Tuesday, February 7, 2006 - 12:00 AM
ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Attorney Adam Karp, who specializes in animal law, considers the value of a dog's lost leg in a classroom at Seattle University.
Lawyer breaking new legal ground on animal issues
By Susan Gilmore
Seattle Times staff reporter
In a Seattle University law classroom, attorney Adam Karp plunks his feet on a bench, next to his chalkboard sketch of a three-legged dog.
His shoes are not leather. His tie, the one with a picture of a giraffe, isn't silk. He wears no wool. His belt is plastic.
And, he practices only animal law.
"It's more a way of life than a philosophy," said Karp, the only attorney in the state whose practice is limited to cases involving animals.
"It began when I became a vegan, when I was able to open my eyes to injustices in the way we treat animals. It's a serious problem here, and the law is a ripe tool for affecting change."
Karp, 32, a Bellingham resident, teaches animal law at Seattle University and the University of Washington and founded the animal-law section with the Washington State Bar Association.
He said becoming a vegan — not eating meat or wearing anything made from animals — opened his eyes to the way animals are treated. Practicing solely animal law was a way to marry his personal and professional views.
Last month he won a major decision from the state Court of Appeals that could affect how animals deemed to be vicious are treated in the courts.
In that case, the court overturned a death sentence imposed by King County for a mixed-breed dog because its owner wasn't given the right to subpoena witnesses and records. It could be precedent-setting in the way King County deals with dangerous dogs.
"What Adam does is a labor of love," said Peter Mansour, owner of Maxine, the dog involved in the court case.
"He feels very strongly about animal rights and the legal issues that revolve around them. You won't find anyone in the state, and I might venture to say the country, who understands legal issues surrounding animals' rights better than Adam. It's because it's a subject that's near and dear to his heart."
In another case that goes to appeal in King County Superior Court this week, Karp represents a woman who suffers from panic attacks and has a service dog. She says she was thrown out of a Ballard convenience store because of the dog. Last year, a city hearing examiner issued a $21,000 judgment against the store owner, who is appealing.
"I called all over the place when I couldn't get any help with discrimination," said Joyce Fischer-Jones, who owns the chow/Labrador mix and had the encounter with the convenience-store owner. "But when I got hold of Adam he felt we had a case. He was there for me. He listened to me. I went through a lot of no's before I found Adam."
Last May, Karp won $45,480 in a case where a neighbor's dog mauled and killed a cat named Yofi. It was considered among the largest amounts nationwide stemming from lawsuits over the loss of pets.
The judge did wonders for breaking the barrier on valuing animals, Karp said.
"[The judge] acknowledged a value well beyond the purchase price for an individual feline who did not deserve to die."
Karp doesn't expect his client to ever see the money awarded, but calls it a "symbolic victory."
Many of Karp's cases involve custody issues, including the case of HeyZeus, a Husky. When the dog's owners split up, the issue of HeyZeus' ownership landed in court. Karp was involved in a settlement that led to joint custody.
Karp grew up around the country, moving with his father, an itinerant doctor. He graduated from high school in Spokane, then attended Gonzaga University and the University of Washington School of Law.
After law school, he received a master's degree in science and statistics and worked as a statistician for a law firm. His first animal case was in 2000 — a dispute over a purebred dog that was lost and then spayed.
Need for experts
Nationally, animal law is growing, said Joyce Tischler, founding director of the California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund in 1979. Today, she said, there are 67 animal-law classes being taught in the U.S., and 12 states including Washington have state animal-law sections.
She said there's a huge need for experts in animal law, "and they're not represented until someone with the guts and the wisdom of Adam Karp comes along."
According to her agency, 19 percent of the most egregious animal-cruelty cases in the nation in 2004 took place in the Pacific Northwest, and the numbers are growing.
Karp owns five cats, some of them fighting cancer. He doesn't have dogs because he doesn't want to add the stress to the household he shares with his wife.
"More and more, I take cases where I think people shouldn't have pets," he said. "I see instances of negligent and reckless control of animals resulting in preventable injury, death and heartache."
To Mansour and his dog Maxine, Karp was a lifesaver.
"I would challenge anyone to find another individual who is more passionate about his/her work than Adam Karp," Mansour said. "I know that at times, it is draining for him, because he tends to get emotionally involved in his cases. But winning a case like Maxi's makes it all worthwhile for him."
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company