15 years ago, nine of the 203 law schools in the United States offered courses in animal law. Today, more than 130 universities do. That’s a huge advance in the outlook for legal protection for animals. In fact, professional interest in the field of animal law is outpacing the demand, at this point. Law school graduates who specialize in this field are taking positions in general law firms and offering their special expertise when opportunity arises, or doing pro-bono work for non-profit animal organizations.
Once considered mere property, animals are being invested with legal standing as they’re increasingly being named as partial beneficiaries of estates, subjects of lawsuits and victims of abuse. Abuse and cruelty cases are the most common in animal law, but animal law is rapidly diversifying as courts are asked to consider what to do when animal companions and their humans come into contact with the law. Lawyers address legal issues such as what happens to pets that are abandoned, involved in divorce custody disputes or left behind after an owner dies. As our society’s tolerance for normal dog behavior continues to declines and even minor bites can be grounds for lawsuits, dog-bite law is another ripe venue for animal law attorneys.
Animal law disputes still take place in largely uncharted legal territory and often revolve around questions about the inherent rights of animals. The Animal Legal Defense Fund, based in Cotati, California, was founded in 1970, and has long been an effective leader in the field of animal law. The organization has member-attorneys around the country, and has been responsible for pushing the envelope of legal rights and protections for animals for more than three decades.