The Animal Legal Defense Fund would never be able to use the law to advance the interests of animals without the support of legal professionals nationwide. In this continuing series of spotlights, ALDF’s Animal Law Program salutes attorney Megan Senatori.
Boy, how times have changed. In 2001, when Megan Senatori graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School, the campus offered not a single animal law class and there was no Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) chapter. Needless to say, animal law was still struggling to make its mark. Two years later, Megan and classmate Pam Hart ― now director of ALDF’s Animal Law Program ― not only helped convince their alma mater to offer a course in animal law, but they became the instructors. Megan was equally successful with Marquette University Law School, where she also teaches animal law, and she is the faculty advisor to the SALDF chapters at both law schools. By 2009, the burgeoning field had come so far that Megan helped draft an amicus curiae brief on behalf of 52 animal law professors from across the country, urging the United States Supreme Court to recognize the prevention of animal cruelty as a compelling governmental interest. The case in question, United States v. Stevens, gained international attention and shined a spotlight on depictions of animal cruelty.
“My co-author on the brief was Pamela Frasch, executive director of the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark Law School, who was just amazing to work with,” says Megan. “When I was in law school, I never would have dreamed that there would be an animal law case before the United States Supreme Court in my lifetime. That experience has been a highlight of my legal career to date, and I’m sure it will remain at the top of my list when I retire from the practice of law someday.”
In addition to her teaching endeavors, Megan is a partner at the law firm of DeWitt Ross & Stevens in Madison, Wisconsin, where she concentrates her practice on complex civil litigation and appellate advocacy. A portion of her practice is dedicated to cases that advance the protection of animals in the legal system. And because she’s apparently not busy enough, she devotes time to the Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims (SAAV) Program, a non-profit organization she co-founded with Pam Hart to provide confidential, temporary shelter to the animal companions of victims fleeing domestic abuse.
“I had volunteered with our local domestic abuse agency, but for some reason it never dawned on me that animals could become victims of domestic abuse,” she says, explaining the roots of SAAV. Megan was still in law school when she teamed up with Pam to collaborate with their local domestic abuse agency and local humane society to provide temporary and confidential shelter for the animals of domestic abuse victims receiving services at the local domestic abuse shelter. “It is so obvious to me now, but when we started SAAV back in 2001, the link between domestic abuse and animal abuse did not receive nearly the publicity that it now receives. When I learned that domestic abuse victims with companion animals were often forced to choose their own safety or the safety of their companion animal, I immediately wanted to do something about it.” SAAV provides a sanctuary for all kinds of animals: dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, horses, turkeys and has even sheltered an iguana.
In 2008, Wisconsin Law Journal named Megan its Rising Star, an annual award given to only one recipient in the state in recognition of his or her outstanding contributions to the practice of law, including leadership in advancing legal services to the poor, important contributions to Wisconsin’s legal community and important contributions to the community at large.
Of her relationship with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Megan says, “I am an enthusiastic supporter of ALDF because of the cutting-edge, highly professional legal work that ALDF provides to better the lives of animals. I have been a member of ALDF for over a decade. I am also proud to have served ALDF as a client: I prepared and filed an amicus brief on behalf of ALDF in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals a few years ago in a pit bull breed ban case. I continue to work with ALDF in a variety of ways, including working on the moot court problem for the National Animal Advocacy Competition at Harvard Law School.”
Megan’s home is run by two naughty Labrador retrievers, Maverick and Trout, and a fat kitty named Leroy Brown. “They let me and my husband, Adam, live there too, so long as we succumb to all of their demands.”
You can learn more about DeWitt Ross & Stevens by visiting www.dewittross.com.
To become a member of ALDF’s Animal Law Program and assist animals as part of our pro bono network, please complete and return our Attorney Membership Application.