Pack Leader

By Joan M. Burda

I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.” So said Winston Churchill. I’m partial to dogs myself. Cats and I have a philosophical arrangement. I leave them alone; they do the same for me.

This is our “animal law” issue. When jennifer rose and I first suggested this issue, we were met with instant disdain and caterwauling. At the time, many members of the Editorial Board thought this was a frivolous topic. Little did they, or we for that matter, know how many state and local bar association magazines would publish articles on the subject. Whenever another article appeared, I made sure the Board knew about it. We were on the cusp of something important.

Many solos and small firm lawyers are marketing their services to pet owners, veterinarians, stables, and small farmers. Pet owners whose pets died or were injured are suing vets for malpractice. Pet health insurance plans are becoming more popular. We’re talking about a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Lawyers deal with pet issues in family law and probate cases. People fight over custody of their pets. Leona Helmsley left her dog a multimillion dollar trust—since reduced, but still, that is a lot of dog treats.

According to a 2008 National Pet Owners Survey, 63 percent of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 71.1 millions homes. In 1988, the first year the survey was conducted, only 56 percent of U.S. households owned a pet. The pet product industry estimates that pet owners will spend $45.4 billion on their furry/scaly/winged friends.

What’s really interesting is how many companies that previously had marketed only to humans are now developing pet product lines. Look at Omaha Steaks, Paul Mitchell (how do you think those poodles get those ’dos?), Harley-Davidson (there’s a rebel in all of us), and Old Navy (that one I don’t quite get). Just think of the contract opportunities.

And these offerings are not limited to fine dining and beauty. An increasing number of pet owners realize their pets need to relax just like the rest of us. Pet yoga classes, spa treatments, and massages are gaining in popularity.

But, for every doting pet owner, there are those who brutalize animals. The Animal Planet network carries a show called Animal Cops. That’s one program I cannot watch. Abusing children and animals is inexcusable. Prosecutors are pursuing these cases. One former pro quarterback found that out the hard way.

Service animals provide the disabled with the chance to live life a little easier. We are familiar with dogs accompanying a blind person, but this is just the tip of the tail. People with differing disabilities and life restrictions—including the elderly and autistic children—use companion animals. We’ve seen service dogs in training. It’s tough, sometimes, to remember they are working and are not pets. It’s also important to remember that these animals have rights, along with their human companions. Although there are still people and places that do not permit service animals, these are the people and places that do not understand or ignore the law. I went into a post office recently and saw the sign, “Only dogs for the blind allowed.” Even the USPS does not understand the changes in the law concerning companion animals.

I’ve read the articles in this issue and I’m excited about them. You don’t need to have a pet to find these articles interesting, but it can help. I hope this issue piques your curiosity in how to incorporate this fast-developing area of law into your practice. Get ahead of the curve—become a “pack leader,” to use the phrase of Cesar Millan (of the television program Dog Whisperer).

Oh, and please note, we didn’t use stock art for the cover this time. Those are our pets, past and present. I want to thank everyone who shared pet photos with us. As you can see—dogs rule! Cats just drool! And, as for ole Winnie; I’m afraid pigs just ain’t my style.

We seek out authors for future issues of GPSolo. The Editorial Board sets the issue themes and the articles we’re including. Send an e-mail to me ( or our ABA Staff Editor, Rob Salkin (, for details of upcoming issues. As always, let me know what you think of this issue. And don’t forget to spend some time with whatever furry, scaly, or feathery friend you have in your home.

Joan M. Burda, editor-in-chief of GPSOLO, operates a solo practice in Lakewood, Ohio, and may be reached at .

Copyright 2009

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