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Animal rights action in Connecticut gives hope to advocates across USA

HARTFORD -- Man's best friend is lawyering up.

Although animal cruelty laws have been on the books for over a century in some states, only recently has the idea of legal representation for animals started to be taken seriously. The most high-profile instance was the guardian-special master appointed in 2007 to represent the interests of 48 dogs in the Michael Vick dogfighting case.

And the practice seems to be catching on. The Connecticut legislature is considering introducing the notion of animal advocates to its court system after Rhode Island made a similar move last year. State lawmakers have discussed making them available in pet custody disputes as well as in animal abuse cases.

That prospect has animal rights supporters across the country optimistic that the practice could catch on. They say it reflects not only an attempt to reduce animals' suffering but also a growing recognition that humans' welfare is intimately linked to that of animals. But lawyers and even some veterinarians question the wisdom of starting down what they call a "slippery slope."

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