“We educated, privileged lawyers have a professional and moral duty to represent the underrepresented in our society, to ensure that justice exists for all, both legal and economic justice,” said Sonia Sotomayer, Associate Justice to the United States Supreme Court. As a newly minted lawyer, having passed your bar examination, you are poised to advocate and make a difference while wielding the power of the rule of law. Or, perhaps you’re in law school now, or about to take the LSAT. Either way, it’s good to know that all lawyers are trained in a general and broad understanding of law, but specialties within the field of law are many and diverse. Animal welfare is one such specialty. Having more tools in the toolbox never hurts. Understanding how laws protect and impact animals within our society is an important facet of the vast knowledge a good practicing lawyer employs. 

Patti Strand from the National Animal Interest Alliance points out that the relationship between humans and animals, and laws that govern that relationship, is not a new thing. She explains, “Despite its current popularity, interest in animal welfare is not a modern phenomenon. Concern for animal care and wellbeing has existed since domestication, which occurred at least 10,000 years ago in Neolithic times. Our appreciation and respect for animals led to their domestication, animal agriculture and animal husbandry, the branch of agriculture that deals with the care and breeding of animals. Many historians consider the development of agriculture to be the most important event in all of human history.”

Signed into law in 1966, the Animal Welfare Act is the Federal Law in the United States that “regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers.” As consumers, of everything from meat products to make-up to leather goods and any and all animal-tested products in between, we should consider the treatment of animals. Knowing the various laws that protect their rights empowers us to make good choices in our purchases, and it is part of being a generally informed citizen. However, the prospective law student, in particular, needs to know the ins and outs of Animal Welfare Law.

1. Protecting animals rights is a global trend

More and more countries are taking into consideration animal rights alongside human rights in their policy-making decisions. Euronews reports that in many countries in Europe, “animals are given a voice in politics, which reflects the growing resistance to the way animals are treated. Our growing international movement is consistent in protecting human as well as animal interests.” Mostly, we forget that we are mammals. The survival of our fellow creatures, both great and small, is connected to our own species’ ability to thrive. Aside from the Animal Welfare Act, in the United States there are also several other important pieces of legislation that uphold and protect animal rights. For example, the '28th Hour Law' requires vehicles transporting animals to stop every 28 hours, and to also feed and water the animals appropriately. Additionally, the Humane Slaughter Act requires animals be stunned and or rendered unconscious before they are slaughtered so they do not feel pain. It’s an important reminder that laws are essential partners in ensuring proper treatment of those who cannot speak for themselves.

2. Animal welfare reflects our societal health and values

How animals are treated in different cultures and in society, generally, is indicative of a larger commentary on societal health and values. Not surprisingly, studies show linkages between the treatment of animals and domestic violence. Unfortunately, “experts estimate that from 48 percent to 71 percent of battered women have pets who also have been abused or killed. In fact, pet abuse is one of four significant factors associated with battering,” according to the Animal Welfare Institute, which reports on the correlation between animals and family violence. It is important for prospective lawyers to understand this and to do their due diligence when working with clients who have experienced domestic violence. Often, if the client is being abused, and they have pets in the household, then those pets are most likely also experiencing violence and abuse. Animal cruelty is tightly connected to human relationships, and as a lawyer, you will need to consider all angles in order to win your cases.

As a prospective lawyer, knowing these correlations will help you understand potential clients diagnosed with abnormal psychology, and it will help you argue for the protection of both animals and children. Violence begets violence. It is important to be aware of these connections and to know how the law works to prosecute multiple counts of sexual abuse and animal abuse. Lawyers are in an important position to make sure these types of crimes are punished and that justice is served.

3. Animal welfare law is evolving

The nature of animal welfare law continues to evolve, especially with advocates for animal rights pushing for people to see and acknowledge that animals, too, can be victims of domestic violence. Hayley Gleeson writes on ABC News, “The well-established links between animal abuse and domestic violence -- that a person's mistreatment of animals can be a red flag or risk factor for their abuse of intimate partners, and a form of family violence itself -- are increasingly being recognised in legislation, mainstream media and popular culture.”

Gleeson adds, "Violence, even non-physical violence, can be very disturbing for animals; they feel it in their body and can develop lots of reactions to it including fear responses, hiding, depression, and anxiety — especially if they have been housed somewhere temporarily [as a result of domestic abuse].” As a lawyer, knowing “Animal Law 101” will be essential to your practice, especially if you want to specialize in civil law, work on cases that involve domestic violence, or wish to consult for animal rights organizations.

“What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight -- it’s the size of the fight in the dog,” said former US president Dwight D. Eisenhower. As a prospective lawyer, you might be advocating for those who cannot speak for themselves, including our furry friends and/or all types of animals. Knowledge of Animal Welfare Law and legislation that protects animals rights will give you a leg up in your career as a passionate and dedicated lawyer.