Animal Law Expanding, Drawing Students

Published: March 19th, 2007

Category: News Briefs

Animal law is a burgeoning area of jurisprudence. The increase in disputes involving animals has created a demand for attorneys who specialize in the developing field of animal law. The motto of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, America’s largest lawyers’ animal protection group, is “we may be the only lawyers on earth whose clients are all innocent.”

A variety of animal law-related issues are being considered by U.S. courts with increasing frequency. Should society treat the act of breaking a table leg the same as your dog’s leg? Should the legal system allow for emotional damages when someone intentionally harms your family pet? Will an animal’s property inheritance survive legal challenges? Are breed specific laws that ban dogs deemed “vicious” solely by breed and not by behavior constitutional?

Animal law entails a breadth of issues including wrongful death litigation, abusive commercial practices, such as factory farming, veterinarian medical malpractice, the protection of animal activists’ constitutional rights, defense at vicious-dog hearings, products liability litigation, the competing interests of wild animals and urban, farming, and recreational land use, and transactional issues, such as drafting estates and trusts.

Three law schools now have law reviews dedicated solely to animal law, approximately 70 law schools, including the University of Florida, now offer courses and seminars in animal law, and 80 schools have animal law associations. David Hoch, who teaches the UF seminar, suggests that “we must begin a societal discussion of what moral consideration, if any, we owe to animals, and if we conclude that we are morally obliged to at least some animals, then we must determine the best ways to recognize and manifest that incumbency through law.”

This semester, Harvard University will host an Animal Law Conference, with discussion on legal strategies to stop the abuse of companion animals, as well as animals abused in industries.

The University of Florida has an active Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) chapter called the Animal Law Association (ALA). For many, the idea of animal law becoming mainstream is welcome news. The reality is that there is much more to be accomplished.

David Wolfson, a partner at a major law firm who teaches and practices animal law, said, “I’m running after a train that I know I have to catch. I know that I’m running quicker than I used to. The problem seems to be that the train is going a little faster than it used to be, too.”

For more information on Harvard University’s upcoming Animal Law Conference or the University of Florida’s Animal Law Association chapter, stop by the group’s next meeting on Thursday, March 29, at noon (room to be announced) or contact Charles King at

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