Most of us are aware of the fight to improve animals’ rights in the abstract, but what does that mean when actually put into action? While shelters and other animal welfare organizations do a lot to help and protect the animals under their care, their work isn’t the same as animal advocacy. Rather, it’s organizations like Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) that truly put the advocacy of animal rights at the forefront of what they do.

For the Animal Legal Defense Fund, advocating for animal rights is more than just protesting and making their voices heard — it’s about making their voices heard in the right settings, where it counts.

As their name suggests, the Animal Legal Defense Fund focuses on the legal defense and establishment of animal rights. Through their work and advocacy since their inception in 1979, they have improved the representation of animals in the courtroom and continue to improve it even more.

Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Mission 

The Animal Legal Defense Fund works to improve the representation and protection of animal rights where they can have the most impact: the legal system. By improving already existing legislature and pushing for big laws, ALDF is able to improve the treatment of animals on a large scale as well as small.

The cases that ALDF take on are no small matter. They file high-stakes and groundbreaking lawsuits that aim to push against the legal system and win big for animal rights. In addition to their own work, they also promote the advocacy work of others by offering free training and assistance to outside prosecutors engaged in animal cruelty cases.

Areas of Focus

Just as we think of animals in terms of different categories, so does the legal system. Animal Legal Defense Fund cares about the lives and rights of all types of animals, the main categories of which are listed below.

Companion animals


The law typically defines companion animals as those animals whose physical, emotional, social, and behavioral needs can be met in the home environment. The most common examples of companion animals are, of course, cats and dogs, though this category extends to fish, horses, snakes, birds, and more.

Because companion animals share our homes and lives, they are typically given greater rights and protection under legislature that establishes proper treatment and defines animal cruelty. If they have more rights than the average animal, then why do they still need to be advocated for?

The rights of companion animals in both shelters and the home largely differ between states and cities, so some areas aren’t quite as up to par as others. Also, while it’s one thing for laws to be in place, the enforcing of these laws is an entirely different matter.

Animal Legal Defense Fund takes on cases where animal cruelty has clearly taken place and works to improve the system so that it doesn’t happen again.

Captive animals

Animal Legal Defense Fund certainly has its plate full when it comes to improving and establishing the lives of captive animals — wild animals that are privately owned.

Much of the problem when it comes to captive animals is that the laws concerning their treatment and possession vary drastically between states. While some states don’t allow the possession of certain animals, others allow it completely without any regulation. There aren’t any set regulations or protections for these animals nationally, either.

This lack of legal protection allows for the systematic abuse and mistreatment of wild animals across the country. Therefore, establishing the rights of captive animals on both a state and national level is of the utmost importance of ALDF.

Farmed animals   

pig in the street

If the conditions in which captive animals are kept are frequently cruel, the conditions of farmed animals are downright awful in every sense of the word. While most animals are at least mildly protected under the Animal Welfare Act, in most states, animals considered livestock are exempt from these laws.

While light is being increasingly shed on the tiny and cruel living spaces that most farmed animals are forced to live in, many are still ignorant of other commonplace practices that happen in these settings — not the least of which includes the removal of body parts such as testicles, tails, and beaks without any form of anesthesia.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is working to raise awareness of these conditions as well as put pressure on lawmakers to change these practices by putting stricter laws that actually protect livestock in place. In the meantime, ALDF calls on individuals to boycott animal products until better conditions are assured.

Research and testing animals

Just like farmed animals, most animals used in research and testing facilities aren’t granted any protection under the law. While there are some laws and restrictions in place to help minimize animal testing, these are often ignored and aren’t enforced.

It isn’t just cosmetics that use animal testing — testing ranges from biomedical to military to even automotive industries and more. To make matters worse, most of the products tested on animals aren’t even deemed worthy for use with humans.

ALDF encourages you to take a pledge against using animal-tested products. They even offer a list of cruelty-free products so you can find alternatives to anything you may be using now.


Just like most of the other categories of animals listed above, wild animals have very little protection or legal rights. The most extensive protection offered to these animals is the regulations and restrictions on when and where hunting can take place, though there isn’t that much to ward off other forms of cruelty.

Aside from hunting and direct human interaction, wildlife is also drastically affected by the actions of humans on the environment — water pollution, habitat destruction, etc.

Animal Legal Defense Fund is actively working to increase the protection of wildlife under the legal system, reducing the effects of hunting and human environmental encroachment.

Key Issues

Among the general push for better rights and protection for animals of every category, Animal Legal Defense Fund also focuses on several key issues in their advocacy, detailed below.

Laws and the legal system

As detailed above, the major force behind ALDF’s advocacy for animal rights is to get them protected under the law. They do this by taking on big-time lawsuits and increasing political pressure for positive change.

Under this umbrella of law and legislature, they also push back against “Ag-Gag” laws — laws that work to punish or silence those who would be whistleblowers in the agricultural industry. These types of laws allow for the continuation of animal cruelty to continue with no accountability, so it is important that such laws are altered or abolished.

Puppy mills

While companion animals are offered more protection under the law than any other type of animal, puppy mills are still cruel and active facilities that operate across the US. In this case, it is not so much about establishing legislature but enforcing it.

Hunting and poaching

While the Animal Legal Defense Fund is naturally against hunting practices in general, they are calling particular attention to the problem of “canned hunting.” This form of hunting takes place on private property and even allows for the killing of species that are considered endangered.


The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Ratings

Charity Navigator gives the Animal Legal Defense Fund an overall four out of four stars for fiscal responsibility, accountability, and transparency. As of December 2018, the non-profit watchdog group awarded them a rating of 90.64 out of 100 for financial management and 97 out of 100 for their transparency.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s financial records

Tax-exempt organizations, nonexempt charitable trusts, and section 527 political organizations are required to file a Form 990 or 990EZ with the IRS.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund last filed its IRS Form 990 or 990EZ for 2017. We extract the following financial snapshot from the organization’s tax return for their fiscal year ending December 2017. This financial statement can give you a clearer picture of how they allocate donations and other resources.

Percentage of donations spent on services

  • Total donations and grants: $12,561,936
  • Spent on services and grants: $9,977,529
  • Percentage of donations toward grants and services: 79.42 percent

Percentage of revenue spent on fundraising

  • Total revenue: $12,751,761
  • Fundraising expenses: $1,204,975
  • Paid to professional fundraisers: $127,000
  • Percentage of total revenue spent on fundraising: 9.44 percent

Administrative and overhead costs

  • Overhead expenses: $1,305,054
  • Property assets: $2,592,309
  • Investment assets: $5,661,809
  • Paid to officers/directors: $1,067,957
  • Highest paid officer/director: CEO $196,133
  • Percentage of total revenue spent on officers/directors salaries: 8.37 Percent

What They Do…

So, we know what issues the Animal Legal Defense Fund is fighting against, but how do they achieve their goals?

The work of ALDF is primarily focused on legislature, hoping to improve the big pictures of all animals throughout the country by increasing animal rights and protecting those that are already established.

They do this by taking on big-time lawsuits and revolutionary cases, aiming for a vast improvement on both a state and national level. Their free training and consultations to prosecutors involved in these types of cases also helps progress on the legal front. They even provide legal education to up-and-coming law students.

And What You Can Do

But what can you do to help in the fight to end animal cruelty?

The Animal Legal Defense Fund provides you with a variety of options and opportunities. They ask that you make pledges to avoid certain organizations or products that benefit from animal cruelty. For instance, on their website, you can fill out a form and make a pledge to avoid street-side zoos, puppy mills, and using animal-tested products, among others.

You can also become a Partner in Protection and donate to the Animal Legal Defense Fund. They will show you an exact breakdown of how your funds are being allocated to help fight against animal cruelty. In exchange, you will receive premium treatment at events and early registration to educational webinars. You can make a one-time donation or choose to give monthly.

If you have a background in law and a passion for animal justice, you can seek to join the ALDF career force. Student programs are also offered and encouraged.

Lastly, be sure to vote, vote, vote in favor of animal rights bills that come up on your ballot during election season. Our voices are incredibly important for putting an end to animal cruelty once and for all.

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