By: John K. Powell
The Animal Law Section (ALS) experienced another successful year, remaining on the forefront of advancing animal law issues while building upon the prior year’s momentum and adapting to the “new normal” by implementing innovative ways to promote the profession through the use of technology. Membership remained strong, enthusiastic, and active as ALS performed extensive outreach to the legal profession and the public, enhanced its social media presence, and developed a lifestyle brand of incorporating animals as a part of overall attorney health and wellness.
As one of the core missions, ALS kept members apprised of the latest updates in federal and state laws and rules that had a potential impact on animals. Members of ALS remained active in evaluating and advocating for the implementation of such laws, as well as educating the public regarding their need. Among many efforts, ALS reviewed the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 1380-S.2561), which prohibits the ownership of big cats as pets as well as roadside zoos from offering cub petting and exploitative photo opportunities, and closely monitored the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission rules related to the breeding and sale of nonnative reptiles.
In furtherance of the effort to educate members on substantive areas of animal law, ALS published articles in The Florida Bar Journal and offered continuing legal education (CLE) courses. These activities helped bring awareness to the many opportunities within the field of animal law, which include virtually every substantive area of law, such as estate planning, family law, environmental law, disability law and service animals, criminal law, entertainment law, and real property law. Animal law is everywhere and continues to grow in popularity and need.
More specifically, during this past year, ALS submitted articles to The Florida Bar Journal on “The Fading Color of Coral: Anthropogenic Threats to Our Native Reefs” by Catherine Awasthi and Ralph DeMeo, and “Courtroom Canines Are Leading Courtroom Accommodations for Children” by Ashley Joan Englund and Kelsey Beirne. ALS’ main publication, The Paw Review newsletter and blog, also featured timely and relevant topics on animal law. ALS expects to publish its next Paw Review newsletter in the spring, which will be distributed both at upcoming in-person meetings and circulated electronically on social media.
In addition, ALS offered several webinars throughout the year. For example, on October 27, 2020, a companion webinar to the Bar Journal article, “The Fading Color of Coral: Anthropogenic Threats to Our Native Reefs,” was offered. Speakers Ralph DeMeo and Catherine Awasthi covered the legal and scientific issues associated with the decline of coral reefs and the measures that have been and need further to be taken to rescue them. In addition to our many standard courses, new ones are continuously being developed such as a program titled, “Animal Rights Jurisprudence — An International and National Perspective.” Part one of this new course, led by Steve Wise, launched in February. Part two, to be led by Jim Gesauldi and Natalie Barefoot, is scheduled for May 19. ALS is also developing a Florida animal law treatise, the first of its kind, to be released next year.
Each year at the Bar’s annual meeting, ALS holds a continuing education program highlighting many important areas of Florida law and how it may affect our state’s animals. ALS was disappointed that due to COVID-19 we were unable to hold our annual seminar at the June 2020 Bar convention along with the very popular “Puppy Pit.” However, we were able to offer our annual seminar virtually and at no cost to attendees, resulting in a record number of participants. The seminar was recorded and is available online.
The Puppy Pit and Goat Yoga have been a very popular events, widely shared across the country on social media. In addition to fostering the adoption of abandoned animals, ALS has used these unique platforms to promote the Bar’s health and wellness initiatives by demonstrating the mental and physical benefits associated with having a companion animal. In the same vein, ALS will be sponsoring “Justice’s Best Friend Day,” which celebrates the contributions of animals in the justice system in Florida.
ALS is in the process of redesigning its website to provide an overall more user-friendly experience and to make CLE offerings more prominent and accessible. In addition, our unique marketing campaigns contribute to the image of The Florida Bar and the Animal Law Section 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 section has developed a line of products, including t-shirts, socks, hot sauce, and more, and updated our offerings on Café Press to include additional designs and choices, including ones for the various committees, generating revenue and furthering promoting the ALS. Our membership is now over 500, and our social media outreach is many more. Recent analytics include Facebook: 2,971 likes/3,129 follows; Twitter: 1,509 followers; Instagram: 609 followers, 276 posts; LinkedIn: 137 group members.
ALS members also participated in a variety of “trips” this year to rescue organizations around the state, including a virtual trip to an Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee on September 9, 2020, and with more than 70 in attendance. This tour and CLE were offered free to our members and featured a discussion about elephants and the various international, federal, state, and local laws that applied to them. Attendees were also introduced to the sanctuary’s residents via an elephant cam. Additional virtual visits are in development for 2021, including, but not limited to, the Center for Great Apes, Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, and the Wild Horse Rescue Center among others.
A current focus of ALS outreach is to law students who demonstrate an interest in animal law, offering free membership. 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 ALS and The Florida Bar. ALS again sponsored an annual writing competition, with the 2020 Animal Law Student Legal Writing Award presented to Ashley Englund of FSU Law. Englund was also awarded the 2020 Outstanding Animal Law Student Achievement Award. As the winner, she will be featured in the ALS newsletter and receive an honorarium. ALS also offered a free CLE event on October 3, 2020, for members and students studying for the bar exam. The first half centered around mental health and wellness, particularly while studying for the bar exam. The second half included a virtual trip through the Kindred Spirits Sanctuary in Citra.
The Animal Law Section and its partner, Pets Ad Litem, continued to provide stuffed Rikki Dog Dolls to Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare 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 Animal Law Section and was previously featured on the cover of The Florida Bar News. This is one of ALS’ most successful and gratifying programs, bringing joy and emotional healing to over 1,500 children since the program’s inception just three years ago.
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 executive council, committee chairs, Board of Governors liaison Ronald P. Ponzoli, Jr., and our Florida Bar program administrator, Ricky Libbert.
It has been my honor to serve as the 2020-21 chair of ALS. As an environmental lawyer, engineer, outdoor enthusiast, and son of a veterinarian, my personal and professional life has been enriched by the presence of animals, both wild and domestic. I have lived in nearly every section of this great state, from the beaches of South Florida, to the emerald green waters of the Panhandle, and experienced the broad range of habitats supporting unique and interdependent animal species not found anywhere else in the world. There is no doubt that animals improve our lives. Whether providing assistance to those in need, offering therapeutic benefits, enhancing biodiversity, supporting economic prosperity through ecotourism, or as loyal and steadfast companions, their contribution to society cannot be overstated.
John K. Powell, Chair