Student Inspired by Rescue Work to Found Animal Law Group at the University of Kansas

Posted on February 26, 2010

Call her the animal advocate.

For the past decade, Katie Bray has dedicated her spare time to animal welfare and rescue work on the ground. Now, as a law student, she is arming herself with the knowledge and skills to defend animal interests in the legal system.

Katie with her dogs.Her latest project? Founding a student chapter of the Animal Legal Defense Fund at the University of Kansas School of Law. With support from law professor and Lawrence Humane Society board member Bill Westerbeke, Bray registered the group with KU in October. It became an official chapter of the national Animal Legal Defense Fund on Jan. 21, 2010.

The group – one of 145 student chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada – provides a forum for education, advocacy and scholarship aimed at protecting the interests of animals through the legal system and raising the profile of the field of animal law. It has 18 members so far and hosted its second guest speaker this week, when Ledy VanKavage of Best Friends Animal Society gave a talk on “Due Process and Doggie Discrimination: The Current Climate of Breed Specific Legislation.”

“SALDF chapters are an instrumental part of a growing national movement towards recognizing the important body of law known as animal law,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “An SALDF chapter can be a powerful forum on campus for education and scholarship aimed at understanding this area of law and the impact it has on animals. Most importantly, SALDF chapters are in a unique position to powerfully advocate for changing laws to better protect animals.”
Katie Bray with her three-legged dog Leonidas, who was abused as a puppy
Second-year law student Katie Bray with her three-legged dog Leonidas, who was abused as a puppy.

Katie and LeonidasBray, who serves as president of the KU chapter, spent the summer volunteering at Best Friends Animal Society in Maryville, Ill. There, she helped draft an amicus curiae brief in U.S. v. Stevens, a U.S. Supreme Court case involving the sale of dogfighting videos. The Court is considering whether a federal law that criminalizes the sale of depictions of animal cruelty violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Bray traveled to Washington, D.C., in October to witness oral arguments.

She described working on the case as “one of the most noteworthy experiences of my life.”

In April, Bray will journey to Maryland to present her first published paper, “Breed Discriminatory Legislation: How DNA Will Remedy the Unfairness,” at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Animal Law symposium. The University of Pennsylvania School of Law’s Journal of Animal Law & Ethics will publish the article in its next issue.

“I am thrilled to have the paper published and be invited to present it at the symposium,” Bray said. “The paper is about canine DNA as a tool for breed identification in areas that prohibit certain breeds of dogs. It’s a very narrow topic, but one that is hotly contested in cities nationwide.”

Over the winter break, Bray also co-authored an article with Ledy VanKavage for the International Municipal Lawyers Association that will be published in the March/April edition of the IMLA magazine. The article is on “The Fiscal Impact of Breed Discriminatory Ordinances in the Era of DNA.”

Bray’s biggest inspiration to wage the fight for animal rights is her dog Leonidas, who was abused as a puppy.  His rear paws and a portion of his leg were torn off when he was only weeks old, and he was taken to a shelter where he likely would have been euthanized. But he found a home with Bray.

“He is oblivious to the hurdles he must overcome as a three-legged dog,” Bray said. “Every time Leonidas pulls himself up on the couch or paces himself up the stairs, I am inspired to keep working to ensure laws protect animals like him. In all the years I have been working in animal rescue, and the thousands of dogs I’ve encountered, Leonidas is the happiest dog I have ever met.”

Bray has been interested in intellectual property law for a number of years and always imagined animal law would be a hobby.

“However, animal law seems to be blazing a trail in my life as a true career opportunity,” she said.

Students interested in joining the KU Student Animal Legal Defense Fund should contact Bray at kusaldf@gmail.com.

Written by Mindie Paget. Reprinted with permission from the University of Kansas School of Law.