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Animal Kingdom Gains New Crop of Legal Advocates

Legal programs across U.S. offering courses in animal rights advocacy

By Heather Malec

Doctor Doolittle might need to make room at the table for another member of a longstanding profession—attorneys. Law schools across the country are establishing animal law programs to train students to join the growing field of animal rights advocacy. Bob Barker, one of the animal kingdom’s staunchest supporters and the Emmy award winning host of The Price is Right, is leading the charge through his Bob Barker Endowment Fund for the Study of Animal Rights Law. Six of the country’s leading law schools Columbia, Harvard, Northwestern, Stanford, Duke, and UCLA–have each been the recent recipient of a $1 million donation from Barker to fund studies about animal rights. “With the help of some attorney friends, I’ve put together a list of what they believe to be the finest law schools in the United States,” Barker explains. “I selected these law schools on a geographic basis in an effort to make the endowment funds available to students across the nation.” Barker, whose passion for animal rights is well-known, would like to see more animal rights laws added to the books. “I’m concentrating my efforts on law schools in the hope that law students who study animal law will be better prepared to enforce our existing laws and hopefully initiate more stringent laws to protect animals in the future,” he adds. At Northwestern Law School the endowment might be used to offer courses on various topics including: how humans interact with and use animals, current animal protection laws, species protection, and international wildlife law. “Many of our students can expect to deal with an animal law issue at some point in their careers,” says Dean David Van Zandt. “Legal issues can cover a wide spectrum, ranging from patent and intellectual property law to criminal prosecution or defense, or constitutional law.” Animal advocacy is not a new issue for Americans. The nation’s first anti-cruelty statute was passed in 1867 in New York, with help from the founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Across the country, anti-cruelty statutes were created to criminalize animal abuse and offer protections enforceable under the law. Arguments about treating all animals (not just domestic pets) more humanely have been gaining ground over the last several decades. As a result, animal law is gaining in popularity as more cases enter the judicial system. Animal law a legitimate field of study Today, approximately 58 law schools offer at least one course, or plan to offer a course or reading seminar on animal law, an increase of more than 50 percent from five years ago, according to Stephen Wells, Director of the Animal Law Program for the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). In the same time period, the ALDF’s student chapters have also grown from 10 to more than 60 chapters in the United States and Canada. Wells explains, “The biggest change in the last five years of animal law is simply the explosive growth rate. For law students, there are obviously far more available opportunities to take classes, participate in student projects, and to intern for animal law-oriented firms and attorneys.” Its acceptance as part of routine curriculum at law schools is changing. “Animal law is now taken seriously as a legitimate field by most law schools,” Wells adds. Opportunities to practice animal law are still somewhat limited. Many of the attorneys who work in animal law are either working for not-for-profit animal protection organizations or doing volunteer work in the field and working at a practice or for law firms. “It is still difficult to make a living as an animal lawyer,” Wells says, “however, this too is changing. With greater recognition under the law will come greater opportunities for attorneys to defend animals from harm and to prosecute offenders.”

Bridging the gap

As more law schools recognize the growing prestige of animal law, students can expect a more formalized curriculum and perhaps even a degree or certificate program. However, according to Wells, “The biggest issue for the future of animal law is to improve the way the law views and treats animals. In every state, animals are still considered property. But there is somewhat of a paradox because as a society we clearly do not consider our companion animals–in particular–to be property. It is this gulf between the way society views animals and the way the law views them that has created some exciting opportunities to work in this field,” he concludes.

Get involved

You don’t have to hold a law degree to join the growing animal advocacy field. Non-lawyers can help by writing letters to decision-makers in local, state, and federal politics or by participating in local demonstrations. Local animal rights groups are also always looking for volunteers to get out mailings, produce information packets, update Web sites, and keep files of pleadings up-to-date.

Or, as Bob Barker reminds his viewers, you can help by making sure that your pet is spayed or neutered. “Overpopulation is one of the most tragic animal problems in our country,” Barker says.

Chicago lawyer advancing animal interests

In 2002, Amy Breyer established the first animal law practice in Illinois. Her typical caseload involves primary litigation including veterinary malpractice, civil cruelty claims, condominium/zoning uses, dog bites, consumer fraud, and contractual disputes with breeders, among other various torts and negligence. “My goal is to provide high-quality, competitive legal services to individuals and organizations that want to protect and advance the interests of non-human animals,” Breyer says. Breyer first became interested in animal law when she was working in journalism. “I read a story about a man who was convicted of animal cruelty and thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to be telling people about it, I want to be doing something about it,’” Breyer says. Breyer is now also sharing her passion and experience as an adjunct professor in animal law at DePaul University College of Law. While job prospects are tough, according to Breyer, animal law “will continue to become more mainstream, although it will likely be many years before it becomes accepted and entrenched the way environmental law is now.” For Chicagoans, “the growth in animal law means that one day the interests of animals will be taken more seriously by the legal system,” she concludes.

To learn more about Amy Breyer’s practice and animal law visit www.AnimalLawOnline.net.

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