20 Years of Animal Law

Posted by by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF's Staff Writer on October 25, 2012

Photo by Andy Marion, Lewis & Clark Law School

Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending the 20th Annual Animal Law Conference, “Celebrating 20 Years of Animal Law: Looking Back and Looking Forward,” at the Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS), a collaboration between the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. Here are just a few of the diverse and powerful talks given at the conference.

Sowing Deep Roots

The opening keynote, “Persistence and Progress in Animal Law,” by Nancy Perry, senior vice president of government affairs at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), inspired the audience with the notion of persistence. Nancy told the story of Declan Gregg, a ten year old boy who learned about cruelty to slaughter-bound horses. Declan started a popular blog called Children4Horses and even gave speeches from the floor of the United States Congress. We each have a different contribution to make, Nancy says. But we must overcome obstacles with the conviction of knowing history will bear us out. “Imagine the deep roots we sow, so deep nobody can push us over.”

A Movement Under Siege

Will Potter and Lewis Bollard (Photo by Andy Marion, Lewis & Clark Law School)

With similar persistence, independent journalist Will Potter has been fighting secrecy and suppression. In “Ag-gag Laws: Suppressing Speech and Activism,” a panel with Lewis Bollard, Will discussed the lack of transparency in “counter-terrorism” measures against activist movements. Author of Green is the New Red: an Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege, Will explained that the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), was sponsored, drafted, and secretly lobbied for by agricultural groups. When Will testified before the U.S. Congress, he was assured AETA would never be used against whistle-blowers. Yet, today “terrorism” charges can be lobbed at those who record cruelty in factory farms. Ultimately, the animal rights movement is targeted – not for crimes, but for successes. And there is no more successful measure for swaying public sentiment, Will says, than undercover investigations. We must reframe the debate, for “the greatest threat to ‘ag gag’ is not breaking windows but creating them.”

Domestic Violence & Animal Protection

Scott Heiser and Maya Gupta (Photo by Andy Marion, Lewis & Clark Law School)

Windows are also needed to expose the link between domestic violence and animal cruelty. One in four women will become a victim of domestic violence. And animal offenders are five times more likely to harm humans.The panel “Protecting All Creatures from Domestic Violence: Civil and Criminal Approaches, Challenges, and Solutions” included Scott Heiser, director of ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program. Scott discussed the recent case of a Georgia man who kicked his girlfriend’s dog to death and then beat the woman with her dead dog. Despite this extraordinary act of cruelty, thus far the abuser has received zero jail time.

Maya Gupta of Ahimsa House also spoke about the link between domestic violence and animal cruelty. The dedicated staff members of Ahimsa House provide emergency pet shelter, veterinary care, a crisis line, and other services to help the human and animal victims of domestic violence across Georgia.

Unfortunately, most women’s shelters do not have a place for animals. Maya explained that in the cycle of abuse, animal cruelty is present at every point along the wheel. Many abused women stay in violent households because they are terrified to leave the animals behind. What can we do? We can build more organizations like Ahisma House; encourage victims to report damage (or threats) to including animals, and help victims establish proof of animal ownership for all custody suits and protection orders.

What You Can Do For Animals–Our Hen House

Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan (Photo by Andy Marion, Lewis & Clark Law School)

Mariann Sullivan and Jasmin Singer, cofounders of the multimedia hub Our Hen House, held a workshop called “Change the World for Animals.” Mariann is a visiting law professor at Lewis & Clark. Jasmin is executive director of OHH, and a writer for VegNews, who named her one of 20 stand-out stars of the animal protection movement. With humor and grace, Mariann and Jasmin emphasized the importance of grassroots activism. “Find your passion, build your strategy,” they urge: “see your actions as holistic, see the whole picture.” In their lively workshop, they engaged a plethora of student voices. “Who do you know and how can you reach them?” the dazzling duo asked. “How can you build activism in your circles?” For example, you can spread the love by spreading the deliciousness: make vegan food for social events and family gatherings. If you leaflet, include recipes. Encourage friends to do a 30 day vegan challenge or even a 1 day challenge. Reach out every day, in every way. As Gandhi encouraged, be the change.

Pragmatic Politics & Abolitionism

As we come together to embody change, the lively panel “Animal Rights Isolationism v. Pragmatic Politics” asked whether activists must compromise deeply held positions to achieve more limited goals, when they work in cooperation with the very industries they seek to change. Led by ALDF Founder Joyce Tischler and Pamela Frasch, assistant dean of Animal Law Program and executive director of CALS, the panel garnered vibrant discussion from very different voices in the standing-room-only audience. Questions arose such as whether a group can take money from the industry it advocates against, or whether progress is carved out in incremental steps or in leaps and bounds. Do the “eat local” and “sustainable agriculture” movements merely facilitate feeling good about eating cruelly-produced meat? Do minor steps suffice when they end an animal’s immediate suffering? How do we bring industry to the table and what are our limits? What is the alternative path?

Cultural Intersections

Carol J. Adams, Earl Blumenauer, and Pamela Frasch (Photo by Andy Marion, Lewis & Clark Law School)

One of the most anticipated talks of the conference was the keynote address “After 20 Years: Animal Activism and Histories We Cannot Possess” by Carol J. Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat. Carol is an internationally renowned feminist-vegan advocate, activist, and independent scholar whose work connects the subjugation of women and animals, and offer ways to embody feminist-vegan theory. Eating meat creates what she calls an “absent referent” and denies animals a body and a self. Carol generously shared “the absent referent” in her own life history and emphasized that grassroots and legal activism can help restore the body and the self. Her talk was truly inspiring, and the impassioned standing-ovation she received was only a small tribute to how deeply she touched her audience.

It’s Only The Beginning

Next fall, ALDF will be organizing the Animal Law Conference and we hope you will join us! Until then, check out some of our animal law resources:


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