Building a Better World for Animals: Student Animal Legal Defense FundPosted by Nicole Pallotta, ALDF's Animal Law Program Student Liaison on November 2, 2012
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the 20th Annual Animal Law Conference at Lewis & Clark Law School. In addition to enjoying the informative and inspiring panels and keynote speakers (including Carol Adams, whose eco-feminist classic, The Sexual Politics of Meat, also recently celebrated its 20th anniversary), I was able to meet several of our wonderful Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) members in person. It is always such a pleasure to put faces to the many names I know only through email.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Celebrating 20 Years of Animal Law: Looking Back and Looking Ahead” and although I have been with ALDF for seven years, not twenty, I have seen tremendous progress in my relatively short tenure as animal law has increasingly moved into the spotlight. Perhaps the most tangible benchmark is the growth in our SALDF program. When I started with ALDF in 2005 there were about 60 law schools with student ALDF chapters; last week, our 186th chapter formed! For an even more dramatic comparison, consider that in 2000, when ALDF began tracking student chapter growth, there were only 12 chapters. The increase in the number of law schools offering courses in animal law has kept pace with the growth in student chapters, which is not surprising; often SALDF members are the driving force behind getting more animal law educational opportunities added to the curriculum at their schools, frequently with ALDF’s support.
Although there were many great panels at this year’s conference, including ones on laws suppressing activist speech, orcas and the 13th amendment, animals and domestic violence, sustainable meat, vegan nutrition, service animals and breed bans, antibiotics on the farm, animal welfare in China, and new developments in litigation and legislation, the highlight of my weekend was the SALDF Breakfast on Saturday morning. The breakfast is an annual tradition, and in my opinion this was the best one yet.
The annual breakfast is a chance for student leaders from SALDF chapters around the U.S. and Canada to get together in person and share ideas. Despite the early hour on the first day of the conference, attendance was robust. The breakfast was moderated by me and the co-directors of the Lewis & Clark SALDF chapter (the very first student chapter ever to form, in 1992). I talked briefly about ALDF’s resources for students (including clerkships, fellowships, scholarships, project and travel grants, free tabling materials, animal law advocacy resources, career services packet, and more.) and the L&C chapter talked about some of their ongoing projects. Then we went around the room and asked everyone to introduce themselves and say which chapter they were from and a few projects they have worked on. This year, everyone had so much to say that we ran out of time! The hour and 15 minutes was over before we had even finished going around the room for introductions; this is the first year that has happened.
In previous years, there are usually several students who say they feel stuck, or isolated, or are the only one at their school interested in animal legal issues and advocacy; they are at a loss for ideas about what to do on campus (for those people our project ideas and SALDF spotlights are a good place to start). But this year’s students had so much going on! Every single chapter, even ones whose members felt they were not in environments hospitable to animal advocacy (e.g. those in more rural agricultural communities), were working for animals in impressive ways.
Some of the projects chapters are working on included lobbying for animal abuser registries and other ALDF campaigns, sanctuary volunteer days, pro bono research for animal protection nonprofits and local attorneys, animal law course advocacy, planning regional animal law symposia and speaker events (often collaborating with other law groups on campus – for example criminal law, environmental law, constitutional law, and family law – to broaden awareness of animal issues and their prevalence across diverse areas of life and the law), vegan advocacy (e.g. “Meatless Mondays” and vegan Thanksgiving events), anti-puppy mill campaigns, charity events to raise money for local shelter and rescue groups, submitting comments on pending regulations and legislation, screenings of films about animal issues, and participation in educational events like the Annual Animal Law Conference and National Animal Law Competitions.
It was inspiring to hear everything our SALDF chapters are working on and all the ways they are helping animals in their communities and beyond – all while juggling careers as busy law students! There was even a student in his very first semester of law school who traveled from New York City to Portland to attend the conference and the SALDF Breakfast. That’s dedication, considering the first semester of law school can be notoriously overwhelming. These students are not just going to do amazing things for animals in their professional careers as lawyers, legislators, judges, and policy makers; they are already doing important work, and they serve as a reminder of how much can be done no matter how busy we think we are.
In a profession that often makes me feel hopeless, I am optimistic about the future when I see the passion, dedication, and talent of our student members. Here’s to the next twenty years, and a world where animals’ interests are finally taken seriously. Today’s law students will be instrumental in creating that world.