Making Connections at the 2017 Animal Rights National Conference (and Beyond!)

The Animal Legal Defense Fund had a busy weekend exhibiting and hosting an Animal Law Networking Reception at the 2017 Animal Rights National Conference, which took place in Alexandria, Virginia, August 3-6. At the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s booth, Student Programs Attorney Kelly Levenda and I had the opportunity to speak to conference attendees from around the world, including many attorneys and law students, about our mission, recent case and legislative updates, and educational opportunities in animal law.

Animal protection conferences are a great way to connect with like-minded others, learn new advocacy tools, and share information about the many different ways that groups and individuals are working to help animals. The modern animal protection movement has been characterized as “many hands on many oars,”[1] and attending a large conference can give one a sense of the depth and breadth of tactics being used in a variety of contexts to protect animals on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of ways animals are exploited in our society, and while this creates a daunting challenge it also means there are countless points of entry to get involved to create positive change.

We shared the exhibit hall with intrepid photographers documenting the institutional animal abuse that is so often hidden from public view; sanctuaries that provide shelter to rescued animals and educational outreach to the public; local groups facilitating the switch to plant-based eating in their community; vendors selling cruelty-free food, apparel and accessories; and an array of animal protection organizations, from national nonprofits that work on a variety of fronts to smaller grassroots groups that focus on a single issue or type of animal.

Conference-goers who stopped by our booth enjoyed hearing about the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s unique focus on using the legal system to help animals and the ways we go about doing this, including our criminal justice, litigation, legislative, and educational work. Since the law follows social change, all of the great work being done by activists and other groups to create a more animal-friendly culture helps us do our work in the legal system.

Hosting a reception for all of our supporters

In addition to the privilege of getting to talk with so many supporters at our exhibit booth, we also hosted an Animal Law Networking Reception on Friday evening, during which law students, attorneys, paralegals, academics and others interested in animal law met and mingled over drinks and plant-based appetizers.

During the reception, Kelly and I gave updates about some of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s cases our attorneys are working on, including our:

  • recent Ag-Gag victory;
  • defense of activists’ free speech rights;
  • challenge to USDA Wildlife Services’ cruel and indiscriminate killing practices;
  • continuing efforts to free captive wild animals like Tony the tiger, Lolita the orca, and Lucky the elephant;
  • drafting legislation to help orcas in Florida;
  • our class action lawsuit against national pet store chain Petland, which sells animals from puppy mills.

Animal Legal Defense Fund Associate Communications Director Elizabeth Putsche was also on hand to answer questions and chat with reception attendees.

Connecting with like-minded others at conferences is a great way for advocates to recharge our batteries and remind ourselves we are not alone in the struggle to bring about a better, more compassionate, world for animals.

The next big event on our horizon where advocates will convene is the annual Animal Law Conference, co-presented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Animal Law Studies, and the Lewis & Clark Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapter, which celebrates its 25th year the weekend of Oct. 13-15 in Portland, Oregon.

We are also holding our first-ever Student Convention the Friday leading up the conference, which will bring together members of our student chapters from schools located across the country and beyond to network, exchange ideas, and receive career advice from experts in the field, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s venerable founder Joyce Tischler, affectionately known as “the Mother of Animal Law.” Registration for the Animal Law Conference is now open, so sign up today and reserve your spot!

Visiting a sanctuary to meet the animals we work for

Animal advocacy can be difficult, heart-wrenching work. To bolster resilience, a trait that is especially important to mitigate activist burnout, it is beneficial to make connections – not only with other advocates, but also with the often unseen animals for whom we are fighting.

In addition to conferences, animal sanctuaries play an important role in recharging our psychic and emotional batteries and provide a tangible measure of joy and hope as we continue this difficult but necessary work. After the conference, Kelly and I were able to make a stop at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary (PSAS), located about an hour outside of Washington, D.C., before catching our flight back to Portland. Despite an unexpected rain storm, we relished the opportunity to visit with some very happy rescued farmed animals.

Since 1996, sanctuary founders Terry Cummings and Dave Hoerauf have saved countless pigs, cows, horses, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, and other farmed animals from horrific abuse – most of which occurred on small “family farms” – and given them the one in a gazillion chance to live a storybook life of safety and comfort on PSAS’s 400 bucolic acres, free from the brutality of the agriculture industry, in which animals are considered commodities and treated like unfeeling objects.

While an increasing number of talented and dedicated people are working to transform the food industry, it has always been critical for animals rescued from this industry to have a place to go. Sanctuaries play a vital role in the movement, and in fact there will be a panel on this topic at the upcoming Animal Law Conference.

Besides the healing the animals themselves undergo when they are lucky enough to reach safe haven, sanctuaries can also play a secondary role in sustaining activists. As welcome as a cool drink of water on a scorching day, petting a friendly cow, rubbing the belly of a happily grunting pig, or holding a hen who has no reason to trust people – but somehow still does – is its own form of therapy for the kindhearted among us. All in all, it was a great weekend!

[1] See Finsen and Finsen’s (1994) The Animal Rights Movement in America:From Compassion to Respect.

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