Stephen Wells is the executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. For six years (until 2006), Steve founded and served as the director of ALDF’s successful Animal Law Program, which provides support and resources to ALDF’s law professional and law student members and pro bono opportunities for attorneys and firms to assist ALDF with its mission.
Prior to joining ALDF in 1999, Steve served as the executive director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance in Anchorage where he became known for his work to protect Alaska’s wildlife, particularly wolves and bears, and its unique wild places. He has committed himself to animal and environmental protection and over the years, in addition to his full-time work, he has continued to volunteer his time for local organizations and projects.
Steve has managed several successful businesses. In his native Chicago, right out of high school he started his own business called “Precise Instrument Repair Co.,” a repair and calibration business for industrial measuring equipment, which he later sold. In Alaska, Steve worked to clean up the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and was so horrified by what he saw he decided his life path included working for positive change for the environment and wildlife. He was awed by the wilderness and natural beauty of Alaska. His first year there, he lived in a cabin through the winter without running water or electricity. He even missed an interview one day by being trapped by grizzly bear cubs and their mom. He began going to school and volunteering for the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, a nonprofit wilderness protection agency, and was eventually hired there.
After eight months traveling in Africa, Steve returned for a full time position with the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. He threw himself into that with his natural entrepreneurial spirit and leadership abilities. He knows how to run a business and has a background in all aspects of business management, including the nuts and bolts of accounting and eventually became executive director. As executive director, he grew that organization by more than doubling its staff and activism. Steve was a primary leader in the successful ballot initiative banning “same-day airborne wolf hunting” (which allowed the use of airplanes to kill wolves). From this trial-by-fire lesson, Steve learned how to be the lone voice speaking for wildlife at community and state meetings amidst intense opposition. He also ran a successful construction business in Alaska with major contracts.
He left Alaska to start an animal sanctuary in California, but instead went to work for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Meanwhile, he opened a vegan restaurant called “Sparks” in Guerneville, California which included a highly successful retailing market of packaged goods sold across the Bay Area.
At the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Steve saw an opportunity to expand into law schools and involving attorneys directly—providing additional resources and pro bono connections. He helped stop wild animal trainers in Los Angeles from abusing primates in a landmark lawsuit. He helped to set up a sanctuary for hundreds of animals in the infamous North Carolina Woodley hoarding case. Steve has also raised significant funds to create the ALDF Fellowship program and helps ALDF fund an expanding vision for the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark Law School.
When Steve started, ALDF had no litigation staff—so he created an in-house litigation program which, with the help of his new litigation director, Carter Dillard, allowed ALDF to quadruple its caseload. Steve expanded the Animal Law Program and helped to exponentially expand the student chapters (SALDF) of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. When he started SALDF had 6 chapters. That number is now at 184. There were 12 animal law classes offered in the United States and Canada—and now there are 30. Steve’s leadership also led him to create an ALDF pro bono program—and ALDF now has 1.2 million in donated legal services. When Steve began, ALDF’s revenue was at 3.7 million. In 2011, it was at 5.7 million, despite the economic hardships facing the US economy. As the leader at ALDF, Steve has been interviewed by CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and ESPN.
Steve has created a highly efficient, passionate, and talented team at ALDF. As he says, it is his job to create an environment where egos are out the door and everyone works together for one end—to end the exploitation and suffering of animals. And that is just what he has done. He lives in the western woodlands of Sonoma County, California with his rascally cat Johnny Rotten and two dogs, Eve and Jam.
- Listen to a radio interview with Stephen Wells.
Joyce Tischler, affectionately known as “the Mother of Animal Law,” is the co-founder of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and was ALDF’s executive director for twenty-five years. Currently, as ALDF general counsel, Joyce is responsible for in-house legal matters, as well as writing, lecturing on, and promoting the field of animal law. She has been called a visionary, a leader, an inspiration, and a role model—she is that and so much more. She’s also an exceptional attorney.
Joyce Tischler has devoted her career to the development and advancement of animal law. When she began, there was no field of animal law: no animal law courses, no animal law programs, and no animal law nonprofits. Joyce decided to change that.
Animals have always been a very important part of Joyce’s life. As soon as her parents allowed her to walk around the block, she was bringing home cats and injured birds. A sheltie she named Princess Fox was adopted by her family when Joyce was nine years old and became Joyce’s soul mate for thirteen years. As Joyce reached adulthood and thought about her career, there was no obvious fit for animals. But in college, she helped run an ad-hoc cat shelter on campus, while working towards her BA in Political Science from Queens College of the City University of New York. In law school, the only law review article she wanted to write was about legal rights for animals (one of the very first to address this issue). Her article, "Rights for Nonhuman Animals: A Guardianship Model for Dogs and Cats," received dramatic response from her professors and colleagues and continues to influence the greatest philosophers in animal law today. She earned her JD from the University of San Diego, where she was also a member of the San Diego Law Review, Steering Committee on Women in the Law, and Environmental Law Society.
As a young lawyer working for a Bay Area law firm, Joyce began doing volunteer work for the Fund for Animals, through which she met Laurence Kessenick, a partner in a San Francisco law firm who shared her desire to protect animals and establish their legal rights. In 1979 they decided to see if anyone else shared their interest; they advertised in the local legal newspaper and at the first meeting, six other lawyers showed up. That was the start of Attorneys for Animal Rights, which changed its name to Animal Legal Defense Fund in 1984. For the next few years, they met monthly to learn about the state and federal laws relevant to animals and the overwhelming amount of abuse and exploitation that animals endure. Unwittingly, the Mother of Animal Law had given birth to a movement.
In 1981, Joyce filed a case against the U.S. Navy, which had shot and killed over 600 feral burros at its Weapons Testing Center in China Lake, California, and planned to shoot approximately 5,000 burros on successive weekends, starting two days after she had received notice of the killings. Working through the night, Joyce typed on her manual typewriter to piece together a set of pleadings in which she argued that the Navy could not take this action without first preparing a document called an Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). She boarded a flight to Fresno, California the next morning to argue her case. Thankfully, the judge granted her motion for a Temporary Restraining Order, and she saved the lives of the 500 burros slated to be killed that weekend. For the next eight months, she bargained, negotiated, cajoled and ultimately settled the case, so that not one more burro was killed.
Because of this victory, Joyce’s little group received a grant from the Animal Protection Institute, which enabled her to begin to work full-time for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, with a first annual budget of $12,000. She may not have set out thirty years ago with a plan to boldly pioneer and champion a new field of law. But that’s just what she did. Joyce quickly realized she was not alone. Her work on behalf of animals struck a nerve with other law professionals who wanted to help animals. She organized meetings and corresponded with attorneys and law students from all parts of the country.
It has been thirty extraordinary years since the case that changed Joyce’s life. In that time, ALDF has sued to stop bear hunts, mountain lion hunts, the removal of wild horses from federal lands, and challenged the intensive confinement of farmed animals and even the “patenting” of animals. We’ve assisted prosecutors in numerous cruelty cases, rescued animals from hoarders and saved the lives of many animals, including dogs, cats, birds, chimpanzees, horses and, of course, those beautiful burros.
With her leadership, ALDF has filed groundbreaking and major impact lawsuits and laid the foundation necessary for animal law to be taken seriously in law schools, law firms and bar associations across the country. Joyce handled some of Animal Legal Defense Fund's earliest cases, including the previously mentioned lawsuit that halted the U.S. Navy's plan to kill 5,000 feral burros and a 1988 challenge to the U.S. Patent Office's rule allowing the patenting of genetically altered animals. She has tackled such diverse topics as challenges to hunting and trapping using the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), enforcement of the federal Animal Welfare Act, standing to sue, animal custody battles, the right to kill animals pursuant to will provisions, landlord-tenant issues and damages and recovery for injury to or death of an animal.
Joyce has encouraged the best and the brightest minds to apply creative legal strategies to help establish greater legal protections for animals. As a result, ALDF is recognized for its continual innovation in the field of animal law, from using a little known state law to rescue hundreds of animals from the infamous Woodley dog-hoarders in North Carolina, to the recent release of Ben the Bear from a cruel roadside zoo.
An inspiration to so many activists around the world, Joyce is an internationally recognized speaker and author of numerous publications. In 2009, The American Bar Association Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section (TIPS) Animal Law Committee honored Joyce with the Excellence in the Advancement of Animal Law Award. In 2010, Joyce was invited on a 12-day, seven-city speaking tour in Australia sponsored by father-daughter team Brian and Ondine Sherman of Voiceless – the Animal Protection Institute. One of her recent publications of influence is her double volume "A Brief History of Animal Law, Part II (1985-2011)," published in the Stanford Journal of Animal Law and Policy. In addition to her many publications, Joyce has been quoted far and wide, including in the New York Times, Science Magazine, Washington Post, USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, the Sydney Morning Herald, Sunday Telegraph, Guardian, and People magazine. She is currently co-writing two animal law books.
Although ALDF remains the only specifically animal law-focused organization, today most animal protection groups have lawyers and a legal strategy, something Joyce recommended that they do as early as 1986. In addition, there are now over 180 student chapters (SALDF) of the Animal Legal Defense Fund in law schools across the U.S. and Canada, and more than 142 law schools now teach an animal law class; 12 animal conferences are held annually, and eight animal law journals are being published. In 2008, ALDF entered into collaboration with Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon to create the first-of-its-kind Center for Animal Law Studies, which offers students a world class program in which to study animal law.
The future of animal law will include taking our case to the citizens, Joyce says. Consumers can be strong advocates for the animals and we can help them to make healthy and compassionate choices. And, she adds, “I don’t eat my clients.” Through her strength and humility, her persistent advocacy and clear leadership, Joyce Tischler is a force for change.