What is Animal Law?

Animal law can mean many things.

An animal may be a household pet, in the care of a corporation, livestock, or wild.

Laws that relate to animals determine the actions that people can take that have an effect on animals, animal rights, and the care of animals.

Animal law isn’t one area of law.

Rather, it is a topic that arises in many different types of law.

Attorneys who practice animal law specialize in a variety of fields that impact the welfare of animals in a variety of contexts.

What is Animal Law?

Animal law is any kind of law that impacts animals.

It is an area of law that determines how animals are cared for, protected, and owned.

Animal law can come in many forms including laws that pertain directly to the handling of animals, preservation of wild animals, household pets, and more.

The area of animal law encompasses any kind of law that has an impact on animals and their welfare.

What Does an Animal Lawyer Do?

An animal lawyer advocates for and against laws that impact animals.

They create, enforce, and defend against laws that impact animals.

Their practice may be civil, criminal, or both.

They may work for a public agency, a non-profit, or advocate on behalf of private clients.

What an animal lawyer does is act as an advocate for their client’s interests whether it is to make, enforce, or challenge laws that relate to animals.

Types of Animal Law

Some types of animal law include:

Wild Animals

Some of the earliest laws developed in the United States had to do with wild animals.

The laws determined who owned them, who could hunt them, and what happens when a wild animal wanders onto private property.

Conservation of wild animals is another important issue in animal law.

Local, state, national, and even international bodies must carefully contemplate public policies for how to preserve and manage wild animals.

Legal practice in the area of wild animal laws may vary.

For example, an attorney may advise a state Department of Fish and Wildlife about sound policy for managing a deer population or another kind of wild animal.

Real estate and property law attorneys may also have significant involvement in wild animal laws as they advise their clients of their rights.

An animal lawyer may create national laws or work to create international treaties regarding ownership and the taking of wild animals.

Wild animal laws are a significant area of animal law.

Companion Animals and Disability Accommodations

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires businesses and employers to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.

That may mean allowing a service animal in a store.

It might mean accommodating an emotional support animal on an airplane with a passenger.

Emotional support animals and service animals are two different types of disability support animals with different but important functions.

Service animals are trained to perform a specific task.

For example, they may be trained to help recognize when a person is having a seizure.

On the other hand, an emotional support animal provides disability support simply by providing comfort rather than by performing a specific skill.

Both types of animals are important for accommodating people with disabilities.

However, there are laws and rules that apply that both individuals and businesses need to understand.

In addition, companion animals are their accommodation are often important when it comes to landlord-tenant laws.

Pet Ownership

Each state has laws that determine what animals people are allowed to own.

For example, in Florida, it’s illegal to own a bear, an elephant, or a crocodile.

In Georgia, there is a more general ban on dangerous animals.

Even among more common household pets, there are laws that apply to owners.

Laws that impact household ownership of pets come from both state and local sources.

Some pet laws are relatively old.

Other laws are local and can change quickly.

For example, a law may determine how many dogs a person can own in one home.

The law may be different within a city limit or even a few blocks away outside of the city.

Some locations require dog owners to have a license.

Leash laws may apply on public property.

Attorneys who practice in the area of pet ownership law may advise their clients on local laws regarding pet ownership.

They may also advise local governments as to recommendations for local laws.

In addition, they may defend a client against allegations of wrongdoing and violations of local pet ownership laws.

Pet Custody Disputes

When couples divorce, it can create questions for their pets.

The question is what happens to the pets when a couple separates?

While most states call for an equitable division of the assets when it comes to marital property, there isn’t a lot of legal authority for exactly who gets a pet in the event of a divorce.

An attorney who practices divorce law may find themselves to also be an animal lawyer when there is a pet involved in the case.

Animals Used in Research

The United States Animal Welfare Act regulates the use of animals in research in the United States.

The law creates minimum standards for animal care when animals are used for scientific research and development.

The law requires monitoring of the well-being of animals including access to appropriate care on weekends and holidays.

Animals must have facilities that are kept at the appropriate temperatures for their care and comfort.

Veterinary Medicine

Of course, central to the care of both pets and livestock is veterinary care.

States regulate the licensing and operation of veterinary medicine.

Veterinarians may be subject to malpractice and negligence actions in their work.

Licensing actions against a veterinarian may require legal representation.

States create laws for the accreditation of veterinary schools, their operation, and the operation of veterinary medicine practices in their jurisdiction.

Attorneys may be involved with creating animal laws and enforcing them as they relate to veterinary medicine.

Entertainment Law

Animals are used in entertainment.

Whether an animal is in the circus or in a movie, there may be laws that control how an animal is used in the world of entertainment.

Laws prohibit the exploitation of animals and provide for sound care of animals both during and after their participation in the entertainment industry.

For example, the State of California has significant laws that regulate the use of animals in media.

Media professionals must evaluate the animal’s participation in order to ensure that the animal can expect to have safe working environmental conditions and veterinary care.

They must educate crew and animal handlers about the relevant laws and safe practices for animal care.

Animal Abuse

All states have laws that prohibit animal cruelty.

The exact laws vary by state.

However, animal cruelty laws exist in all jurisdictions.

The penalties are severe.

Animal abuse cases are often controversial and garner local, national, and international notoriety.

Animal lawyers both prosecute and defend animal abuse cases.

Who Practices Animal Law?

Animal law attorneys are as varied as their areas of practice.

The area of law is not constrained to only one type of practice.

Anyone whose case impacts animals is an animal lawyer.

A lawyer might spend most or all of their practice handling animal law cases, or they may have one or two cases that involve animals are part of a larger legal practice.

For example, a lawyer who advocates for a government enforcement body or who works on behalf of a conservation organization might spend the majority of their practice focusing on animal laws.

They might work to enforce poaching laws, for example, or laws that relate to the treatment of animals for product research.

Attorneys for the United States Department of Agriculture may develop and enforce laws that relate to livestock for farming.

On the other hand, a lawyer might work with animal laws only incidentally.

An attorney who represents a local county may help them develop ordinances for the ownership of animals within their jurisdiction.

A criminal law attorney may handle an animal abuse case as only one case out of many criminal cases.

While most attorneys who set out to practice animal law gravitate towards an animal-related field that encompasses their entire practice, attorneys whose practice only incidentally touches animal-related issues are very much animal attorneys.

Because of the diversity of subject matters encompassing animal law, lawyers in the field live and work throughout the United States and the world.

Why Practice Animal Law?

Animal law attorneys perform extremely important work.

Their work impacts not only animals but also people, the environment, and business.

Whether or not a case is newsworthy, every animal law case is very important to the people and animals involved.

Often, attorneys in the field have the opportunity to shape public policy and have a lasting impact.

Protecting Animals Through Animal Law

Animal lawyers protect animals in a variety of ways.

A lawyer’s case might impact a single animal.

A case can also change policy that in turn affects many animals.

Lawyers have their impact through a variety of subject matters and a number of practice structures including law enforcement, defense, civil law, and the creation of new laws.

Animal lawyers are a diverse set of legal professionals who handle an equally diverse range of legal topics that all relate to the welfare of animals.

Chelsea Wilson

About Chelsea Wilson

Chelsea Wilson is the Community Relations Manager for Washington University School of Law’s distance learning LLM degree program, which provides foreign trained attorneys with the opportunity to earn a Master of Laws degree from a top-tier American university from anywhere in the world.

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