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Animal Law: Alive and Well in Michigan
By Bee Friedlander, Animals and Society
Amy Slameka and Raj Prasad work in the Wayne County Prosecutor's office. As Assistant Prosecutors in the county which includes Detroit, the two veterans - both with 10 years' experience - prosecute felonies up to and including murder. But Amy and Raj have a passion for using the law to help animals, and they have created an Animal Protection Unit within the Prosecutor's office. The two attorneys review and sign all warrants for misdemeanor animal abuse and vertically prosecute (i.e., handle the case from beginning to end) all felony cruelty charges. They work with the Michigan Humane Society, which investigates animal cruelty cases for the county. The Animal Protection Unit assures that these cases are taken seriously and are prosecuted vigorously. As Amy says, "the ultimate reward of our Unit is to give a voice to the innocent animals who were victims of torture and abuse."
Amy and Raj spoke at last week's annual State Bar of Michigan's Animal Law Section Symposium. They were joined by a varied roster of speakers in a program demonstrating the depth and breadth of animal law related work in the state. Founded in 1995, Michigan's Animal Law Section was the first such state-wide organization of animal law attorneys. (According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, there are now 16 state and 13 regional animal law groups, and the American Bar Association has an Animal Law Committee).
Also speaking was Rep. John Espinoza of the Michigan House of Representatives, who had just the day before introduced a bill which would outlaw the practice of selling animals in government shelters to dealers who then sell them for research (pound seizure).
Allie Phillips, Director of Public Policy for the American Humane Association (and a member of Michigan's Animal Law Section Council) spoke about the need for animal advocates to endorse Rep. Espinoza's bill, as well support another bill that would outlaw euthanasia by gas chamber, a practice still used at 13 facilities in Michigan.
Attorney Richard Angelo spoke about what he called the "most rewarding case" in his career, one in which he negotiated the release of Cola, a Pit Bull/lab mix who had been abandoned for months by his former owner, who survived by eating wood, and who - after he was no longer needed as "evidence" in the cruelty case that was eventually brought against his owner - was to be euthanized because of the county's unwritten policy that sentenced Pit Bulls to death. Working with various rescue groups, and with the animal control director, Richard orchestrated Cola's transfer to a Pit rescue group in Colorado, where recent reports say he's gained about 30 pounds; and is happy and healthy.
Professors David Favre (Michigan State University College of Law) and Joseph Vining (University of Michigan Law School) provided their perspectives on the past and future of animal law. Prof. Vining called the treatment of animals in the law one of the "great unfolding and unresolved" legal issues. He discussed the great legal questions of the past few centuries: in the 19th century it was the question of slavery; in the 20th century it was individual rights in the context of war; and in this century the treatment of animals and their recognition as individuals whose loss is a loss to the world, looms large.
Professor Favre discussed the results of his "ponderings" about the rights of animals. His thesis is that efforts to do away with the categorization of animals as "property" are less fruitful than an effort to carve out certain rights that animals have within a new category he calls "living property." Some of these are the right: to not be held for or put to prohibited uses; to not be harmed; to be cared for; to have a living space; to own property, enter into contracts and file tort claims.
The variety and scope of the presentations, which also included a review of recent cases and a discussion of an appeal of an abuse case involving 69 horses, in which the Section had filed a "friend of the court" brief, are evidence that animal lawyers are a committed, diverse and talented group.
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