Commentary: Animals and the Law


The recent case of a Pennsylvania man denied food stamps to feed his service dog got me thinking about animals and the law.

Animal law has been taught in at least 119 law schools in the U.S., including Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Northwestern, University of Michigan and Duke. Courses encompasses cruelty, welfare, custody and housing disputes. But do any lawyers specialize in animal law? There may many relevant organizations  and certainly lots of animal-friendly legal counselors. But imagine a legal eagle saying: “My client is a dog.” Good karma and public service aside you have to admit it’s great party conversation.

Seriously, every time I watch or read about efforts to ban carriage horses in Central Park I wonder if the passionate, well-meaning champions of the horses would be better served by someone who could navigate the court system armed with specialized training along with love of animals?

The court that denied public aid to the service dog noted that animals are legally property and food stamps are meant for people. Fine — but in this case the dog was a service animal that performed a function as necessary as electricity or running water and therefore is theoretically entitled to something. The dog’s owner represented himself. I think an attorney specializing in this area might have made more headway.

Legal protections for pets and owners would also benefit from laws similar to those in the United Kingdom, which has guidelines for properly treatly pets. In a nutshell, it’s food, water, shelter, basic care and love. While it is sad that common sense and kindness need to be legislated, I approve.

Cases of neglect and abuse would also benefit from lawyers with a specialization in animals. If this became a fully functioning pratice area, I think even sharks would smile, a few more critters might have a better life — and the world would have some new lawyer jokes.



Filed under cat health, cat lovers, cats, old animals, pet adoption

3 responses to “Commentary: Animals and the Law

  1. Maine Kitten

    You have written yet another very compelling and heart-touching blog, on a topic that does deserve much attention. Pets are not protected under the laws, and if they are in some cases, the protection is inadequate. They are considered property or chattel. Pathetic isn’t it, when the most compassionate and loving members of our society, are considered property, on par with a chair or table? As for those lawyers, the legal eagles, along with other high-paid professionals, well they go where the money is. I doubt they care much about karma!

    • oldcatsrule

      Thanks Maine Kitten. I was being kind by mentioning lawyers and good karma in the same sentence. Animal law could be profitable for them — and their collective image. Animal rights and welfare actually touch our lives in a ton of ways — from makeup testing to workhorses, cattle, pets, divorce cases, the environment, heck I could go on forever. I just think a specialization is worthwhile and ultimately might do more good than protests and shock pictures.

      I appreciate the kind words.

  2. Good point! If animals could pay lawyers, maybe lawyers would be more interested? Where’s the Shaggy D.A. when you need him 🙂
    But seriously, folks… If you think about it, at one time minorities were not fairly treated by law, and the Catholic church claimed (s?) animals had no souls.
    Circuses continue to make elephants stand on their back legs and tigers jump through hoops.
    Until society catches up with this need for fairness to animals, cases like this will end unfairly, and those poor Central Park horses will keep plodding along.

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