Chicago Animal Law Symposium

Posted by Chelsea McFadden, Chicago SALDF regional representative and vice president of the John Marshall School of Law SALDF chapter on April 17, 2015


On Saturday, April 4, over 70 law students and animal advocates came together to attend the first symposium of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund’s (SALDF) Chicago regional network. At this cutting-edge event, top experts discussed hot button issues like “ag gag” laws, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, contemporary issues in Illinois animal law, the convergence of food safety law and animal protection, and the problem of police shootings of companion animals. This student-organized event took place at the Chicago-Kent College of Law and was generously sponsored by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and made by possible by the collaboration of SALDF Chapters at Chicago-Kent College of Law, The John Marshall Law School, DePaul University College of Law, Northwestern School of Law, and the University of Chicago Law School.

The day’s presentations began with a moving keynote address by Anna Morrison-Ricordati, animal law attorney at AMR Law Group. She discussed social perspectives on the relationship between humans and nonhuman animals. This was followed by a lively and interactive discussion of legislative efforts to oppose the efforts of animal advocates through ag gag laws and the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). Odette Wilkens, executive director of the Equal Justice Alliance, explained how the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) labels a wide range of legal activism as “terrorism” and the dangerous chilling effect this has on law-abiding animal advocates. Chris Green, ALDF’s director of legislative affairs, followed with a discussion of how ag gag laws aim to control our behavior by instilling fear of prosecution and intimidating people from gathering evidence of animal abuse on factory farms.

Other presentations included one by Cherie Travis, assistant general counsel for the Cook County Sherriff’s Department, who discussed the tragic problem of dog shootings by police, particularly in Chicago. Cherie discussed the work she does training Illinois police officers, in order to prevent the use of nonlethal force against dogs. Diane Balkin, contract attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, then discussed this issue at a national level and important new legislation aimed at preventing shootings of companion animals by police.

Great presentations followed by Anna Morrison-Ricordati, Carney Anne Nasser, legislative counsel for the ALDF, Chris Berry, ALDF staff attorney, and Kelsey Eberly, ALDF Litigation fellow.

The symposium also included screenings of the new documentary, The Ghosts in Our Machine, which illuminates the lives of individual animals living within and rescued from the machine of our modern world through the heart and photographic lens of animal rights photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur.

At the end of the day, symposium attendees were armed with new knowledge and new connections in the Midwest, a region where it can be difficult to advocate against factory farming interests. The day’s presentations inspired attendees to get involved in areas where animals desperately need our voices, and provided a foundation for effectuating meaningful change for animals.


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