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The Animal Law Section Turns 25: An Interview with Two of the Section’s Founding Members


Published in Michigan Environmental Law Journal, Fall 2020, Vol. 38, No. 1, Issue 108 [view full issue].
Cite: 38 Mich Env Law J 1 (2020)

Margaret M. Sadoffby Margaret M. Sadoff, Animal Law Section Council (2019-2021), Co-Editor of the Animal Law Section’s Newsletter, Treasurer for Help4Wildlife[1]

The year 2020 will forever be remembered as the year of the pandemic. But this year also marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the 25th anniversary of the Michigan Animal Law Section. As a member of both the Environmental and Animal Law sections, I often think about the overlap of issues important to both sections. A few examples are the devastating impact of climate change on wildlife and ecosystems, expansion of logging and oil and gas drilling into pristine wildlife habitat, and the effects of factory farming on animal welfare as well as air and water pollution.

Animal law as a recognized field of legal practice is relatively young, so I was surprised to learn that the very first anti-cruelty law dates back to 1641. In Massachusetts’ first legal code “the Body of Liberties”, it was provided (in the original Old English) that “No man shall exercise any Tirranny or Crueltie towards any bruite Creature which are usuallie kept for man’s use.”[2] Animal cruelty laws have certainly come a long way. All states have some animal cruelty laws on the books and a federal anti-cruelty law (the so-called anti-crush legislation) was passed in November 2019.[3] Modern-day animal advocates seek not only to protect animals from abuse and cruelty but to improve the lives of animals and elevate their legal status beyond mere property. The Non-Human Rights Project[4], which seeks to gain legal personhood for animals, is one such effort. Although it seems a lofty goal, other countries have already begun to recognize animals as sentient beings, deserving of legal rights and protections. As the Animal Law Section enters its 26th year, I wanted to reflect on its history and significance and explore the connection between animal and environmental law.

Michigan’s Animal Law Section was created in 1995 through the efforts of a small group of like-minded attorneys which included founding members Bee Friedlander[5] and Don Garlit.[6] In fact, Don has the distinction of being the only member to have served the Section continuously, either as an Officer or on the Council, since its inception. Today, the Section has over 200 members and includes attorneys practicing in the field of animal law as well as attorneys working or volunteering with animal advocacy groups and attorneys who have a general interest in animal law and policy. The Section’s goals, as set forth in its bylaws, include:

  • Educating members of the State Bar and the public about laws relating to the protection of animals and animal rights, including the development and modification of existing law;
  • Promoting legislation to advance animal protection and animal rights;
  • Maintaining and operating a referral service for and among attorneys practicing in the area of animal protection and animal rights;
  • Promoting animal protection and animal rights in Michigan through use of the legal system;
  • Coordinating programs for lawyers practicing in the area of animal law with national and local bar associations; and
  • Cooperating and sharing information with other groups within the State Bar which have an interest in legal issues of interest to lawyers practicing in the area of animal law related topics.
Bee Friedlander & Don Garlit

I spoke with Bee and Don about the history of the section, progress in animal law, the intersection of animal and environmental law, and their hopes for the future of animal law.[7]

Q: Bee and Don, between the two of you there’s a ton of institutional knowledge. You have both been active in the Animal Law Section from the start as founding members. How did the Animal Law section get its start?

Bee: The section began over 25 years ago with a notice placed in the Michigan Bar Journal: “Michigan attorneys interested in animal law contact Wanda Nash.” About 20 attorneys responded to that notice. Keep in mind this was before social media, so responses were via phone call or snail mail. The animal law field was a relatively new concept at the time, at least in Michigan.

What resulted from that initial invitation was the formation of the non-profit group Attorneys for Animals by Wanda Nash. A major goal of the newly formed organization was to create an animal law section within the State Bar. Michigan’s Animal Law Section would become the first such state-wide section in the United States. Attorneys for Animals still is active; it is a non-profit organization comprised of attorneys and other advocates dedicated to working within the legal system to ensure that animals are recognized, treated, and protected as individuals.

Q: Who was Wanda Nash?

Bee: Wanda Nash (1943-2008) was the Section’s founder and first Chair. She was my mentor. I admired her passion, energy, enthusiasm, and her optimism. She taught me resilience, which is an absolute necessity for an animal advocate. She taught me that the key to longevity in this movement is to remain on an even keel. We must take pride and pleasure in victories small and large, and we must take losses in stride without succumbing to feelings of fatalism or futility. Wanda recognized the necessity of keeping ever vigilant.

The Section established the Wanda Nash Award in 2006 in her honor. The award recognizes a law student from a Michigan law school who is dedicated to animal law and has demonstrated outstanding involvement in animal issues. It is a fitting tribute to Wanda because she always encouraged those new to animal law. It is notable that Wanda’s family members continue to attend the annual ceremonies honoring Wanda Nash Award recipients.

Don: Wanda attended Cooley Law School in the mid-1980s, specifically to use her legal knowledge to advance the cause of animals which was virtually unheard of at the time. I visited Wanda shortly before she passed in 2008. I remember telling her “Wanda, we’re going to keep working for the animals.” She gave her trademark response: “FAN-tastic!” Wanda touched a lot of lives as evidenced by a recent tribute on the Attorneys for Animals website.[8]

Q: Tell me about the early days of animal law. I imagine there was skepticism and maybe even some pushback. What was it like?

Don: In the early days, people didn’t know what animal law was about. I would often be challenged by people who did not take the field seriously, but I always deflected with humor. I would ask people, “Do you have a dog (or cat)?” And when they responded “Yes” I would tell them “Well, your dog (or cat) has retained me and we’re going to sue you.” That broke the ice.

Bee: I remember our inaugural meeting in 1995. The bylaws used the term “animal rights” and some folks were opposed to that terminology. I also recall an early article in the news that mentioned Michigan’s newly formed animal law section. The tone of that article was quite dismissive.

Q: I know the Section’s Legislative Committee is very active and has provided written position statements as well as oral testimony on animal-related bills. Can you give a recent example (or a favorite example) of legislation the Section has helped to move forward?

Bee: By way of background, the Section has been taking positions on bills since the 2005-2006 legislative session. We take positions and provide testimony on a wide variety of legislation that impacts animals. We were active in supporting three major bills that became law in the past five years: one allowing animals to be included in Personal Protection Orders (PPOs);[9] one strengthening the animal crimes law;[10] and one essentially making Michigan a cage-free state.[11]

Two bills are illustrative of our approach: In 2015, a bill was introduced as part of a package to repeal what were considered “archaic” laws. Among those was repeal of a bill “Prohibiting the Sale of Dyed or Artificially Colored Baby Chicks, Rabbits, Ducklings or Other Fowl” (2015 HB 4251). The Section, along with other advocates, raised immediate and loud objections. The bill was withdrawn. Our goal was to educate legislators that this is not a frivolous, outdated, or unnecessary prohibition.

HBs 4910/4911 of 2019 are the most recent bills on which we testified, in September 2020. These bills would regulate emotional support animals (not service animals) by criminalizing the misrepresentation of emotional support animals and allowing for early termination of leases for violations. We joined other organizations opposing the bill but focused on the hardship to the animals involved and the legitimate role these animals serve.

Q: What stands out in your mind as an area in which Michigan has made significant progress in terms of animal protection?

Bee: The greatest gains have been for companion animals. Michigan has strong animal cruelty laws. The addition of animals to PPOs has been significant, as threats of harm or actual harm to companion animals is common in domestic violence situations. Dove hunting was prevented– all counties voted against it in 2006. Some progress has been made to protect Michigan wolves, but that progress has been thwarted by special interest groups.

I’ll give you an example of the need for vigilance and persistence. In the early to mid-2000s, we started to see ballot initiatives introduced by advocacy groups to phase out the most egregious of agricultural confinement practices related to egg laying hens, gestation crates for pigs, and veal crates. Such a ballot measure was proposed for Michigan and had wide-spread support. In response, to avoid a lengthy and likely successful ballot measure, the legislature passed House Bill 5127 of 2009 (2009 PA 117), which set phase-out dates for confinement of egg-laying hens and gestating sows by 2019 and phase-out of confinement of calves (veal crates) by 2012. However, as the ten-year deadline approached, the egg producers lobbied for more time and a bill was introduced that would have repealed all protections added by the 2009 law as well as extend the time for phase-in. The Section and other animal welfare groups mobilized and succeeded in passage of a much less draconian law referenced above (2019 PA 132) that delayed protections for egg-laying hens until 2024, less time than industry wanted. Michigan is the 5th or 6th largest egg producer, so the state going cage-free has significant impact on the industry.

Q: What trends or advancements have you noticed in animal law over the last 25 years?

Bee: When the Section started in the 1990s, animal law was not taken seriously. Now it’s accepted, even feared! Animal law is a component of general practice in areas like probate and divorce. Many law schools now offer animal law classes or programs. In terms of animal cruelty/animal abuse laws, we went from about 12 states to 50 states with felony level penalties. The field is also becoming more sophisticated and politically savvy. Some of the best creative legal minds are making an impact in litigation and legislation.

Don: There is certainly more interest and activity in animal law. The section’s newsletter dates back to 1997. We’ve published 42 issues and the State Bar Journal featured animal law in two issues: December 2013 and July 2018. Collectively, that’s over 600 pages of content over the years. One of my favorite articles was written by Barbara Goldman. She wrote an excellent comprehensive article on dog bite law that I highly recommend (See “Sinking Your Teeth Into the Michigan Dog Bite Law” in the Summer 2010 issue of the Animal Law Section’s newsletter, available on the SBM website; updated in “Highlights of Animal Law, 2013-2018” in July 2018 in a special animal law theme issue of the Michigan Bar Journal).

Q: Given current events, do you think there will be renewed interest in animal rights/protection issues, post-pandemic?

Bee: History shows that after a period of social upheaval, people are more open to systemic change. I have never seen the topic of slaughterhouses discussed so much. People understand that wildlife markets played a big role in the pandemic. And I think they are starting to realize that factory farms have the same potential.

Q: There is considerable overlap on issues pertinent to both animal law and environmental law. What experience have you had with environmental law or advocacy? Do you see any similarities?

Bee: Don and I both attended the first Earth Day events but on separate campuses. This was before we met. I was at Ohio State and Don attended Michigan State. I remember Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was a big driver of the movement as was a law that would later become the Endangered Species Act. That spring there were also riots on campus related to the Vietnam War’s expansion into Cambodia, so it was a pretty tumultuous time. I wouldn’t describe myself as an environmental activist, but I was definitely interested in what was going on.

Don: I’ve always been interested in the economics of the American system. I can recall pushback on environmental law from people saying it would destroy jobs and the economy. I worked for an automotive company before I retired, so I am familiar with the battle for more stringent auto emission standards and regulations and I think there’s been progress there. Animal law has also seen pushback due to economics, from people who see their livelihoods as threatened. For example, horse racing and greyhound racing are dying businesses. There is also more visibility to the problems of certain animal use industries, especially animals used as “entertainment.” Economic issues are a big driver in both animal and environmental law, but changes in attitude have driven success in both areas. Animal law began with a focus on companion animals, but now there is more focus on wildlife and farmed animal issues which is where there is overlap with environmental law. Animal law is farther behind and can look to environmental law as a model.

Bee: We recognize that the environmental law movement can inform the animal law movement.

Q: What do you hope animal law will look like over the next 25 years?

Bee: It’s hard to predict because of the wild card – climate change. I would expect that the property classification will be removed or modified (e.g., animals as “living property”). I believe that the excesses of industrial agriculture (e.g., factory farms) will be curbed – for example, by strict enforcement of environmental laws and the industry no longer propped up by government subsidies.[12] I would hope that people will no longer view animals as entertainment or simply as money making schemes, with puppy mills becoming obsolete and adoption becoming the norm. When animals and money mix, the animals lose. I’d like animal law to achieve public acceptance, with animal law issues being embraced by the majority of society. I see a major shift in how humans interact with nature, and those who enjoy hiking, bird watching and similar activities, having more impact on its direction and funding. And, of course, we’d like – and expect -- to continue to attract the best people to the field.

Don: People often ask is it about rights or welfare? I think it’s about social justice. We are the voice for the voiceless. The section gives out several awards each year to honor animal advocates. I always remind people at these ceremonies that the awards are earned, not won. On advocacy generally, if everyone does something, you can accomplish a lot. You don’t need to do everything on every issue. Many hands make light work. You can accomplish powerful things one small step at a time.

[1] In accordance with the MELJ’s mission statement regarding publication of viewpoint articles, the positions advanced within this piece are those of the author and the interviewees. They do not purport to represent the Animal Law or Environmental Law Sections’ position on any legal issue.

[2] G.K. Mikita, Animal Law Section: An Advocate for Michigan’s Animal Population, 76 The Michigan Bar Journal 5, p 422-425 (1997).

[3] See 2019 HB 724, Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act as passed by 116th Congress.

[4] See The Non-Human Rights Project.

[5] Bee Friedlander leads several Section committees and is the President of Attorneys for Animals. She serves on the boards for Animals and Society Institute, Bird Center of Washtenaw County, and Leuk’s Landing. Additional information provided by Bee from “A History of the Animal Law Section, 1995 to 2015” by Beatrice M. Friedlander, September 21, 2015.

[6] Donald Garlit serves as Treasurer for the Animal Law Section as well as Attorneys for Animals and is Co-Editor of the Animal Law Section’s Newsletter. He served on the board of RedRover from 2005-2011 and 2014-2019 and remains on the group’s finance committee.

[7] The answer portions of this article do not reflect direct quotes but rather excerpts and paraphrases from a conversation with Bee and Don.

[8] See Wanda Nash: A Remembrance at 75 and an Announcement, Attorneys for Animals (2020).

[9] 2015 HB 4478; 2016 PA 94.

[10] 2017 HBs 4332/4333; 2018 PA 452 and 652.

[11] 2019 SB 174; 2019 PA 132.

[12] There may be some traction on this federally. The Farm System Reform Act of 2019 (S. 3221) introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (and a companion bill in the House, H.R. 6718) would place a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms with phase-out by 2040, among other reforms.