James E. Rogers College of Law: Building a Community of Compassion

This spotlight was submitted by Sharon Discorfano, founder and former president of the University of Arizona SALDF chapter.

SALDF members at an equine sanctuaryIn the summer of 2009, just before starting at the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona, I contacted ALDF to find out how I might get involved and perhaps help generate interest on campus. ALDF immediately connected me with a third-year law student at that time and, together, we took the necessary first steps towards organizing the student chapter. The guest speaker at our first meeting of the year was an alumna who talked about her efforts on behalf of two elephants at Tucson’s Reid Park Zoo. The event drew a big crowd: our student chapter was officially underway! That first year, our focus was on raising awareness about the existence of animal law, relying on guest speakers and tabling events to spread the word. Other guest speakers included a representative from Grey2K USA, who spoke about greyhound racing (Tucson is home to Arizona’s only greyhound racing park). We also started discussions with the Dean about adding an animal law class and circulated a petition to gain student support for the class.

A SALDF cereal buffetBy our second year, the chapter had a solid core group of members. We continued tabling events such as a vegan cupcake giveaway, with plenty of SALDF materials and animal law books set up for people to browse. Guest speakers included Cheryl Leahy, General Counsel for Compassion Over Killing, and Mike Duffy, head of the Animal Cruelty Task Force of Southern Arizona. Student members also participated in leafleting about Prop 109, a wildlife protection issue; and we ran a very successful pet-toy drive during the holiday season, which resulted in a heap of toys (and some food items) delivered to Tucson’s only no-kill shelter. Finally, we ventured out once each semester for a fun field trip, where family and friends were invited along to local sanctuaries. Fall semester, we visited the Ironwood Pig Sanctuary, home to more than 400 pot-bellied pigs. In the spring, we visited Equine Voices Horse Sanctuary. Meanwhile, the quest for an Animal Law class continued. We gathered more signatures, had more meetings with faculty and administration, and produced a memo that outlined all the reasons why the law school should add the course to its catalog. Besides pointing to the public interest in protecting animals, we were able to discuss internship and job opportunities in the growing field of animal law.

This year, our chapter is still growing… and the Animal Law class was offered this fall semester! In addition to new members, we have a second-year student serving as co-director alongside a third-year student who has one year of co-directing already under her belt. We’re hoping this will ensure that our SALDF chapter continues once the founding members graduate this May. Events so far this year: To educate about factory farming and laws regarding farmed animals, we watched the “Got the Facts on Milk?” documentary. Earlier the same day, we ran a cereal buffet, where students got to try nondairy milk alternatives like soy and almond milk. At the end of October, we hosted a guest speaker on the topic of pet estate planning and coordinated a volunteer food give-away in conjunction with HSUS. To top off the semester, we held our second annual Pet Toy Drive for shelter animals.

A SALDF guest speakerOther plans for this year include a presentation (co-sponsored by the American Constitutional Society) on the role of animals in law enforcement, and a letters-to-the-editor writing session. We also continue to enjoy events with local attorneys through the State Bar of Arizona’s Animal Law Section. We’re also getting more active in the Tucson legal community in another exciting aspect: Pima County is establishing an animal court – similar to community courts (drug courts, etc.) in other jurisdictions. With the Dean’s approval, a law student working for our school’s criminal prosecution clinic will be assigned to work on animal cruelty cases in the new court.

Getting beyond Tucson, four of our students traveled to Portland this fall for the annual Animal Law Conference and, for the first time, we are planning to send students to the National Animal Law Competition in February.

Having served as co-director for two years and now as a board member, I must say that watching our student chapter blossom during these past three years – and witnessing the developing awareness among the general student population — has been by far the most rewarding aspect of my time in law school. Truly, it has been a team effort since day one. From the initial members to the newest ones, we have a terrific group of students who continue to pool their creativity and positivity to further our goals on behalf of animals everywhere.

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