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March 2006
New 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 enforced.

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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