Recap of the 2012 Animal Law Institute

Last Friday, for the fourth or fifth time, I attended the annual Animal Law Institute.  The Institute is a CLE program put on by Animal Law Section of the State Bar of Texas.  It moves around each year, but this year it was at Texas Wesleyan School of Law here in Fort Worth.

You may be wondering, “what is animal law, and is equine law a part of animal law?” I have been practicing equine law for years, and I still don’t really know the answer. According to Wikipedia,

animal law is a combination of statutory and case law in which the nature—legal, social or biological—of nonhuman animals is an important factor. Animal law encompasses companion animals, wildlife, animals used in entertainment and animals raised for food and research. The emerging field of animal law is often analogized to the environmental law movement 30 years ago.

Most of the speakers at the Institutes I have attended in the past have seemed to generally focus on 1) animal rights/welfare issues; and 2) issues related to animal rescues and public shelters. 

My equine law practice, by way of contrast, is primarily focused on business issues. That said, I have advised several equine-related 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.

Rick and I at Will Rogers Equestrian Center with two of our animals. 

This year’s Institute covered a lot of animal welfare/rights issues, but it also added an overview of equine law by Dawn Reveley, and another presentation on vet malpractice defense into the mix.   Below is a recap:

  • Will Potter, a journalist from Washington, DC, discussed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. This is a 2006 federal law with which I was not previously familiar. According to Potter, the law was pushed by animal industry groups and corporations to target animal rights protestors by labeling their activities as "terrorism".  Read more about it on Will Potter’s blog, Green is the New Red. To loosely quote Potter’s [very sound] advice to would-be animal rights protestors: “Come up with a plan and get organized before you stage your protest, so people won’t think you’re crazy!” 
  • Don Feare, an attorney from Arlington, Texas, shared some excellent information for attorneys who represent animal rescue groups. Some main points include (equine nonprofits, listen up!) 1) animal welfare groups should incorporate as a nonprofit corporation to limit liability; 2) liability insurance is a necessity, especially if the organization is doing public adoption events; and 3) adoption contracts should make clear when title to the animal passes to the new owner and should be signed by all adult members of the household at which the animal is being placed.
  • Scott Heiser, a Portland-based attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, talked about how his nonprofit organization helps local prosecutors win animal cruelty cases (both through financing and by helping try cases). Heiser discussed the “business records” exception to the hearsay rule, as it applies to veterinary reports in criminal animal abuse cases. In general, vet reports are not admissible in lieu of testimony under the business records exception if the vet report was “prepared specifically for use at trial.”
  • Nicole Paquette, Texas Senior State Director with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in Washington, DC, covered the new laws from 2011 Texas Legislature that the HSUS believes benefit animals. These bills include 1) HB 1451, the “Puppy Mill Bill”--requiring licensing and inspection of dog and cat breeders who maintain 11 or more female breeding animals; 2) HB 1103--“Responsible Pet Owner Classes” required for convicted animal abusers; and 3) HB 2471--the “Good Animal Samaritan Bill”, which limits civil liability of people who render aid to an injured or distressed animal.
  • Dr. Don Ferrill (remember him from this post?) talked about how to successfully defend veterinarians in malpractice and negligence cases. His advice to plaintiffs: “Always pay your vet bill before you sue your vet.”

Watch this website for information on next year's Animal Law Institute.

New York City Council Passes Regulations Affecting Carriage Industry

In 2008, I posted Should the Carriage Ride Industry in New York City be Banned? after discussing the topic casually with my brother-in-law, Adam Rowe.  The post prompted a lively discussion from both sides. Some of the comments the post received were of such a "heated" nature that I could not publish them.  This is undoubtedly an issue about which both sides are extremely passionate.

Last week, the Huffington Post reported that New York's City Council has passed new regulations requiring carriage horses to have larger stalls, five weeks off per year, and blankets in cold and wet weather. Safety requirements for the carriages are also included in the new rules, requiring carriages to have manure-catching devices, emergency brakes, and reflective signs.

According to the Huffington Post report, Mayor Bloomberg supports the bill and is expected to sign it.

These new rules may act as a compromise for animal welfare advocates, who have campaigned for years to shut down the Central Park carriage industry.

Advocates of the carriage ride industry have argued that the horses are treated well, and that the horses will be abandoned or sent out of the country to be slaughtered if the industry is shut down.

The new rules are expected to increase the cost of carriage rides from $34 for the first half-hour to $50 for the first 20 minutes.

I welcome you to share your thoughts on the new rules and how they might affect the well-being of the carriage horses.

Potential Law Suit Over Eight Belles?

Several people have asked me if I thought there would be  litigation over the death of Eight Belles after her second place finish at the 2008 Kentucky Derby on May 3.  Although animal rights activists staged a protest at the office of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority after the filly's death, I don't think there will be any litigation.  

The filly's death did not seem to be caused by the negligence or wrongdoing of any person or entity.

What did cause Eight Belles to break both front ankles?  According to the Wall Street Journal, Eight Belles' breakdown may have arisen from a variety of factors such as genetics, track surface, training methods, or medications.  Interestingly, Eight Belles and 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro were both descendants of Northern Dancer, a 1950s Thoroughbred whose racing career was cut short by leg injuries.

What is being done in the horse racing industry to prevent future breakdowns?  The Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, which first convened in 2006 after Barbaro's breakdown in the Preakness, met again in Lexington March 17-18, 2008.  The Summit promulgated its recommendations to improve racehorse welfare, and those recommendations addressed the following issues:

  1. Track Surfaces--including research and development of synthetic (Polytrack) surfaces
  2. Catastrophic injuries
  3. Racing Medication & Drug Testing Laboratories
  4. Education--focusing on training methods
  5. Regulation--to establish uniform regulation of medication and integrity issues
  6. Solutions for unwanted Thoroughbreds
  7. Promote genetic diversity of the Thoroughbred

If the Summit's recommendations are implemented, huge positive changes in the Thoroughbred racing industry could be realized.  However, according to Dan Metzger, the President of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, "miracles will not happen overnight."