AR Philosophy > Legalities

from New York Law Journal
Sept 2005
Law schools see a growing interest in representing
creatures that can't speak for themselves

It's 4 p.m. at the D.C. Animal Shelter in Washington, D.C. A black Lab puppy with longing eyes is being taken from his cage -- to be euthanized. Because of the city's serious overpopulation of companion animals, this scene occurs every day at the shelter.

What's the solution? Laws requiring mandatory spaying and neutering of all licensed companion animals in the district would keep this population under control. Today, though, no such laws exist. But students in the George Washington University Law School's animal law program are working with the Department of Health to finalize this legislation and present it to the D.C. Council. With new laws, and fewer animals needing adoption, the black Lab being led to his death could have lived out his life in a loving home.

Working to require spaying and neutering is just one element of "animal law," a legal specialty that is starting to attract the attention of law schools across the country. The school at GW, for example, has grown to become one of the top law schools in the country to offer an extensive animal law program.
Until recently, animal law was a relatively small and unknown specialty in the legal profession. Meanwhile, corporate interests have exploited the holes in the laws applied to animals. For instance, the meat industries have ensured that the Animal Welfare Act -- the federal statute purportedly providing protection for all animals -- effectively does not apply to farm animals. And state laws applying to these animals deny them the most basic requirements of humane treatment as they lay eggs, provide milk or wait to be slaughtered as meat.
What will the future hold? LL.M.'s in animal law? Specialized study-abroad programs in animal law? In the short term we can expect to see enrollments in animal law courses increase and new courses develop.

It would be no surprise if many law schools soon begin to offer several courses on the topic beyond the general overview course, including courses in specialized areas such as farm animals, animals used in research, endangered species, animal cruelty, and international animal law. GW Law School certainly plans to continue to develop and expand its animal law program. GW Law's program is thriving, but it is not an anomaly. It is a sign of things to come.

Joan Schaffner is an associate professor at the George Washington University School of Law, and Kerry Contini is a law student there.

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