Lewis & Clark Animal Law Clinic Pushes for Laws on Behalf of Paws

Posted on January 27, 2011

Originally published on January 11, 2011
By Monique Balas, Special to The Oregonian

Kathy HesslerSix students participating in a legal clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School are doing their small part to change the world.

Now in its second year, the Animal Law Clinic is one of the few animal-law clinics in the world. The program is at the school’s Center for Animal Law Studies in collaboration with the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

It represents the growing interest in animal law, a field that’s enjoyed steady growth over the past decade as people increasingly recognize the value of their pets.

"Society’s feelings about animals have changed," says Kathy Hessler, professor and clinic director. "The law’s evolving to reflect that as well."

What is animal law?

Any legal matter involving the interests of an animal is considered animal law. It overlaps with almost all other legal areas, such as tort, criminal, estate and property law.

You might hire an animal law attorney if your dog gets injured at the groomer, or if you break up with your partner and can’t agree on custody or appropriate medical care.

The field is catching on at universities around the country. In 1998, about eight law schools offered animal law classes; now an estimated 120 do. Only a handful of other schools offer more than one animal law course, says Pamela Frasch, assistant dean of the Animal Law Program and executive director of Lewis & Clark’s Center for Animal Law Studies.

The Animal Law Clinic

The clinic is a yearlong class offering students the chance to practice law under the supervision of Hessler, whom the college recruited from Case Western Reserve University to head the clinic. It’s a bit like a residency program for student doctors.

"In the rest of my law school courses, we learn about law, but this is really a course where it’s helping us to be lawyers, to learn how to deal with clients and communicate well with them," says clinic participant Mark Jordan, a third-year law student.

Clients from the community and across the country seek help through word of mouth. The clinic offers its services free of charge but handles only cases involving large numbers of animals.

Current projects

Among other projects, the students are drafting a horse licensing systemfor potential use in counties across Oregon.

Caring for horses is very expensive, and the number of horse neglect and abandonment cases has grown as the has economy tanked. In Clackamas County, which has the third-largest population of horses in the United States, law enforcement officers get calls on a weekly basis about such cases, Hessler says. The county lacks adequate resources to handle all the cases.

"We modeled (the horse licensing program) after cat and dog licensing systems," says Natalie Calta, a third-year law student from California who helped draft the horse license legislation.

In the same way dog and cat licenses ensure owners get their pets vaccinated against rabies, horse licenses would require owners to provide a minimum standard of care. The funds from licenses would help provide food and shelter for seized horses.

Calta researched the cost of annual horse care and sought advice from animal control officers on the scope of the horse problem.

"I really like the project because it’s something concrete," she says.

The students are revising the draft ordinance and hope to submit it soon to area counties.

Hessler and her students are also developing an adoption process that would provide alternatives for abused or neglected farm animals.

When neglected livestock animals are seized by county officials, they’re often sold at auction and sent to slaughter. The clinic is drafting model regulations for animal shelters and counties nationally that would create the option for such animals to be adopted instead. The goal is to develop a national coalition of sanctuaries that could take in or adopt out abused farm animals.

Another example of the clinic’s work is a case with Friends of Family Farmers, a Molalla-based nonprofit organization. The nonprofit retained the student group to examine options for rural communities struggling with pollution from large-scale corporate farms.

Oregon doesn’t have many regulatory options for mitigating pollution from factory farms, says Kendra Kimbirauskas, the group’s president. As a result, these communities are left to deal with air and water pollution stemming from the concentration of thousands of animals and their waste.

"As an organization, we have been working with the clinic and looking at the tools that communities have or don’t have to regulate the pollution coming out of these operations," Kimbirauskas says. "They have been providing a service that, as a nonprofit, we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford."

Farm Sanctuary, which advocates for laws protecting farm animals from cruelty, has retained the clinic for several projects. It is working with students to create stricter federal standards on food labels such as "organic" and "natural."

The clinic also worked with Farm Sanctuary on a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend a rule requiring that "downed" cows (cows that can’t stand or walk without assistance) be humanely euthanized to also include pigs, goats and sheep.

Former student Alison Longley credits obtaining her current job to her year with the clinic. Now a manager of campaigns for Farm Sanctuary, she worked with the organization on the downed animal ban petition.

"It was like I got to try out my job before being hired," she says.

The petition she worked on is currently pending with the USDA.

"I’ve got my dream job now," Longley says, "and it’s because of the clinic."