In case you hadn’t noticed, the subject of animal law is getting more popular in the US...and not just on Dolittler. Though the theme gets relatively little play in American courts, law students don’t seem to care. 

Lawyers-to-be have organized themselves into coalitions to push for animal law curricula at their individual schools and the lucky recipients have packed their classrooms. Though not all have gone on to make a difference in animal lives through law, the population of lawyers waiting in the wings to tackle significant animal cases is undeniably growing. 

A recent Associated Press story profiled over on Pet Connection talked to this issue:

“Other incidents of abuse and a shifting national consciousness have made this one of the fastest-growing fields in the legal profession. In 1993, just seven states had felony animal cruelty laws; today, all but four do.”

On cue, last week I spent a couple of hours talking law with some students at the University of Miami. Animal and environmental lawyer, Marcy LaHart (an occasional contributor to Dolittler and adjunct professor of animal law at UM) had asked me to address her seminar’s students... lend a veterinarian’s-eye view of law to those who would either see me squashed like a bug in a court of law during a malpractice suit, fight on my side against those who commit crimes against animals, or push for higher standards in agriculture, laboratory and veterinary settings. 

Here I am discussing a case with some law students:

The goal of my presentation? To have them know what veterinarians are up get them into the minds of either veterinary prosecution or defense by understanding how we think and why. 

Most veterinarians are leery of lawyers in the extreme. We resent their intrusion into our professional lives, assuming the realization of their clients’ claims against us is the extent of their role. We usually don’t think about the many ways in which veterinarians are defended by lawyers...or how attorneys can help us reach the goals we’ve pledged to support: improving animal health and alleviating their suffering.

  • Think about the bear I discussed in last week’s post. I consulted several interested lawyers to investigate the possibility of lodging a complaint against the state. 
  • How about the neighbor caught poisoning cats with antifreeze?
  • Charges against puppymillers.
  • Or the revolting case of the chocolate Lab attacked with a chainsaw.
  • Lawyers working with Defenders of Wildlife to support the legal protection of besieged species.
  • Or attorneys working to raise the standards for confinement of agriculture species.

These are the stomping grounds of modern animal law. By contrast, actions against individual veterinarians tend towards the seriously piddly. In fact, the law students almost laughed when I described the anxiety veterinarians reserve for malpractice law. 

“But your exposure is negligible! All you’re likely to lose is the price of the pet and a day of depositions!”

And yet some of my colleagues would bristle at my willingness to talk shop with “the enemy.” 

It’s not as if I’m giving away trade secrets...or in some way throwing my profession under a bus. No, it’s not like that at all...think partnership, guys, not prosecution. In fact, it’s my take that if veterinarians don’t become more involved in how animal law affects all of us, it’s the animals that stand to suffer.