The rise of animal law - DVM
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The rise of animal law
Shifting societal perceptions, and a lot of money, fueling popularity


The money trail

It is not just the benign love of animals or the influence of academic celebrity that has increased animal law's visibility. Money from a variety of sources, all tied to animal welfare or animal rights, is flowing into law schools. The Animal Legal Defense Fund backed the 2008 founding of the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark University in Portland, Ore., and continues to financially support the school.

Most prominently, a foundation set up by activist and former "The Price is Right" host Bob Barker distributed $1 million grants to law schools to start animal-law programs. Recipients include some of the nation's top schools, such as Northwestern University School of Law, Columbia Law School, Duke University School of Law, Stanford Law School, the University of California at Los Angeles, Harvard and Georgetown University Law Center.

Georgetown also has a partnership with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), started as the first of its kind in 2007, part of which includes an animal-law fellowship. The fellowship, according to the announcement, allows recent graduates to "practice animal law at HSUS for a year after graduation." That partnership was also funded by the Barker grant, in addition to other donations.

HSUS, with revenues of more than $126 million in 2009, according to their published financial statements, has the largest animal-law practice in the United States. In 2005, HSUS started a legal department with three full-time attorneys. As of December 2010, that group had 15 full-time staff attorneys, according to the HSUS website, in addition to some 2,000 lawyers doing pro bono work for the organization and law students providing support services from Georgetown University Law Center.

What's more, in late 2009 HSUS tapped into some of the nation's leading law firms with partnerships that allowed first-year associates to work for HSUS on a pro-bono basis for one year before returning to their firms.

Veterinary impact

The rise of animal law has attracted the attention of the veterinary profession, including the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

"We've probably done at least 20 presentations (at law schools) since 2009," says Adrian Hochstadt, AVMA's assistant director of state legislative and regulatory affairs. However, he acknowledges, it is difficult to gauge the potential impact of animal law's explosion.

"The motivations of the attorneys vary widely. Some want to push for things we don't (support) like guardianship or more liability for animal-care providers," he says. "But some of these folks are pushing for animal welfare, cruelty laws, unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine and things that are a little more in line with our legislative goals."

Hochstadt says the association's leadership felt the need to engage at the law-school level because the coursework did not always provide the veterinary community's point of view.

"We want to provide the veterinary side of things," he says. "We didn't feel the students were getting that because the organizations that set up the programs have a different view of these (issues)."

Tischler contends that DVMs are often integral to her organization's cases and she sees a kindred spirit in DVMs.

"I've always felt vets generally go into being vets for the same reasons I went into animal law, ... to get involved in animal protection and find ways we can reach common ground to protect animals," Tischler says. "There's a lot of common ground, especially with younger vet students now. They seem to really see it."

And for many going into animal law today, like Figueroa, who will graduate in May, their motivations lie more with keeping animals away from harm rather than advocating for equal rights.

"No one says, 'animals should be abused,'" she says. "At the end of the day, people are against bad treatment of animals."


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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