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American Association of Law Schools


Animal Law Section



December 2008




Founding Officers




Joan Schaffner, George Washington University Law School




Katherine Hessler, Lewis & Clark Law School


Executive Committee


Taimie Bryant, UCLA Law School

David Cassuto, Pace Law School

David Favre, Michigan State University Law School

Thomas Kelch, Whittier University Law School

Ani Satz, Emory University Law School

Verne Smith, Widener University Law School


Letter from the Chair

Joan Schaffner


I am honored to be the Founding Chair of the AALS Section on Animal Law and am confident that this section will flourish for years to come.  Although the area of animal law has been around for decades, it is only relatively recently that the area has gained acceptance within law schools and among practicing lawyers.   Animal law is taught at approximately 100 law schools in the U.S. and Canada and 130 U.S. and Canadian law schools have a student chapter of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.  There are five Journals devoted to animal law--Animal Law Review (Lewis & Clark), Journal of Animal Law (Michigan State), Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy (Whittier), Journal of Animal Law & Ethics (University of Pennsylvania), and Stanford Journal of Animal Law & Policy.  In 2006, Carolina Academic Press published the third edition of the casebook, Animal Law, by Sonia Waisman, Pamela Frasch and Bruce Wagman and a new casebook, Animal Law, Welfare, Interests and Rights, by David Favre, was published this year by Wolters Kluwer.


The practicing bar also has embraced this area of the law by creating committees or sections devoted to animal law.  Currently twelve state bars and the Bar of the District of Columbia have sections or committees devoted to animal law.  Another nine regional bar sections or committees of animal law exist.  In 2005 the American Bar Association, Trial and Insurance Practice Section established an Animal Law Committee; and now, the premiere legal academic association, the AALS, has embraced this area of the law as well. 


The goal of the section is to create a forum for legal academics writing and teaching in the diverse area of animal law.  The plan is to coordinate a panel at the annual AALS meetings, maintain a web site (currently at, thanks to David Favre), create opportunities for mentoring young scholars, develop a database of syllabi and other resources for teaching animal law classes, and sponsor programs to further professional development. 


We use animals for companionship and service, for food and clothing, for research and entertainment.  The law regulates our use of and relationship with these animals and is developing dramatically as human society alters its views of its relationship to nonhumans.  This Section will be at the forefront of this emerging discipline. 

Animal Law Gains Widespread Interest


Animal law is a diverse field cutting across most substantive areas of the law, including: tort, contract, property, family, trust and estates, criminal, administrative, international, and environmental law.  Issues surrounding animals and the law have gained widespread interest in the past few years.   For example, in 2005, when hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, thousands of people were forced to flee without their companion animals or risk death by remaining at home to protect them.  Many animals, left homeless, were rescued and transported throughout the country to await reunification with their owners or to find new homes. Myriad legal issues followed, including questions of proper holding periods, transfer of ownership, and liability of rescuers.  Congress passed legislation requiring that states include animals in their emergency evacuation plans in order to receive federal funding to support such plans. 


The year 2007 brought other issues to light.  Contaminated pet food led to the death of thousands of pets raising numerous legal issues, including questions of liability and the proper remedy for the loss of one’s companion animal.  Michael Vick was charged with animal fighting, a felony under federal law and in many states, and the huge underground enterprise in animal fighting was exposed to a horrified public.  Leona Helmsley passed away and gained notoriety by leaving $12 Million in trust to her beloved white Maltese, Trouble.  Several puppy mill enterprises were exposed in which thousands of dogs were rescued from deplorable circumstances of cruelty and neglect.  These highly publicized events and tragedies reflect only a small part of the policy and law that govern our relationship with animals. 


Animal Law and AALS


While the Section was formally adopted by the AALS Executive Committee in June 2008, animal law was represented at the January 2008 AALS annual meeting in New York City.  An open program entitled, “Debating Animals as Legal Persons,” was held on a Saturday afternoon with over twenty individuals in attendance.  The program, organized by Professor Joan Schaffner and moderated by Professor Kathy Hessler,  addressed the concept of “personhood”  for purposes of allocating legal rights and the effect personhood status would have on nonhuman animals.  Nonhuman animals, although sentient beings, are currently treated as property under the law.  They are legal “things” and thus excluded from legal personhood.  Past attempts to differentiate humans from animals and thereby exclude animals from moral consideration and consequently legal rights have taken many forms.  Some, like Descartes, maintained that the difference lay with the capacity for language.  Yet, nonhuman language capability has been conclusively demonstrated in many nonhuman species.  Others differentiate animals based upon intellectual ability or self-consciousness.  This too is problematic as many cognitively impaired humans without intellectual ability or self-consciousness are nevertheless deemed “persons.”   Finally, some differentiate based on basic biology, which is also seriously flawed.  No quintessentially “human” characteristic definitively sets humans apart from other animals. Courts and legislatures have struggled to adapt to this shifting epistemological landscape with little success.  It would seem that no one definition of “person” properly encompasses the range of legal entities arguably with claims to its mantle. 


The outstanding group of panelists: Professors Taimie Bryant, David Cassuto, David Favre, and Adjunct Professor Steve Wise explored the legal and normative bases for personhood and why nonhuman animals have been excluded from its ambit.  The panel was taped by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and was extremely well-received by all attendees. In fact, we are indebted to ALDF for their tremendous support in helping establish this Section.


This coming January, the Section will host its first panel as an official Section of the AALS.  On Saturday morning, January 10th, All Law is Animal Law: Teaching Animal Law Across the Curriculum, will be presented.  Asking “What is Animal Law?” is like asking “What is Human Law?”  Virtually every substantive area of the law involves issues that concern animals.  Examples include: contract disputes over the purchase of a thoroughbred race horse, tort disputes that arise when a family’s pet dog is killed by the negligence of a neighbor or veterinarian, custody disputes over the family cat, trust law constraints on a person’s ability to provide for his pet parrot after his death, disability issues that arise when a landlord refuses to allow an individual’s service or emotional support animal in her apartment, health law issues stemming from a pet tortoise or the use of animals as research subjects for experiments about human health conditions, criminal law prosecutions of dog fighting, environmental law issues when confined animal feeding operations pollute the water, and international trade issues when a country prohibits importation of products produced by methods cruel to animals.  These are but a few interesting topics for professors of many different subjects of law. This panel will explore the ways “all law is animal law” and how to introduce cutting-edge animal law issues into different courses.  Taimie Bryant (UCLA) will moderate the panel of academics:  Pamela Frasch (Lewis & Clark), Thomas Kelch (Whittier), Ani Satz (Emory), and Joan Schaffner (GWU). A section meeting will immediately follow the panel.


Finally, be sure to join us Friday night for a reception to celebrate the founding of the Animal Law Section.  We thank the ALDF for their tremendous generosity.




Animal Legal Defense Fund Reception for

Members of the AALS Section on Animal Law


Friday, January 9, 2009

6:30 – 8:00 p.m.


San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina

Oceanside, South Tower, Level 1

333 Harbor Drive

San Diego, CA  92101-7700