The Animal Law Conference at Lewis & Clark Law School: The Links

Posted by Megan Backus, ALDF's Media Relations Associate on November 2, 2009

I finally made it to my first animal law conference! After almost two years as ALDF’s media relations associate, I felt it was time to schmooze with the who’s who of animal law. Hosted by The Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark, in collaboration with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, it’s the longest running animal law conference in the nation. This year’s topic was, "The Links," and boasted panels from animal law’s key players such as, Pam Frasch, Steve Wise, Russ Mead, Bruce Wagman and the mother of animal law, Joyce Tischler.

With my laptop in tow, I made my way from classroom to classroom tweeting about the various issues being discussed. As a result of my work experience with ALDF, I was familiar with many of the topics, such as the link between cruelty to animals and violence toward humans and the widely debated U.S. v. Stevens case. However, I was blown away by Scott Heiser’s presentation during the panel, The People v. Animal Cruelty: Criminal Prosecutions. As the director of ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program, he discussed the challenges facing prosecutors, including: lack of resources, case overload, and the need for increased cooperation between district attorneys and humane investigators, as well as evidentiary problems.

But what really caught everyone’s attention was a video he showed of 30-year-old Ron Turner, in his family’s backyard, slamming his 8-month-old puppy, Romeo, up against a tree and on the ground. It was a scene so violent, it made your stomach turn. The crime was caught on tape by his neighbor and this tape proved to be the proverbial “smoking gun.” ALDF offered the County Attorney assistance with the prosecution with the hope of inducing the prosecutor to charge Turner with the crime of animal torture. However, the prosecutor, who admitted knowing Ron Turner, refused to do so and charged him with animal cruelty. Scott focused on this case as an example of why a prosecutor may choose not to aggressively pursue criminal cruelty charges, even when it appears to us that the perpetrator is obviously guilty.

As I watched the video, I was reminded of our own personal responsibility to act as a voice for animals. It’s critical to step in, when safe to do so, to stop animal abuse, or to report animal abuse to your local authorities. It was frustrating imaging Ron’s neighbor not taking direct action to help Romeo, but as I looked around the room, I was reassured by all of the law students attentively listening to Scott’s presentation.

The conference truly exhibited the animal law movement is quickly gaining momentum and animals will one day have the voice they deserve inside the courtroom. I arrived home refreshed and ready to get back to work doing what I love most, helping animals! Needless to say, I’m looking forward to ALDF’s Future of Animal Conference this Spring.


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