• Animal Law Overview

    Animal Law OverviewAnimal law is a body of case and statutory law designed to promote and protect the welfare of animals through the legal system. The animal law movement has gained a lot of steam with organizations such as the Animal Legal Defense Fund leading the effort to increase animal rights. In eight years, the number of law schools teaching animal law and the number of Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapters have both increased tenfold.

    Recent work by animal lawyers in New Zealand has banned five great ape species from research purposes. The Michael Vick dog fighting case was another recent victory for lawyers advocating animal rights. The public outcry of the Michael Vick case resulted in major changes to state law regarding dog fighting. Greater animal protections have also been more forthcoming as the connection between animal cruelty and other violent crimes.

    Animal law covers all animal life including companion animals such as pets and service animals, animals in entertainment, laboratory animals, livestock and other animals raised for food, and wildlife. Animal law encompasses a great variety of topics including regulation of the fur industry, dog bite laws, dog breeding laws, animal fighting laws, exotic pet rules, animal testing regulation, and animal entertainment laws. Animal lawyers have intervened in cases of puppy mills or tainted dog food. They are involved in cases of endangered species protection and animal hoarding. Cases of cattle mutilation or inhumane transport of livestock are handled by animal lawyers. Thanks to pressure from lawyers in this specialty, most states now have laws against even interfering with service animals and some have greatly expanded the definition of “service animal”. Regarding animals in entertainment, animal lawyers have been instrumental in developing rules for housing exotic animals in captivity and regulations for the animals’ treatment. With more and more wildlife being imported into the United States, lawyers in this field must be concerned with the regulation of the invasive non-native species into America’s ecosystem as well as the regulation of importation of these exotic animals into the country Because of the wide variety of issues covered by animal law, the animal lawyer is usually familiar with several areas of law.

    Animal law can often come into contact and combine with other areas of law. Therefore, a person interested in animal law will need to be well versed in other areas such as torts, criminal law, administrative law, international trade law, and constitutional law. In issues such as veterinary malpractice cases, damages for injuries to a pet, anti-cruelty laws, and animal custody disputes in divorce cases, interplay between animal law and another area is inevitable. Another example is the Uniform Probate Code, which now allows owners to create pet trusts. This statute has been adopted in almost forty states as well as the District of Columbia and is a combination of animal law and trusts.

    Animal law is a growing field that has been gaining a lot of attention in recent years. While it is easy to find pro-bono work as an animal lawyer promoting animal welfare, it is still difficult to find paid jobs within the field.
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