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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Humane Society: good guys or Gestapo?


Humane Societies and Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals perform important functions for the state, the counties, the community, and the public in protecting animal rights and enforcing state animal laws. Their staffs are hardworking and well meaning, but are not trained in police work. As the Societies have the right to conduct searches, seize property, make arrests, and use deadly force, they are required by the Constitution to perform such functions only after they have shown probable cause to a neutral party and obtained a warrant. Their failure to obtain warrants before performing such intrusive functions violates trappers’ and homeowners’ civil rights which subjects the Societies to suits for damages. To truly protect the public and to protect their budgets, the Societies should train their staff in civil rights and procedures. The Societies have the powers of the police, but resist following the laws and rules that apply to the exercise of police powers. In their zeal to protect animals, they have invaded people’s property, even their houses, confiscated traps and released animals – all without warrants or other review of their actions. These actions have led to the question of whether the Societies are "Good Guys or the Gestapo?"

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