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November 30, 2018 Profile

Animal Law Committee: Raising the Bar for Nonhuman Animals

By Joan Schaffner

The Animal Law Committee (ALC) celebrates its 14th year as a TIPS general committee. While a relatively small committee with 254 members, we are an enthusiastic group, passionate about raising the bar for nonhumans. Our mission— “To address all issues concerning the intersection of animals and the law to create a paradigm shift resulting in a just world for all”— is accomplished through education, publication, public policy, and public service and by building bridges within TIPS, the ABA, and outside entities.

The ALC, composed of several substantive committees, including Animals in Agriculture, Animals in Science & Technology, Companion Animals, Equine Law, International Issues, and Wildlife, maintains an active program for its members. We meet in person at each TIPS meeting and conduct several conference calls throughout the year to conduct business and present Lunch and Learn programs highlighting the practice area of ALC members. The committee maintains an active Facebook page, a LinkedIn site, and a frequently updated website for our members. And each year we honor one of our outstanding members with the Excellence in the Advancement of Animal Law Award at a lovely vegan reception.

Substantively, animal law is a diverse area that intersects with virtually every practice area, including tort, insurance, contract, property, criminal, family, constitutional, environmental, and international law. Thus, many lawyers, at some point in their careers, may find themselves handling an animal law matter. As such, education of lawyers through publications, webinars, and conferences is an important focus of the ALC. Each year, the ALC publishes three substantive newsletters that now are part of the comprehensive HeinOnline Animal Studies collection and contributes to the Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section Law Journal Annual Survey.

Additionally, the ALC has published several books, the most recent in 2017 entitled Wildlife Law and Ethics—A U.S. Perspective. The ALC also has sponsored and cosponsored a variety of CLE programs on such diverse topics as “What Price Love? Mass Tort Actions and Animals” and “Crop and Livestock Insurance Law from the Ground Up,” as well as its most recent program at the 2018 ABA meeting, cosponsored by the Staff Counsel and Insurance Coverage Litigation Committees, “Animal Law for Insurance Lawyers: A Walk on the Wild Side.” Furthermore, since 2012, the ALC has hosted an annual Animal Shelter Law Symposium that brings together animal control officers, shelter workers, rescue organizations, animal advocates, and veterinarians to address a wide range of legal issues concerning shelter operations and the care, control, and adoption of homeless animals.

Recognizing that raising the bar for nonhuman animals requires the creation of policy by mainstream legal and political actors, the ALC devotes substantial resources to drafting resolutions for consideration by the ABA House of Delegates. The ALC, through TIPS leadership, has secured the adoption of six resolutions by the ABA House of Delegates. The first resolution, A Model Act Governing Standards for the Care and Disposition of Disaster Animals (103A) (2010), was triggered by Hurricane Katrina and the devastating effects on families who were separated from their companion animals. In many cases, ownership and other legal disputes arose when families ultimately located their animals, only to find that they had been adopted by another family, or worse yet, killed because of lack of shelter space or other problems. The resolution provides guidelines for how long a shelter must keep an animal, how and when they may adopt the animal out, and when they may otherwise move the animal in the event of a disaster.

Our second resolution was triggered by Michael Vick’s arrest and conviction for dogfighting in 2007, which made international news and raised the visibility of this horrific “sport” outlawed throughout the United States. Perhaps more importantly for the animal victims, it was the first time that a special master, our very own Professor Rebecca Huss, was appointed to represent the dogs and provide for their disposition. Seizures of large numbers of animals, whether from dogfighting enterprises, puppy mills or hoarding situations, present significant challenges for local authorities. The resolution, Guidelines Regarding Animal Seizures (108B) (2011), proposed the adoption by governmental agencies of specific policies designed to ensure the humane treatment and disposition of seized animals in a timely manner.

Other successful resolutions have urged the adoption of service animal policies in compliance with the ADA; breed-neutral dangerous dog legislation to protect the due process rights of dog owners; laws prohibiting the private ownership of dangerous wild animals; and laws and policies to allow for the administration and implementation of trap-neuter-vaccinate-return programs for the effective, efficient, and humane treatment of community cats.

The ALC is perhaps best known for its commitment to public service, having received the TIPS membership award for public service several times over the years, most recently at the ABA Annual Meeting in August. What can be more rewarding and fun than visiting a local shelter to help socialize puppies and kittens? Over the years, the ALC has sponsored a variety of public service projects, including volunteering at several animal vaccination clinics; local animal shelters; the South Florida Wildlife Center; and the Wild Amelia Nature Festival, where volunteers built birdhouses.

Finally, to effectively raise the bar for nonhuman animals, we strive to build bridges with entities outside the ALC. This past year, under the stellar leadership of Daina Bray, the committee’s immediate past chair, we made great strides in this area and will continue to do so in coming years. The ALC’s involvement at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Vancouver is a shining example. First, with the help and support of Holly Polglase, then TIPS’s Section chair, the ALC partnered with the ABA Young Lawyers Division and the TIPS Law in Public Service Committee on a public service project at the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). This event combined public service with education as attendees both assembled support packs for women and their pets who were victims of family violence and heard from three outstanding speakers—one ALC member; a representative of the Vancouver SPCA; and a representative of Atira, a nonprofit working to end violence against women—who discussed the link between animal cruelty and domestic abuse. The next day, the ALC partnered with the Animal Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association Vancouver Branch to put on its first full-day live CLE program on animal law. Seven ALC members spoke alongside leading Canadian animal lawyers. That evening, we gathered for dinner and made new friends. With this one meeting, the ALC built bridges within TIPS, the ABA, and Canada; helped provide much-needed supplies for victims of domestic violence; and educated volunteers and Canadian lawyers on a variety of animal law issues.

The ALC welcomes all to join its ranks. Whether you practice animal law, share your life and love with a companion animal, or care about how nonhuman animals are treated by society, you have a place in the ALC! 

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By Joan Schaffner

Joan Schaffner, past chair and current newsletter vice-chair of TIPS’s Animal Law Committee, is a law professor at the George Washington University Law School, where she teaches Civil Procedure, Remedies, and Sexuality and the Law and directs the GW Animal Law focus area. She retired from the TIPS Council in August and is currently a member of several TIPS standing committees including Long-Range Planning, SCOPE, Membership, Outreach to Young Lawyers, Outreach to Law Students, Law in Public Service, and Content Management. She may be reached at [email protected].