By S. Brent Spain, Chair
The Animal Law Section (ALS) of The Florida Bar is experiencing another successful year of promoting the practice of animal law, providing unique opportunities and benefits to our members, and promoting animal welfare initiatives around the state. Although the pandemic continued to be a factor for portions of the year, we have continued to explore ways to utilize technology in pursuit of our core mission of educating members of our section and The Florida Bar, as well as the public, about the latest developments in animal law.
We started the year off at the annual meeting in June with a free five-hour virtual seminar, “Animal Law in the Age of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Issues and Solutions.” The seminar was well attended by a live audience and was also recorded. Keeping with its tradition of being a leader in social media and technology, the recording is now available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbyAJyM1WPg, along with the materials on the ALS’s YouTube channel.
The ALS has also continued its work with the various regulatory agencies that deal with animals in the state. In August, the ALS offered a free webinar, “Protecting and Restoring Florida’s Coral Reef: Legal and Regulatory Update,” that was presented by a speaker from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The ALS has also made a commitment toward making sure its CLE offerings qualify for board certification credit where appropriate. The August webinar qualified for both city, county, and local government and state and federal and administrative practice credits. More recently, we hosted a free webinar, “Updates on Legal Efforts to Extend Habeas Corpus Rights to NonHuman Animals.” Over 70 members attended the webinar.
The ALS has also pursued unique opportunities for its members and law school students to work with different animal organizations through its sanctuary field trips. In November, the ALS had its second virtual visit to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. The sanctuary provides individualized lifetime care for the world’s largest land animal in a protected contact system that prioritizes the elephant’s wellbeing and freedom of choice. Participants received information on the laws and regulations governing elephants in the United States and around the world, including the Endangered Species Act, a patchwork of state and local laws, and a framework of regulatory agencies. The ALS’s Equine Committee also sponsored a trip to the Wild Horse Rescue Center in Webster. In February, the Farmed Animal Committee sponsored a sanctuary trip to the Kindred Spirits Sanctuary in Citra and the Wildlife Committee hosted a virtual happy hour to screen a film on endangered panthers and a Q&A with the filmmakers from the fStop Panther Conservation Program. We also had a sanctuary trip in April to the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula.
The ALS has continued to partner with other sections of The Florida Bar. In July, we worked with the Administrative Law Section for a trivia night in Tallahassee that was well attended and raised close to $1,000 for local animal charity Pets Ad Litem. In the spring, we plan on another joint happy hour with the Administrative Law Section that will raise funds for Tallahassee’s Animal Shelter Foundation. We are also discussing joint seminars with the City, County, and Local Government Law Section and are actively looking at opportunities to partner with other sections as well.
We also continue to work on increasing the use of therapy animals in court and other venues. Therapy animals are an important part of health and wellness initiatives. In November, the ALS co-sponsored a book signing event for the release of Tales of Tillie by attorney John Williams and his rescue greyhound. The book signing supported the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital’s Animal Therapy Program. The ALS and its partner, Pets Ad Litem, have continued to provide stuffed Rikki dolls to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital for distribution to children as part of its Animal Therapy Program. The Rikki dolls resemble Rikki, a Golden Retriever therapy dog, who was the unofficial mascot for the ALS and previously featured on the cover of The Florida Bar Journal. This is one of the ALS’s most successful and gratifying programs, bringing joy and emotional healing to over 1,500 children since the program’s inception just four years ago.
The ALS has also revamped its website, https://flabaranimals.org/, through Candour, the same company that designed The Florida Bar’s website. The redesign has streamlined our old website considerably and allowed us to implement a plan to make articles for our Paw Review Newsletter, https://flabaranimals.org/paw-review-blog/, available throughout the year instead of limiting them to paper copies. The new website, which is still being updated, provides an overall more user-friendly experience and makes CLE offerings more prominent and accessible. In addition, our unique marketing campaigns contribute to the image of The Florida Bar and the ALS to promote a lifestyle brand of animals and animal law to enhance wellness. To benefit our members and the general membership of The Florida Bar, the ALS has developed a line of products, including t-shirts, socks, hot sauce and more, and updated our offerings on Café Press, https://www.cafepress.com/thefloridabar/17187206, to include additional designs and choices, including ones for the various committees, generating revenue and furthering promoting the ALS.
Our membership is now around 500, and our social media reaches many more and continues to grow. Recent analytics include: Facebook — 3,059 likes/3,308 follows; Twitter — 1,647 followers; Instagram — 847 followers, 540 posts; and LinkedIn — 146 group members.
The ALS is also continuing its outreach to law students and young lawyers who demonstrate an interest in animal law, offering free membership. In this regard, the ALS supports each of the Florida law schools’ SALDF chapters and expects that one day these students from FAMU, Stetson, FSU, and other colleges will become leaders of the ALS and The Florida Bar. Several of our recent executive council members started out with the ALS as law student members who continued on with the section after joining The Florida Bar. Now in its 10th year, the ALS again sponsored an annual animal law writing competition through the FSU College of Law. Law students from Florida schools submitted a number of papers on cutting-edge subjects in the field of animal law. The ALS looks forward to its continued participation in this now well-established annual event.
The ALS also experienced another successful legislative session both in monitoring and supporting a number of bills related to animals. One of the primary reasons the ALS petitioned to move from being a standing committee to becoming a section was the freedom to take legislative positions, and the ALS has had great success with the bills and initiatives it has supported in past sessions with everything from changing domestic violence injunction laws to cover threats to family pets to the end of greyhound racing in the state through a constitutional amendment. This session, the section focused on a number initiatives, including 1) supporting legislation that increases funding for manatees and protecting their habitat; 2) creating a public records exemption for information identifying individuals that adopt animals from government run shelters; 3) supporting legislation that provides for the appointment of advocates for the interest of animals in certain court proceedings; 4) providing for the care of retired law enforcement dogs; 5) preventing the removal of local ordinances that provide protection for animals that exceed the protection available at the state level; and 6) preventing pet leasing.
Finally, the ALS greatly appreciates the dedication of all its members. None of what we do would be possible without them, as well as the generous support of time and resources by our other officers, Michelle Ballard, Ashley Baillargeon, and Laura Roe, our other executive council members and committee chairs, Board of Governors liaison Paige Greenlee, and our Florida Bar Program Administrator Ricky Libbert.
I have enjoyed the opportunity to be involved with the ALS since its creation and to now serve as its 2021-22 chair. The field of animal law and interest in it has grown exponentially in the past decade. This growth will only continue as law students and young lawyers become members of The Florida Bar and look for opportunities to practice animal law. As always, we welcome membership to participate in the ALS’s various activities, seminars/webinars, and field trips.