Know Your Rights
Complaining about inhumane conditions, abuses, or violations of law at shelters is a constitutionally protected right. A volunteer, rescuer, or any other member of the public not only has the First Amendment right to speak out against abuses and violations of law committed by a government shelter, he or she also has a constitutionally protected right to demand that the government correct the wrongs that are identified.
Does it apply in every state?
Yes. The First Amendment is a federal constitutional right and 42 USC 1983, the applicable civil rights statute, is federal law. It applies in all 50 states.
Does that include the right to take photos & video?
Yes. Banning photography and video in public areas of the shelter limits free speech. The taking of a photograph or video is included with the First Amendment’s guarantee of speech and press rights as a corollary of the right to disseminate the resulting recording. Videotaping and capturing images of poor shelter conditions or neglected animals are indistinguishable from ‘commenting’ or ‘speaking out’ on such conditions. Volunteers, rescuers, and members of the public have a right to document things they believe are improper. They can also take photographs and videotape to assist in finding animals homes.
Does it apply to private humane societies & SPCAs?
Keeping in mind that the protections of the First Amendment protect against government intrusion, so long as they receive funding to provide a government function (i.e., animal control contract), Sec. 1983 has been held to apply to both government shelters and private SPCAs.
What should you do if your rights are violated?
Find legal representation by contacting your state ACLU office, Legal Aid office, and utilizing the attorney referral program of your state bar association. If you choose not to pursue this legally, you can seek to reform the shelter through political advocacy.
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