Legally Brief: The Mother of Animal Law

Posted on March 24, 2017

March is Women’s History Month—an appropriate time to express our thanks and reverence for the vision, courage and diligence of the “mother of animal law.” Over three decades have passed since Joyce Tischler founded the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the success and growth we enjoy today is all thanks to Joyce

Working as a young lawyer in the San Francisco Bay Area of the 1970s, Joyce sought and found a handful of compassionate colleagues with an interest in protecting animals and advancing their legal rights—together they formed Attorneys for Animal Rights, which shortly changed its name to the Animal Legal Defense Fund. From the very beginning, Joyce helped set the Animal Legal Defense Fund apart, not only in its mission to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system, but also in its consistent success in filing cutting-edge lawsuits. Groundbreaking has always been the right word to describe Joyce and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. In 1981, seeking to put theory into practice, she spearheaded a lawsuit against the U.S. Navy, which had been secretly shooting and killing feral burros with plans to kill over 5,000. Initially citing the need for an Environmental Impact Statement, Joyce negotiated continuously over the next eight months, ultimately saving the lives of every burro who had been under threat.

With Joyce’s leadership, the Animal Legal Defense Fund 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. She has challenged hunting and trapping using the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), sought enforcement of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), engaged in animal custody battles, argued against the right to kill animals pursuant to will provisions and challenged the U.S. Patent Office’s rule allowing the patenting of genetically altered animals.

Now serving as the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s general counsel, she is responsible for in-house legal matters and spends her time out of the office writing, lecturing and promoting the field of animal law. While her leadership and persistence in the field has been recognized formally and repeatedly by her professional peers, we’d like to underscore our appreciation for all of her roles—fighter, nurturer, organizer, litigator—all of them vital to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, all of them devoted to making life better for animals.

I have had the pleasure and privilege of working shoulder to shoulder with Joyce for the past 18 years to continue to grow the incredible organization she founded and to fulfill its mission, “to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system.” I can imagine nothing better than spending the next 18 years working with the “mother of animal law” to win justice for all animals. Thank you, Joyce, for your commitment, strength and integrity!