Friday, February 18, 2011

Lawyer for the dog

A decade ago, the idea that a divorce would involve "custody" of a pet, much less that the decision would factor in the pet's own predilections, would have been dismissed by most lawyers as absurd. Pets were property, and not very valuable property at that, to be balanced against all of the other stuff that is split up in a divorce - nobody, after all, talks about joint custody of an armoire.

But recent years have seen an intensifying effort on the part of animal rights activists, legislators, prosecutors, and legal scholars to change the way the law treats animals.

The result has been the beginning of a qualitative shift - not merely the stiffening of animal cruelty laws, though in most states that has happened, but changes that are turning animals into legal beings with their own interests, and, in a few cases, their own enforceable preferences.

The field of animal law is growing. Nearly half of the 190 accredited law schools in the United States now offer animal law courses, up from a handful 10 years ago, and around 100 now have chapters of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund. A rising number of lawyers are dedicating themselves, in whole or in part, to the practice, and the American Bar Association and 13 state bar associations now have animal law committees

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