By Sarah Duran -
The News Tribune
Cheryl Shute didn't know what to do after animal control
took her dog, Kenny, because he bit a delivery man at her Bremerton home
Shute's primary worry was that her 3-year-old bull
mastiff-golden labrador mix would be put to death. After a few frantic
weeks trying to free him from the pound, Shute called Seattle lawyer
Within a week, Kenny was off doggie death row. "I
couldn't have done it without him," Shute said. "They (animal control)
wouldn't even listen to me."
Vicious-dog ordinances are just one way laws affect
animals. Courts increasingly are dealing with animal-related issues,
ranging from landlord-tenant disputes and custody battles to
veterinarian malpractice and negligence.
Recognizing the trend, the Washington State Bar
Association recently became the fourth bar to create a section for
lawyers interested in animal law. Earlier efforts were in Texas,
Michigan and the District of Columbia.
The new section gives them a forum for discussing issues
and educating the public on animal rights, said Karp, who led efforts to
create the section.
Ideally, attorneys with different philosophies will
join, including those who represent veterinarians and agribusiness, Karp
said. So far 85 lawyers have said they plan to join.
Five other states are looking at creating animal-law
sections, said Stephen Wells, director of the law professional volunteer
program for the Animal Legal Defense Fund in Petaluma, Calif.
Wells credits animal protection groups with focusing the
public's attention on animal rights. High-profile abuse cases, such as
the California man who killed a dog two years ago by throwing it into
traffic, also raise awareness.
Even criminal cases, such as the second-degree murder
conviction earlier this year of a San Francisco woman after her two dogs
killed a neighbor, can educate the public.
"I really think animal law is something that's come of
age," Wells said.
As a result, some law schools have begun offering
animal-law classes, although none in Washington currently offers such
courses. There's even a journal dedicated to animal-law issues, Animal
Law, published by the Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark
College in Portland.
Animals intersect with the law in many ways. Cruelty and
dog bite cases are among the most common, local attorneys say. Other
* Protecting the rights of people who use service dogs.
* Resolving billing disputes with businesses that board animals. In the
worst-case scenario, the operator may threaten to euthanize or sell the
animal unless the bill is paid.
* Suing veterinarians for malpractice.
* Establishing trust funds for pets in case their owners die.
* Defending owners from civil suits after their animals attack.
Attorneys who take animal cases say the biggest problem
with the law is that it views animals as property. That ignores the
emotional attachment people have to their animals, they say.
As a result, insurance companies, some lawyers and
others consider only replacement value when compensating someone for
pets that are injured or killed.
"They're more than just property," said Tacoma attorney
Elizabeth Powell, whose clients have included owners of dogs and horses.
"They're not a book or a chair."
Karp, who refers to owners as "guardians," goes even
further. He believes animals themselves should be able to sue.
"That's going to sound crazy," he said. "But in
animal-cruelty cases, why shouldn't there be some sort of penalty or
punishment, some acknowledgement the dog can seek compensation, in
addition to the impact on his guardians?"
These lawyers consider themselves animal lovers who take
the cases to right a wrong or to push the courts into recognizing animal
rights. The cases rarely are money-makers; they say it's not unusual for
the lawyers to work for free.
"You have to do a lot of it on a discounted basis
because people that usually have these kinds of cases aren't wealthy and
they don't have insurance," said Gig Harbor lawyer G. Paul Mabrey, who
worked 22 years as a veterinarian before entering the law profession
five years ago.
"You've got to do it because you love it. It's a labor
of love," said Mabrey, who is particularly interested in cases involving
horse contracts and registries.
Shute, the Bremerton owner of Kenny, said going to Karp
was well worth the $85 she spent in attorney's fees. Hiring someone
familiar with animal rights helped get Kenny out quickly because the
lawyer knew what to do.
Kenny had never bitten anyone before, Shute said. He
attacked only after it appeared the delivery man was about to hit her
with a clipboard. Karp suggested she collect written testimonials to
Kenny's prior good behavior, including letters from delivery people.
His advice paid off and she was able to free Kenny.
"If it wasn't for Adam, I would never have gotten him
back," Shute said.
Go on to Protest Cat
Killing Law in Akron
Return to 9 June 2002 Issue
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