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Lawyers: pets have place in court


Albany, N.Y.-As the allure of pet-inclusive wills and health insurance saturates mainstream America, the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) now welcomes such discussions in the courtroom.

Albany, N.Y.-As the allure of pet-inclusive wills and health insurance saturates mainstream America, the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) now welcomes such discussions in the courtroom.

Beverly Poppell

The association, following suit of at least three states, is organizing a 15-member committee to discuss, not necessarily endorse, animal legal issues.

"We will determine whether there are enough laws on the books or whether more are needed, but it's not a specific goal to push for more laws," says Beverly Poppell, New York lawyer, committee chairwoman and pet owner.

Poppell says the committee is dedicated to the "care and ethical treatment of our furry, feathered and reptilian friends." The committee will examine animal legal issues such as pet insurance, landlord restrictions against pets and wills involving pets.

"I hope that we'll be able to provide some protocols that communities can use to solve animal disputes," says Poppell.

The group is comprised of lawyers, two veterinarians, a teacher and law enforcement individual.

"The majority are lawyers, but we have reached out to other disciplines because we very much want to deal with people who are on the front lines with these issues," says Poppell.

Table 1: Bar Association Animal Law Sections and Committees

NYSBA president, Lorraine Power Tharp, who authorized the committee, says it "will be a practical, problem-solving committee that will look at all sides of the issues."

The committee plans to review the statutes, court decisions and administration determinations that pertain to animals and the law, according to Popell.

"We hope to become a resource not only for lawyers and their clients but also the public with respect to these issues."

The NYSBA committee is not being funded by or affiliated with any outside organization, reports Poppell.

Planning ahead

Though the group won't formally meet until fall, one of its members, David Lee, DVM, MBA, executive director, external relations and marketing, Cornell University, is already mulling topics.

"As a veterinarian, I will be particularly interested in issues related to the health and welfare of both animals and humans," he says. "Beyond that, I simply can't say at this time, but I look forward to meeting with the committee to explore these issues and presumably others...."

Another member, Dr. Laurel Kaddatz, represents the New York State Veterinary Medical Society. For nearly seven years, Kaddatz has advocated for a state law that would protect a veterinarian from civil or criminal liability when,with reason, a veterinarian breaches client confidentiality laws. He hopes the state bar committee will consider this issue.

Kaddatz notes his role as chair of the NYSVMS Government Relations Committee is a "nice tie-in" to his new role on the state bar committee. "My participation on the committee will be to represent the interests of NYSVMS and its members. As the fourth largest state of veterinarians in the country, we want to be sure our positions ... are considered."

Other pet-friendly states

Nationwide, animal law committees and sections are gaining ground in bar associations. Already, Texas and Michigan have operational sections, while Washington State is finalizing plans for its animal law section executive committee. Nearly a dozen states are working to form similar groups.

Adam Karp, JD, is founder and chair of the animal law section in Washington, of which DVM-JD, Dr. Paul Mabrey, was elected to an executive committee position for the section.

The significance of animal law sections is "to institutionally acknowledge that animals occupy a place in our society and culture that should be faithfully reflected in our legal system," says Karp.

"Courts have not really addressed how to handle disputes involving animals," adds Karp, who envisions committee discussions of companion animal valuations, whether animals are deemed property when settling divorce cases, and veterinary malpractice, as examples.

For two years, the Washington D.C. Bar has had an animal law committee that is comprised solely of lawyers. It has provisional, but is seeking permanent, status.

The 60-member committee plans to focus on the Animal Welfare Act, specifically exclusion of rats, mice and birds from the definition of animal, says Mindy Kursban, general counsel and co-chair. "What we hope to do is educate people and to have hands-on techniques to influence (animal-specific) legislation."

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