You’d think a room full of veteran New York lawyers would be a tough crowd to impress, but recently at a continuing legal education seminar I brought the bunch to a deafening silence, hanging on my every word. How’d I do it? By mentioning in a small group discussion that I was an animal lawyer, and then describing what one does as an animal law practitioner. As I was talking, all the other groups around us gradually stopped talking to hear what I was saying. The best part is that they weren’t chuckling or smirking, they were genuinely interested.
Actually, this scenario happens to me a lot, where the conversation turns to what we all do for a living, and hands down I’ve got the most interesting job in the room. I know that some of my fellow staffers have experienced the same thing, but you don’t have to work at ALDF to be able to do important, relevant work for animals, thus becoming the most interesting person at a party or seminar.
Animals and their welfare are increasingly becoming part of even the most traditional areas of law practice. If you are a lawyer, consider adding animal law as a component of your practice or pro bono work, whether your current expertise is custody cases, wills and trusts, civil litigation, and so on. Perhaps there is a need for an instructor of Animal Law at your local college or law school. Why not propose yourself to teach it? If you are not a lawyer, consider volunteering for an animal group like ALDF or a local shelter, or working with a firm that does animal cases. Visit our website for more ideas on how to get involved doing fascinating work.
C’mon, be a star!
I have every intention of being one of those preternaturally preserved, vibrantly healthy, juice-drinking 115 year old vegans, schooling whippersnappers in Scrabble and sharing arcane tales of life before the internet. But, as they say, Things Happen. Things like Alameda County Transit buses that do not stop at crosswalks for pedestrians who are just trying to make it into the Berkeley Whole Foods without meeting a youthful death under their merciless wheels, on not just one death-defying occasion, but on a regular basis. Just for example. With this in mind, I have decided it is time-overdue for me to write my will.
My assets have always been more metaphysical than material—so why a will for an estate of much friendship, but not so many mutual funds? My primary concern is that my cats Seamus and Theo would go to the caretaker I’d designated, with enough money in trust to provide for their ongoing care. (For info about how more and more states are adopting guidelines that allow for enforceable trusts for companion animals, check out ALDF’s Resources for “Including Your Animals in Your Will.”) To get myself going, I turned for guidance to the Nolo Press website, a fantastic source for self-help legal information on subjects ranging from obtaining a copyright to filing for bankruptcy. Within minutes I’d located Quicken WillMaker Plus, inexpensive software that will walk me through the process of making sure my animals are in good hands should I make an early exit from the earthly realm. Now all my loved ones need to worry about is making sure Elton John is available for the funeral.
Several years ago, a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance came before the Santa Cruz City Council. I worked part time as an animal care technician at the local SPCA, and euthanasia was, unfortunately, part of the job. I decided I needed to speak at the ordinance hearing.
When it was my turn, I was very nervous. I was in my early 20’s at the time, and very shy about speaking in public. The dog and cat breeders who were present weren’t about to let anyone (let alone a 20-something kennel worker) tell them that purebred animals were part of the overpopulation problem. But despite the hostile environment I found myself in, something compelled me to put one foot in front of the other and make my way up to the microphone.
What pulled me to the front of the room were the memories of the hundreds of shelter animals I had euthanized while working there. Theirs were the faces I saw before injecting, faces that the general public doesn’t get to see. Those faces are burned into my memory forever.
At the time, the SPCA used paper collars to identify the animals that entered the shelter. I had been saving the collars of the animals I had euthanized for some time, as a way to honor and remember them. I decided to take the collars with me to the city council meeting. I wanted to give those animals a voice, and what better way than to have my coworkers hold the linked-together collars up, so the city council could see with their own eyes how many animals someone who only worked part-time had euthanized in just one year. Many of the collars still had tufts of fur on them, a bittersweet reminder of the animals’ descriptions. I was sure to tell the council that a percentage of the collars represented purebred animals, including purebred cats.
I also made sure they knew what shelter workers go through, even for someone only working part-time like me: nightmares, stress-related illnesses, never-ending grief, insomnia. Shelter workers care for the animals, and become attached to them as if they were their own (and sometimes even make them their own, because they cannot bear to kill them). Then they are asked by an apathetic, throw-away society to euthanize the very animals they have lovingly cared for. Millions of animals are euthanized by shelter workers every year in this country because there are still too many people who don’t spay and neuter their animals.
I told the city council that if they could see the hundreds of bodies I had to put into a cooler, when just minutes before those bodies were warm with precious life, then they, too, would support the humane and ethical ordinance before them.
My voice was very shaky at first. But then a funny thing happened. My need to tell the animals’ stories took over, and my voice became strong and clear in spite of my fear and in spite of the opposition’s hostility.
And, I am happy to report that the ordinance passed, thanks to the hard work and dedication of many caring people. Since implementation of the ordinance by the County of Santa Cruz in 1995, the shelter’s intake numbers have been reduced by 64%, and many of the animals entering the shelter are already spayed and neutered.
This was the first time I realized that my voice can be a powerful force for change.
Currently before the California State Assembly is AB 1634, otherwise known as the California Healthy Pets Act, a mandatory spay/neuter bill with exemptions for elderly, sick, service, sporting, or show dogs, among others: http://www.cahealthypets.com/. This important piece of legislation is largely modeled after the successful Santa Cruz County ordinance. I hope all California residents will contact their assembly members and urge them to vote yes on this common sense, much needed bill. California’s companion animals depend on it.
What experiences have you had that have deeply affected you? Hearing about companion animal overpopulation? Reading about the billions of farm animals who are tortured on factory farms? Witnessing a specific act of animal cruelty that has happened in your community? A long-ago visit to a slaughterhouse? I urge you to find your own voice and channel your anger and sorrow by writing letters to your elected representatives, volunteering at your local SPCA or humane society, or, yes, even speaking at a city council meeting.
If someone as shy as me can do it, you can too.
It’s probably no surprise that I, as an animal advocate, have yet to understand how a human could find enjoyment in watching or participating in animal fighting. This barbaric act nauseates me to even think about. Yet, unfortunately, animal fighting is woefully popular in the U.S. and across the world.
Recently however, the U.S. has taken steps to further ban animal fighting activities. On May 3, President Bush signed into law a bill that takes effect immediately and will help law enforcement rid the United States of dog fighting, cockfighting, and other forms of animal fighting. In addition, on May 8, a state Senate panel approved legislation that would immediately make cockfighting a felony in Louisiana, the last state to allow this barbaric and inhumane activity. The Louisiana House of Representatives ok’ed a similar bill to ban cockfighting the following day, with a 101-1 vote.
Is there hope? I choose to think so. Some say cockfighting will move underground just as dog fighting has. It’s almost naïve to think that it won’t. But banning all animal fighting and placing stiff penalties on those who break the law is a first step in bringing an end to this needless form of animal suffering.
For a variety of reasons, media coverage of mandatory minimum sentencing laws has escalated in recent months. In the last week alone, stories or editorials have run across the country, from Cambridge, MA, to Portland, OR addressing the issue. One of the primary arguments articulated in opposition to mandatory minimum sentencing statutes is couched in terms of preserving or restoring “judicial discretion.” The argument boils down to this: “Enacting laws that require judges to impose a minimum sentence for a specific type of criminal conduct is bad public policy because such laws are an unreasonable limitation of the exercise of ‘judicial discretion.’” Simple enough.
The problem is that, in order to have any real credibility, the proponent of this view must be willing to concede that the underlying driving policy concern (i.e., the preservation of judicial discretion) be consistently applied throughout our criminal justice system--you can’t have your cake and eat it too. However, it has been my experience that the people supporting the reformation of mandatory minimum sentencing rules because they limit judicial discretion are also the same people who oppose reformation of other rules the similarly hamstring the discretion of trial judges, such as the exclusionary rule (a rule that requires trial judges to exclude evidence that is collected improperly, regardless of the investigating officer’s good faith attempt to comply with the law). So, the next time you find yourself a party to a discussion on merits of mandatory minimum sentencing rules (and should this be happening on a frequent basis, you might consider getting out more), check your logic for internal consistency before you dig in on your position.