More Law Schools Offering Specialties in Animal Law

 |  Oct 21st 2007  |   1 Contribution


More lawyers specializing in animal law means more and faster changes for dogs, cats and other animals. What an excellent development!

Thanks to the Houston Chronicle for this article.

More U.S. law schools going to the dogs
South Texas joins those with courses that prepare students for animal issues

By SALATHEIA BRYANT
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

With the high-profile dogfighting case involving NFL player Michael Vick, the dog-adoption scandal with Ellen DeGeneres and hotelier Leona Helmsley leaving a $12 million trust fund to her Maltese, more dogs, it seems, are having their day in court.


The South Texas College of Law this week joins a growing number of law schools helping prepare students for such cases by offering a course on animal law as a permanent class. The three-credit course is an elective.

More students want to practice in the area, said South Texas professor Fran Ortiz, who in the fall of 2006 taught animal law as an experimental course.

Ortiz said legal issues can involve veterinarians, dogfighting, animal cruelty, rescue organizations and dog-biting cases.

"This is a complete area of law. It's not just bits and pieces of other areas of law," said Ortiz. "It is a recognized area of law that we can teach our students."

As societal views about pets have changed from just being an animal to being a companion the interest in animal law has emerged into a bona fide field.

Officials point to the growing number of civil and criminal cases involving animals. A handful of states allow pets to be included in domestic restraining orders while others allow trusts to be set up for beloved companion animals.

South Texas, which joins universities such as Northwestern, Duke, Emory, DePaul, Georgetown and Harvard in teaching animal law, offers related academic internships at the Harris County District Attorney's Office and with the city's Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care.

A growing field
Harris County Assistant District Attorney Belinda Smith, who handles cases involving dogfighting and animal cruelty, said the courses will be helpful training for future lawyers.

She said prosecutors across the country e-mail her for advice on cases involving animals. Smith, who graduated from South Texas in 1996, didn't have the benefit of animal law courses. Instead, she said she received on-the-job training.

"I had to start from ground zero," said Smith. "I had nothing. It would have been helpful for me to have a base."

The Animal Legal Defense Fund reports that, in 2000, about nine law schools offered animal law classes; that number has grown to about 91 today. Student campus chapters have also increased from 12 in 2000 to 110.

The group's goal is to have a student chapter at each one of the 196 American Bar Association-accredited law schools by 2010.

Pamela Alexander, the organization's director of animal law programs, said attitudes about such cases have changed in the past decade.

Shift in social values
Today, she said, more large firms want to take on animal cases pro bono and that an animal law conference held this spring at Harvard was sold out.

"This decade, an attorney can go into court and not be laughed at for being an animal lawyer, when 10 years ago they would have been laughed at," said Alexander, who helps develop programs for law education and legal practices. "It's gone from the fringe to mainstream."

The recent headlines reflect the shift in society's views about animals and how to protect them, officials said.

"We're at the beginning of the coming of age in animal law," said Amy Bures Danna, an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Law Center and an attorney who takes some animal cases.

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