Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New Book on Equine and Animal Law Litigation

For those of you who don't know Julie Fershtman, she is a longtime animal law - and specifically equine law - attorney. She's done a lot of writing (among other things) for the ABA's animal law committee and now she has a new book available on a subject near and dear - I would imagine - to the hearts of anyone reading this blog. Here's a link to a review of her new book. Good luck, Julie!

Monday, April 27, 2009

$30,000 jury verdict for negligent death of rottweiler

Animal law attorney Marcy LaHart of West Palm Beach, Florida had a trial this morning against the owner/operator of a boarding kennel. The plaintiff's dogs had gotten sick while at the kennel but they were not taken to a vet because the kennel was "overbooked for Memorial Day and just too busy." One dog recovered, but the other developed bronchial pneumonia and died. The jury awarded $20,000 for the value of the dog and $10,000 for veterinary and cremation costs.

Congratulations to Marcy on this terrific result - and - because I know she would want it this way - a shout-out to colleague Adam Karp for forwarding his special jury instruction on intrinsic value!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Some things never change...

In Spring 2002, I was graciously invited to speak at the annual Humane Education Seminar at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. It was terrific fun, of course, but the thing that stood out most for me was a description by one of the other speakers of an effort in another city (I wanna say it was Denver) by all the local animal shelters to get together to solve that city's animal overpopulation problem. I thought that sounded great. Turning to the then-Executive Director of Chicago's Animal Care and Control, I whispered if she would like to try that in Chicago. She nodded enthusiastically.

Fast forward six months or so. One of the first things I did after founding the Chicago Bar Association's Animal Law Committee that Fall was set up a meeting. With the assistance of Marcia Kramer - longtime friend, animal law colleague, and vice-chair of the new committee - we sent out invites to all of Chicago's major players in the animal shelter arena. We weren't sure what the response would be, but we hoped that since the meeting would be on neutral "turf" (the CBA building) that folks would give it a go.

Happily, just about everyone showed. It was pretty tentative at first; a lot of these individuals had known each other for years but did not see eye-to-eye over the most pressing and emotional issues. Eventually, however, as we began to set up agendas and hold monthly meetings, everyone sorta relaxed and the meeting atmospheres became genuinely congenial. The group named itself "Chicago Animal Welfare Alliance" or CASA for short. ("Casa" also means "home" in Spanish.)

Fast forward about another year. It was great to see all these shelters socializing with each other at our monthly meetings, although I couldn't help but notice that the most fundamental differences between them - down to how to define "no kill" versus "kill" shelter or when an animal is "adoptable" versus "treatable" - remained unresolved. I sat everyone down and - taking a cue from a colleague in New York who was already getting the Maddie's Fund money for her group - told my group that if they wanted me to continue to lead the meetings, we had to set some specific goals with specific timetables in order to qualify for this Holy Grail of animal welfare charities. I let them think it over. They came back to me about ten minutes later, thanked me for my time in organizing the group and I walked back to my office.

I viewed the moment like a child that comes of age and wants to set its own destiny. I was a little sad, perhaps, but also cautiously optimistic that the group felt ready to take charge of itself, which is, after all, a good thing. Every once in a while I would hear something about CASA's efforts. It was great to hear that CASA was still in existence and even better to hear that it was moving towards its goal - making Chicago a no-kill city - and hopefully getting a Maddie's grant to be able to do it up right.

Fast forward the better part of a decade. In Crain's Chicago Business is "Shelters get along like cats and dogs" by Shia Kapos - another article about Chicago's animal shelters. And if it didn't have today's date, I wouldn't be able to tell whether it was written this weekend or back in Fall 2002. This time, I am more than a little sad.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

21 polo horses dead due to pharmacy mistake

(Ok, forget the big picture that maybe the entire idea of using animals for sport should be re-examined, but at the very least...)

.... hopefully state and local officials will do a genuine investigation into this weekend tragedy in Palm Beach, Florida and prosecute in a meaningful way...

Read more on Fox Sports/MSN.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Court to Weigh Legality Of Animal Abuse Videos

By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Supreme Court yesterday turned to the gruesome, announcing that it will decide next term whether fetish films that depict the killing of small animals and videos of dogfights are protected by constitutional guarantees of free speech.

The justices said they would review, at the request of the federal government, an appeals court decision that said Congress's broad attempt to discourage animal cruelty by outlawing its depiction violates the First Amendment.

Click here to

Monday, April 20, 2009

Great New Jersey appellate ruling on "special value"

This just in from JAVMA News: A New Jersey appeals court issued a precedent-setting decision when it ruled that a pet's "special subjective value" to its owner should be considered in custody cases.

(While the AVMA all but came out directly opposed to the ruling, of course, at least it did write about the opinion. You can read more in the AVMA's May 1st newsletter.)

Animal attraction

Hold them. Love them. Grow old with them. Research suggests owning a pet could make you healthier.

By Kay Lazar Boston Globe Staff / April 20, 2009

Have you hugged your cat today? It may sound like a bumper sticker slogan, but the answer could have much to do with your health, and perhaps even your longevity.

A growing body of medical research suggests that people who own or interact regularly with animals may be healthier than people who don't.

Read more here...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Univ. of Florida, ASPCA fill void for animal CSIs

Associated Press

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Only a few investigators in the country are trained to adequately investigate and prepare cases for prosecution of the horrendous crimes against animals that can leave dogs, roosters and other animals maimed and tortured.

The University of Florida and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have teamed up to tackle the shortage by training crime scene investigators to help prosecute those responsible for crimes against animals. The program, which begins in spring 2010, may be the country's first veterinary forensic sciences program at a major university, according to the organizations.

Click here for the rest of the article...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sex Reversal: Child quotas, abortion, and China's missing girls.

Ok, again, nothing to do with animal law...

...but economic and practical realities are forcing the Chinese government to do something that more than four thousand years of civilization hasn't been able to achieve: value females.

Read more in this terrific Slate Magazine commentary by William Saletan.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Et tu, Barack?

I was really disappointed to hear on This Week with George Stephanopoulos that President Obama decided to get his kids a dog from a breeder after all. Well, sort of at any rate.

The dog - who will apparently be named "Bo", in a tip to Michelle's dad, whose name was Diddley - is a gift from Sen. Ted Kennedy. Senator Kennedy owns several Portuguese water dogs himself. By all accounts, he's delighted to make the gift. (Understandable; who wouldn't be?)

The first family has been searching for a dog for a number of months now, ever since President Obama promised one to his kids during his campaign. But... as most people who read this blog will also likely remember... the President further promised - on national TV no less - to get a dog from a shelter.

The family had apparently narrowed its search to Portuguese water dogs because they are good with kids and relatively hypo-allergenic as fur-bearing mammals go; two characteristics important to the Obamas as Sasha and Malia are both children and Malia has allergies.

I realize that there probably are not a lot of Portuguese water dogs coming through DC-area shelters on a regular basis. I realize the search can be lengthy and frustrating. But please.

Here's a guy with basically unlimited resources. (And, mind you, not because Congress ought to allocate taxpayers' TARP money to the search.) The first family has unlimited resources to find a Portuguese water dog because every shelter in the U.S. knew that the Obamas were looking for one. My guess is... and I'm just guessing here... that all of these shelters have phones. I would further venture to guess that any of them would not have hesitated to call the White House if they had a matching dog. (And who knows, maybe they did?) The idea that not a single shelter in the U.S. had a Portuguese water dog - or at least some other kid-friendly, hypo-allergenic dog - available for adoption is even harder for me to visualize than the roughly $14 trillion dollars in debt this nation is about to assume in the coming months.

Supposedly the Obamas made a donation to the D.C. Humane Society instead. Well, that's nice. But so much for leading by example. (Actually, sorta reminds me of medieval Catholicism when sinners believed they could buy their way back into favor with the Lord.)

And while I'm venting, the Obamas' decision is not the only disappointing thing here.

The commentary that their decision generated on This Week with George Stephanopoulos also fell rather short. According to Newt Gingrich: "Who cares?" While, I must admit, Rep. Gingrich has an extremely good grip on an impressive array of political and national events (although I disagree now with his philosophy on perpetual tax cuts as the lynchpin panacea to cure the economic crisis as much as I disagreed with his views on tort reform some 15 years ago), it is disappointing, (although not surprising), to hear that concern for pet overpopulation - or, more broadly, the larger issue of animal welfare to which it speaks - is still apparently not a core Republican value.

More disappointingly, however, was the joking and dismissive tone of the show's host. The few minutes that Mr. Stephanopoulos allocated to the discussion was painfully, clearly lip service. It was capped off by his conversation-ending statement that it was time to move onto "important" issues.

I do not disagree that the other topics the panel discussed were important. But it was disappointing to see this topic tossed off so casually. (On a related but separate note, I was very encouraged this week to see the decisions of the Iowa Supreme Court [who would've thought?!!?] and the Vermont legislature in upholding gay marriage. I view gay rights advances as sort of a bell-weather for animal rights...)

And if nothing else, it was surprising to see this distinguished panel of commentators let the President off so easily for breaking a promise. It's still so easy to disregard animal issues that no one even connected the dots to a larger picture.

What other promise is next?

Happy Easter

To everyone as well!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

First animal law CLE in Louisiana!

The Louisiana State Bar Association's Animal Law Section will host its first-ever CLE on Friday, April 24th at the Tulane School of Law in New Orleans Congrats on starting up a section and good luck with the CLE!

Anyone interested in more information can click here: LSBA CLE website

One Nation Under Dog

The Washington Post
By Jonathan Yardley
Sunday, April 12, 2009; Page B08


Adventures in the New World of Prozac-Popping Puppies . . .

By Michael Schaffer

Six of ten U.S. households own pets, up 12 percent between 2000 and 2006. Spending by Americans on their pets more than doubled from $17 billion in 1994 to $41 billion in 2007 and is expected to rise at an 11 percent clip over the next two years. No doubt most of that spending is for routine stuff, but as Michael Shaffer recounts in this informative, entertaining and sobering book, our most privileged pets "live in a world of dog walkers and pet sitters and animal trainers and canine swim therapists and pet Reiki masseuses. . . . [a] baroque and endlessly subspecialized array of service providers."

Click to read the rest of the Washington Post review...

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Happy Passover

To everyone!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Bob Breyer
Sept. 12, 1989 (est.) - April 7, 1999

Texas debates new definition of vicious dog

The state legislature is debating a measure that would greatly broaden the state's definition as to what constitutes "vicious". In what is apparently a sad irony, HB 1982 (for any non-lawyers reading, some of the strongest laws protecting civil rights in this country are labeled 1981 - 1983), would define vicious based on a dog's "physical nature and vicious propensity", rather than solely upon a dog's actual conduct.

According to "Dallas Animal Law Attorney Yolanda Eisenstein... HB 1982 is far too vague and maybe unconstitutional. Yolanda Eisenstein says, 'I don't know what a vicious dog is by reading this and I think that's where the trouble comes in.'"

Click here for the rest of Shana Franklin's KDAF-TV story...

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Boca Raton parrot summoned to appear in court Monday

|South Florida Sun-SentinelBOCA RATON - The African Grey parrot's name is Tequila, or Lucky, depending on whose side you're on.

Regardless of what name she answers to, a Palm Beach County judge has ordered the parrot to appear in a Delray Beach courtroom on Monday. It's step one in a civil lawsuit over who will get to keep the $2,000 bird who flew away from one Boca Raton woman three years ago and ended up with another.

The finder's lawyer, Marcy LaHart, said when her client found the parrot she looked diligently for the owner, to no avail. It took three years for the women to find each other by chance.

"I would agree finders keepers is not the state of the law," LaHart said. "If two weeks or two months had passed we wouldn't be going to court. But it's been three years and my client is very attached to this animal and is reticent to hand it over."

Click here to

You da' man, Ben...

Another thoughtful observation on CBS Sunday Morning just a little while ago from commentator Ben Stein about the virtues of living with a dog...

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Pennsylvania veterinarian cited for cruelty

According to a local newspaper,

[a] veterinarian to some of the county's largest breeding kennels has been charged with animal cruelty for allegedly mutilating a puppy's tail....

...A police affidavit states that an undercover humane police officer watched Stevenson treat the puppy's already-mutilated and bleeding tail by "soaking it in scalding water and cutting it with a pair of tin snips (shears) without sedation or prior numbing of the tail.

Read more in this LancasterOnline article by writer Susan E. Lindt.

Two news items about veterinary misconduct in a week. Sad sad sad. Although I will take this opportunity to say - again - that I have nothing against veterinarians and most really do care about the animals in their care.

But - also again - I handle a lot of veterinary malpractice cases. To the best of my knowledge, I've been handling more vet malpractice, on a more regular basis, than anyone else in Illinois, possibly the entire Midwest, and by all accounts apparently as often as anyone else in the country, for the better part of a decade now. Not to mention those occasional instances where the vet's conduct falls so outside the pale of veterinary medicine that the vet skips right over the potential malpractice liability and into the realm of an animal cruelty charge.

I had one veterinary defendant once who told his clients that he was going to perform a particular, patented procedure on their dog but performed his own procedure instead. Things went sour and he ended up performing three surgeries on one leg and six on the other - with the six-surgeried leg becoming so gimped that, about a year later, when the clients moved out of state and took their dog to a different surgeon, he said there was nothing left to do but amputate. Or the dog that had twelve bladderstones and the vet removed three. Then there was a woman whose vet left a hole in the skin over her dog's abdomen following surgery and the dog's insides were kinda falling out. Really. I saw the photos. No one should ever have to look at such photos, never mind live through them. I had a case once where I brought (civil) cruelty charges against an entire veterinary school on behalf of a greyhound who went in for an undiagnosed condition and died about two weeks later of severe internal hemmoraghing... because while he was there he apparently needed to be "subdued" by the staff... which turned out to involve about six vet techs jumping on top of this ill greyhound, cracking its ribs, and then not telling the owners who could not figure out why their dog was taking such a turn for the worse.

Some of these cases I settled. Some the client gave up along the way. Many times, aggrieved animal owners don't even try to pursue claims against veterinarians, due to the time and expense involved in veterinary malpractice lawsuits and the fact that veterinary insurance carriers generally will spend any sum of money needed to defend a claim rather than pay a penny to settle - even without any admission of liability.

Which is precisely why it is soooooo important for states, like Pennsylvania (above) and Georgia (see post from a few days ago) to take administrative disciplinary complaints and criminal cruelty charges against vets seriously. Owners can't prosecute these matters personally. States need to be the voice for the owners, and, of course, the animals.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Oklahoma County pays $15,000 over slain dog

Jay F. Marks
March 31, 2009

Grady County has agreed to pay $15,000 to a woman whose dog was shot to death last summer by a sheriff’s deputy who had stopped to ask for directions. Read the rest of the article by clicking here...