Raising the Bar – ALDF Brings the Future of Animal Law to Harvard

Posted on April 16, 2007

History and emerging legal issues came together this spring as attorneys, law students, professors, and activists from around the world convened for “The Future of Animal Law” at the prestigious Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Sponsored by ALDF and the Harvard Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) chapter, the March 30 – April 1 weekend conference gathered more than 300 participants to hear 36 presenters, including keynote speakers Jeremy Rifkin and Ben Stein, explore vital issues relative to animal law and activism.     

Experts discussed the importance of animal attorneys and advocates forming alliances with other groups, the impact of citizen initiatives on animal welfare, the recent Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, and the hypothetical creation of a Federal Animal Protection Agency. Other panels explored the differences between U.S. and EU animal welfare standards, the enormous problem of animal hoarding and the pathology of hoarders, methods for filing lawsuits against abusive factory farms, and the emotional benefits–and burdens–of dedicating one’s life to helping animals through the legal system: “Not many other lawyers have to stop to cry,” said panelist Bruce Wagman, chief outside litigation counsel for ALDF and partner at Schiff Hardin.

While every session of the conference had its high points, a presentation from Song Wei, the first person to teach animal law in China, was particularly powerful. Amid gasps and tears from conference attendees, Professor Song discussed the senseless and vicious massacre of thousands of dogs in an anti-rabies campaign currently sweeping his country. An appreciative audience gave him a long standing ovation. 

Keynotes & Awards

Keynote speakers Jeremy Rifkin and Ben Stein underscored the tone of the conference by addressing, each in his own way, our need to respect the rights of animals. Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, captivated attendees with a compelling discussion on the environmental impact of factory farming and quoted a recent UN report that attributes 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions to the meat industry.  “What’s bad for the animals is bad for us,” he warned. 

Stein, an economist, Nixon speechwriter, author, and actor, talked lovingly of his dogs and posed the rhetorical question, “Does a cheeseburger taste good enough to justify the terror a cow experiences as she’s about to be slaughtered?”  Both speakers, each of whom earned a law degree, emphasized the importance of empathy when considering animals.

ALDF President Steve Ann Chambers honored long-time animal advocate and animal-law supporter Bob Barker with the first-ever ALDF Lifetime Achievement Award. Barker, who accepted his award via video, reminded a packed house to spay and neuter their companion animals! A true hero for the animals, he has given millions of dollars in endowments to law schools specifically for the support of animal law programs, including those at Harvard, Columbia, Duke, Northwestern, Stanford, and UCLA.

Bruce Wagman presented the ALDF Humanitarian Award to Laureen Bartfield, DVM, who, in 2004, responded to his call for a veterinarian who could assist with a now-infamous dog hoarding case in Sanford, North Carolina (ALDF v. Woodley).  In an emotional presentation, Bruce described Laureen’s remarkable, selfless work – proof that one person can make a lasting difference in the lives of animals.  Laureen told the audience about one special little dog named Angel, whom she found suffering in a small wire cage in the hoarders’ house, crippled with atrophied muscles and other ailments.  She managed to rescue Angel, who is now healthy and happy.

Opinions Delivered

Showing their international support of animal law, conference attendees and panelists traveled from Canada, the United Kingdom, China, Sweden, Australia, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, and all across the United States to participate. For Emily Gardner, the only attorney in Hawaii practicing animal law, the conference was a chance to learn and network. “Living and practicing in Honolulu,” she says, “I sometimes feel a little disconnected from what other animal law attorneys are doing. The conference was an excellent opportunity to talk face to face with other attorneys in the field who address and grapple with similar issues. It’s always useful to hear how different people tackle issues that are largely cutting edge.”

For Joyce Tischler, “The Future of Animal Law” – the second event of its kind ALDF has sponsored – resonated with inspiration and hope.  “This conference felt qualitatively different to me from our first, held at Yale Law School in 2004,” she says. “It’s as if we have risen to a new level of achievement in our field. We exuded a sense of confidence in our presentation that said to those in attendance, ‘ALDF is truly the nexus of animal law; this is the organization that created it and is still the leader.'”

It would be hard to imagine a more successful gathering than this one, but ALDF is already thinking ahead…to the next Future of Animal Law conference, slated for 2009.

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