm policy issues for the Humane Society of the United States, says that cage-free pledges by big companies like McDonald’s (which says it will be 100 percent cage-free by 2025) coupled with consumer demand are what’s pushed the industry to do away with many caged egg operations.

Still, she cautions that consumers should check their eggs before purchase. “Unless there is a cage-free label on there, you should assume that eggs are from cage facilities,” she says. If they aren’t cage-free, she says, that means hens are typically “crammed into these wire cages that are so small birds can’t spread their wings—they’re given less space than the size of an iPad to live their entire lives.”

The National Geographic Society supports Wildlife Watch, our investigative reporting project focused on wildlife crime and exploitation. Read more Wildlife Watch stories here, and send tips, feedback, and story ideas to [email protected]. Learn about the National Geographic Society’s nonprofit mission at natgeo.com/impact.

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