York City—A Hotbed of Animal Law
By Delcianna J. Winders
Photo courtesy of Delcianna J. Winders
While many were unfamiliar with the terms “animal law” just
a few years back, today this field of law is flourishing, and New York
City is one of its hotbeds.
Rather than a monolithic area of study and practice, animal law is an interdisciplinary
field, drawing together strands from nearly every type of legal practice. Animal
law practitioners fall all over the map in terms of their approaches and philosophies.
Some focus their practices exclusively on protecting the interests of cats, dogs
and their caretakers, addressing, for example, veterinary malpractice, breeder
disputes and pet trusts. Others are professional animal rights advocates, consciously
employing the law as a tool in the struggle to afford greater recognition for
the rights of nonhuman animals in our society. Still others dedicate their efforts
to prosecution, working to ensure that our state anti-cruelty laws are meaningfully
Animal law, rather than an ideological viewpoint, accommodates a multitude of
perspectives. And New York City, known for its diversity, doesn’t fall
short in representing its multiplicity. Len Egert and Amy Trakinski, for example
(interviewed previously in Satya, April 2005), have their own animal law practice
with a diverse clientele, including individuals, local organizations and national
animal advocacy organizations, like Farm Sanctuary and People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals. Jane Hoffman, another member of the animal law community,
is the President and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Mayor’s Alliance
for New York City’s Animals. The Alliance, a liaison between city government
and over 35 local animal rescue groups, aims to minimize the number of animals
killed in city shelters, striving for a day when New York no longer kills healthy
dogs and cats simply because they do not have homes.
Egert, Trakinski and Hoffman are all members of the Association of the Bar of
the City of New York’s Committee on Legal Issues Pertaining to Animals—also
referred to more simply as the Animal Law Committee. Founded in 1990, the Animal
Law Committee meets once a month to address legal, regulatory and policy issues
affecting nonhuman animals. For example, the committee has worked with the city
to develop emergency procedures for the benefit of animals in times of disaster.
The importance of such procedures was underscored recently by the thousands of
companion animals left behind by people fleeing Hurricane Katrina (see “Katrina’s
Left Behind and Forgotten,” Satya, November 2005).
The Animal Law Committee also plays an important educational role in the community.
It publishes brochures to help New Yorkers on topics such as companion animals
in housing, access rights of those with disabilities and their service animals,
and providing for a companion animal in the event of death or hospitalization.
In addition, the committee organizes evening events open to the public and sponsors
an annual summer conference. With over 50 members, the committee also provides
an excellent networking opportunity for those working in the field or interested
in exploring it, and exceptional access to mentors for students interested in
animal law. Indeed, half a dozen law students currently sit on the committee
as student members.
These students represent the future promise of animal law. As an ever increasing
number of students enroll in law school with the express purpose of practicing
animal law, and as the field gains mainstream acceptance, more and more schools
have begun to make animal law courses a part of their curricula. Cardozo Law
School offers an animal law class, and NYU School of Law is offering the course
for the first time this semester. The course is taught by David Wolfson, a partner
in the Global Corporate Department of Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy, LLP
who does pro bono litigation for animal protection groups and has written extensively
on animal protection law. Wolfson has taught animal law at Cardozo, Harvard,
and Yale—as well as Columbia Law School, where he instructed its inaugural
animal law course this past fall. Columbia is amongst the handful of law schools
across the nation that recently received million-dollar endowments for the study
of animal law. Established by Bob Barker, host of The Price Is Right, the endowment
ensures that Columbia will offer an animal law course regularly and will foster
new animal law projects.
The increasing availability of animal law classes is only one manifestation of
the growing interest in and support for animal law discourse in NYC’s law
schools. Brooklyn Law School, Cardozo, Columbia, CUNY School of Law and NYU all
have student chapters of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a national organization
dedicated to protecting and advancing the interests of animals through the legal
system. These groups offer a wide range of events, most of them free and open
to the public, including film screenings, workshops and lectures. Events highlighting
the interconnectedness of animal law and other disciplines are common. For example,
the Brooklyn Law School chapter organized a panel discussion on the impact of
our food choices on the environment and animal treatment. Similarly, the Cardozo
chapter coordinated with its School of Law Public Interest Club to arrange a
seminar on the environmental effects of factory farming featuring an attorney
from Waterkeeper Alliance. The NYU chapter has co-sponsored events with NYU’s
Environmental Law Society, Health Law Society and Law Students for Human Rights.
These interdisciplinary events—which underscore the complicated interconnectedness
of various social ills and seek to include animal protection within larger discussions
of social justice—are balanced by other events that focus more exclusively
on animal issues. For example, Cardozo hosted a second event last spring, a “working
lunch” at which Chris Green, a member of the Animal Law Committee and an
attorney with the Animal Policy Endowment, led a brainstorming discussion about
the future of animal representation in the U.S. court system.
The challenges of using our human-centered judiciary to advance the interests
of nonhumans are, not surprisingly, a recurring topic of discussion. And as our
laws and legal system continue to evolve, so do the terms of the discussion.
This very discussion will be taken up this April at a symposium organized by
the NYU Student Animal Legal Defense Fund. Marking its tenth anniversary, the
group will bring together scholars, practitioners, students and activists for
a day of rigorous and practical debate and discussion. The symposium, “Confronting
Barriers to the Court Room for Animal Advocates: Standing, Causes of Action,
and Cultural Transitions,” will feature panels with leaders in the field
from across the country. This day-long event—which will be free and open
to the public—is just one of many examples of the vibrancy of animal law
in New York City. May it continue to thrive!
Delcianna J. Winders will graduate from NYU Law School this May. During her three
years of law school she has been active in the NYU Student Animal Legal Defense
Fund. To register for or learn more about the upcoming symposium at NYU, visit
www.nyusaldf.org. For a complete list of animal law courses and animal law student
groups, go to www.aldf.org.
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