5 Lawyers

5 Lawyers

“We Do It Because We Don’t Have a Choice”: 5 Canadian Lawyers Who Are Changing the World For Animals

L-R: Camille Labchuk, Sophie Gaillard, Anna Pippus, Lesli Bisgould, Alanna Devine.

L-R: Camille Labchuk, Sophie Gaillard, Anna Pippus, Lesli Bisgould, Alanna Devine. All photopgraphs for this story by Jo-Anne McArthur / The Unbound Project

In recent weeks there has been a spotlight on Montreal. Of course, this world-class city is known internationally for its history, culture, and jazz, but lately Montreal has been getting media attention for another reason, the City’s attempt to ban pit bulls through breed specific legislation (BSL). Alanna Devine and Sophie Gaillard are lawyers who work at the Montreal SPCA, Canada’s oldest animal protection agency, and they have been at the forefront of the fight against this legislation.

The current fight over BSL in Quebec is just one of many recent cases where Canadian lawyers have used their expertise to try and make a difference for animals, and this summer we had the opportunity to bring Devine and Gaillard together with three other lawyers who have also made headlines for their commitment to standing up for animals in Canada: Camille Labchuk, Anna Pippus, and Lesli Bisgould. These five womxn have been highly visible and influential in the field of Canadian animal law in recent years. Bisgould, who opened Canada’s first practice in animal rights law, has now moved from practicing animal rights law to teaching it. Pippus and Labchuk have spent much of their professional lives building Animal Justice, Canada’s only national animal law organization (Labchuk is currently serving as Executive Director of this organization) and, in this capacity, have contributed their expertise to a wide range of cases involving animals. We spent the day with these 5 womxn to talk about the field of animal law, how they have seen animal protection and animal advocacy evolve in recent years, and their advice for those wanting to work in this area in Canada.

While all five of these lawyers have different backgrounds and areas of expertise, there is much common ground between them. “We are all focused on achieving animal liberation through the law,” Pippus pointed out, “and I think that is what sets us apart.” Labchuk agrees, “for me, law school and being a lawyer is just a tool to accomplish animal liberation. It is not an end or a means in and of itself.” The idea that the law can be an important tool on this front is, itself, groundbreaking and new. Bisgould remembers how things used to be, how the dominant way of thinking about animals and the law used to be that the law was “a tool that lawyers used to empower advocates to fight for things.” Now, however, “lawyers themselves want to be advocates. And that itself is a change.”

Devine, Gaillard, Labchuk, Pippus, and Bisgould all agreed that things are changing rapidly in the context of animal law in Canada, and that in recent years there has been a groundswell of interest in using the legal system to make the world a better place for animals. Another important change that these womxn see is that there seems now to be more of an acceptance that lawyers can care deeply about the cases they work on. Gaillard remembers being told in law school that “you can’t be overly passionate about whatever case you are working on, that you have to remain cold and objective and you can’t be emotionally invested in the case that you are working on because you won’t do a good job. This idea that you can only be a good lawyer if you are emotionally removed–I always thought that was bullshit!”

While all five of these womxn strive to use the law as a way to fight for animal liberation, they also recognize that legal avenues can sometimes be “imperfect” in this respect. As Gaillard points out, “when we choose law as our tool we are forced sometimes to bend to what we can use.” She remembers a friend and mentor cautioning her against going to law school if she really cared about making a difference for animals. “You can’t be an animal lawyer and be true to your philosophical beliefs in your practice,” she recalls her friend saying. Gaillard was undeterred and respectfully disagrees with this point. She understands that sometimes legal strategies take a long time to unfold and that sometimes it is necessary to move incrementally and that this might involve compromise:

there may be little bits that you can do that are true to your principles, but I think a lot of our work requires a little bit of sidestepping and tackling what may seem like minor issues in the grand scheme of things, but these ultimately help develop case law in way that advances the interests of animals

In this field things can move slowly, and what seems like progressive steps forward are often thwarted by several roadblocks. While this can seem daunting and discouraging, it is important to celebrate the milestones as well as the smaller victories along the way.  As Devine points out,

anything that we do that reduces suffering in some way, shape, or form should be considered a victory, so whether it be one animal and focusing on that one animal, or one person who has decided that they are going to change their way of life because they actually understand that they don’t need to eat animals or wear animals, and that they can live a happy, healthy, joyful life without the causing suffering of others is a victory.

For Pippus it is also very important that people “see that the movement is gaining momentum and that we are having victories, that we are changing things” because this is an important part of changing the status quo.

All five of these lawyers are vegan, and want to push the conversation about the treatment of animals in Canada to include all animals. It can be frustrating to see people who care deeply about companion animals—people who love the dogs and cats they share their lives with—turn a blind eye when it comes to the suffering of other animals. This is acutely felt with the rise of so-called “happy meat” and things like “cage free eggs.” However, as Pippus points out,

if somebody is saying ‘I care about how animals are treated and therefore hens should be out of cages,’ we just now need to take that compassion and care and say, ‘ok, well, if that is how you feel, the only solution is animal rights and veganism.’

This is echoed by Devine who believes that

if you can get people to acknowledge that first step with respect to farm animals, to acknowledge that they care how these animals are treated, then eventually they are going to understand that it is not humane to do any of the things that we do to farm animals.

Even when things get tough, and the victories seem few and far between, Devine, Gaillard, Labchuk, Pippus, and Bisgould continue to be motivated to fight for animals through legal channels. Gaillard stresses that they are not in it for the victories but, instead points out that, “we do it because we don’t have a choice. It is like we are going to die trying. We can’t not just sit by and watch cruelty to animals happen without trying to do something.”

For Devine, the most important thing that lawyers can do to change the status quo for animals is to normalize the conversations taking place about animals in our society.

One of the really important things we should be doing, and I think we are doing, is encouraging the teaching of animal law in law schools, speaking with future lawyers and judges and politicians, and ensuring that their personal beliefs are aligned with an understanding of animal sentience and animal rights, and I think this is hugely important.

This, she feels, will move concern for animals in legal realms from the margins to the mainstream. “I mean, if you are in front of a judge who is vegan, someone who understands that animals do not need to suffer for the various purposes we make them suffer for that are completely unnecessary, and I think that is fundamentally important.”

The field of animal law is growing exponentially in Canada—as Bisgould puts it, “animal law has gone from an idea to a fact.” This is echoed by Labchuk who notes that when she first started “there were a handful of animal law classes” and that many people were dismissive of her goals to be an animal rights lawyer. She points now to the increasing number of academic publications on animal law in Canada as well as the number of high profile cases involving animals that regularly make headlines in mainstream media—“these issues are in the news every single day.” This rising awareness of animal law is starting to find its way in to Canadian law schools as well. “That is what excites me about the future,” Labchuk says, “that in 20 years now we are going to be in that situation where everyone who has gone law school will have had exposure to an animal law class.”

Related to this, all five of these womxn also see mentoring as an important part of their professional lives, and all regularly talk with students who are interested in this career path. Further, all agree that there seems to be a noticeable spike in the number of young people—in particular, young womxn—who want to go in to animal law in Canada. Bisgould advises students to have an open mind and to gain a wide range of experience. “Animal rights work can be bleak,” she stresses, “and it can be useful to work on other sorts of cases too. If you don’t depend on animal work for your living, you don’t have to compromise and take the wrong cases just to pay the bills. And you can afford to give low fee or pro bono service to advocates who need it.”

While the interest in the field of animal law has really exploded in Canada in recent years, the number of jobs openings in this field has not kept pace with the rising interest. “The jobs in animal law are few and far between,” Labchuk laments, but that doesn’t mean that people who want to get in to this field should be discouraged.

Whether you work in it full time or not, you can make a huge contribution to the field by working in a bigger firm, by working at another organization, and doing animal law when you can–whether it is pro bono files, volunteering on the board of an organization–there are a lot of ways to contribute to the field.

This sentiment is echoed by Devine who points out that “there is no one path–don’t be afraid to forge your own path. There are many people doing interesting things in animal law that don’t do it full time.” Gaillard agrees, noting that

even if you don’t manage to get a position in the end that is 100% animal law or working for an animal rights or animal protection organization, there is still a lot that can be done in traditional lawyer jobs, especially in government or in the criminal justice system. We need politicians and judges and lawyers that are open-minded in terms of animal issues, and having lawyers at the government level that care about animals would make a huge difference.

While Canada lags behind the United States in terms of the development of animal law, there was general consensus that this might, in fact, be a good thing, that those working in animal law in Canada now might have a bit more freedom to craft and shape things in ways that make sense for our current social, cultural, and political climate. As Devine points out, “our laws are different and I think that people’s perspectives have evolved, and maybe it is not a bad thing that we are only starting now to think of creative ways to challenge the status quo in Canada.” Labchuk agrees, noting that “we are at the very beginning of the movement, and there is so much room to shape it in the right direction at this point.”

Bisgould, who is considered by many to be one of the foundational figures in animal law in Canada (and certainly someone that Labchuk, Pippus, Devine, and Gaillard all point to as having a huge influence on their development in the field), is even willing to seek another phrase to replace “animal law” because she sees it as falling short of being able to “sufficiently convey the idea that the goal of the discipline is to erode animals’ property status and establish actual legal rights for them. Animal law is so broad a term that it could apply to all sorts of conflicts involving animals, where their interests don’t necessarily matter.” Pippus agrees that there is a distinction between merely practicing law that involves animals, and expanding the law to include “animals’ interests in court in a whole slew of ways.” As she stresses, “animals should be in every area of law because animals affect every area of our life.”

Perhaps one of the most promising things about the future of animal law in Canada is that there is a lot of co-operation and coalition-building among various organizations dedicated to animal protection in Canada. “There is a lot of behind the scenes co-operation,” says Devine, “we are connected enough that even though we may take different approaches to different issues, we are still going to communicate because everyone still has the goal of reducing suffering.”

Labchuk, for example, speaks with pride about the way a number of different groups came together in support of Bill C-246, a recent private members bill put forth by Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith which aimed to update and modernize Canada’s animal protection legislation. Even though this Bill was ultimately defeated, the way groups who might not normally work together did so in this instance is highly encouraging as are the conversations across the country that this proposed Bill sparked.

Lesli Bisgould, Camille Labchuk, Alanna Define, Sophie Gaillard, Anna Pippus.

Lesli Bisgould, Camille Labchuk, Alanna Define, Sophie Gaillard, Anna Pippus.

Devine, Gaillard, Bisgould, Labchuk, and Pippus all agree that they have been fortunate to not experience overt discrimination because of their gender in their professional lives. Labchuk credits this to the fact that

in Canada the animal rights scene is not only dominated by womxn at all levels, but especially in the leadership positions. The heads of most of the animal organizations in Canada are womxn. Whereas in the States, it is almost all men. I don’t really have any explanations as to why that is in Canada, but, as a consequence, I’ve personally never thought about gender as a limiting factor in moving forward in this field because I’ve never seen it to be. And my role models in the field have all been womxn.

Pippus agrees, noting that when you are vegan and “involved in animal rights, you are already a bit of an ‘outside the box’ thinker and don’t internalize other people’s ideas. I’m too convinced that animal liberation is right to take any sort of scoffing at it seriously.”

One thing that does come up, however, is the idea that they might be more concerned about animals because they are womxn. Gaillard points out that in her line of work “being compassionate and concerned for animals is often equated with being overly emotional and sensitive, and I find that a form of sexism.” For Pippus, the idea that being emotional is something to be ashamed of is infuriating—“you are dismissing me because I’m emotional? Damn it! I am emotional. I’m angry and I’m irritable about animal abuse, because who wouldn’t be?”

These kinds of conversations represent new horizons in the ways in which animals are being talked about and considered in legal circles. As Pippus points out, “cultural attention to animal issues is taking off like never before.” In Canada, this is in large part thanks to the ground-breaking efforts of people like Devine, Gaillard, Bisgould, Labchuk, and Pippus who will not back down in their collective fight for animal liberation.

Caroline Earle White

Caroline Earle White

“Her Convictions Were Positive:” The Legacy
of Caroline Earle White

 

Caroline Earle White was a prominent figure in 19th century American animal advocacy. I was struck, however, when I learned that while she was growing up in Philadelphia she often went out of her way to avoid encountering animal cruelty. White would deliberately pick her walking routes so that she “avoided certain streets near her home because, in passing over them, she nearly always witnessed scenes of animal abuse which depressed her for days afterward.”* White was particularly disturbed by the sight of working horses being mistreated, and was overwhelmed by the cruelty all around her. Like many American cities at this time, Philadelphia had few regulations governing the treatment of the many animals who populated its streets.

While White’s reluctance to come face-to-face with animal cruelty is certainly understandable, what I find especially remarkable about her story is that even though witnessing cruelty caused her great pain, she eventually decided that she instead of avoiding it and pretending it did not exist she needed to get involved to try to do something to stop it. From the mid 1860s onward she became one of the most outspoken advocates for animals in the United States. White had been raised by progressive parents who introduced her to many different social justice issues as she was growing up. This upbringing gave her a point of reference from which she was able to recognize the ways in which many different kinds of oppression were linked. She was not afraid to speak out against cruelty and injustice, even if it meant that her words were met with ridicule and hostility as they frequently were. She was determined and did not let this criticism slow her down—as one historian has noted, “the agitation subjected her to ridicule but she moved steadily on, regardless of opposition, when her course seemed clear to her.”**

Caroline Earle White

Caroline Earle White

White helped to found the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (founded in 1867), was the founder and first President of the Women’s Branch of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (founded in 1869), and the founder of the American Anti-Vivisection Society (founded in 1883). White believed in the power of humane education and worked with schools in Pennsylvania to establish essay writing contests for students in which the values of compassion and kindness to animals were explored. She founded the Journal of Zoophily in 1892 which served as a joint publication between the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Anti-Vivisection Society, and this “aggressive humane magazine” became an important publication in the late 19th century animal advocacy efforts in the United States.

“There are many people who when we ask them to join us say that they prefer to work for human beings. But are we not working for human beings? Are we not constantly striving to make men and womxn more humane and disposed to all kindly feelings and to teach children to become gentle and merciful? Is not everything which tends to elevate man in the mortal scale a benefit to him” – Caroline Earle White

Today the legacy of White’s work remains a core part of animal advocacy—under her direction, the Women’s Branch of the Pennsylvania SPCA started a shelter for lost and stray animals which remains active to the present day and, of course, both the PSPCA and the American Anti-Vivisection Society also continue to do the work that White and her colleagues started in the 19th century.

Caroline Earle White with a group of WPSPCA supporters at a dedication for a new water fountain for horses. The fountain was built in honour of Annie L. Lowry who was a supporter of the WPSPCA.

Caroline Earle White with a group of WPSPCA supporters at a dedication for a new water fountain for horses. The fountain was built in honour of Annie L. Lowry who was a supporter of the WPSPCA.

Today we remember Caroline Earle White for her important advocacy work, but what if she had chosen to avoid encountering animal cruelty all of her life? Her decision to confront the disturbing cruelty all around her was incredibly brave and important, and I, for one, draw inspiration from her. It is tough as heck to bear witness and to not look away from suffering. And yet, as we see in the example of Caroline Earle White, it is also possible to draw strength and determination from these moments, to use these encounters to fuel a commitment to changing the world. In fact, I’d say without these moments it is pretty hard to shake ourselves out of our complacency about the status quo.


* Sydney H. Coleman, Humane Society Leaders in America (Albany, NY: The American Humane Association, 1924): 179.

** Sydney H. Coleman, Humane Society Leaders in America (Albany, NY: The American Humane Association, 1924): 182.

Marianne Thieme

Marianne Thieme

Political Gains: Marianne Thieme and the Dutch Party for the Animals

“…the fork and knife are our mightiest weapons in protecting the world for future generations.” -Marianne Thieme

Marianne Thieme is a politician working hard to make the world a better place for animals. She is one of the founding members of the Dutch Party for the Animals (Partij voor de Dieren), and currently serves as the the Parliamentary Leader for the Party. For activists understandably frustrated by governments and politicians who seem to be guided more by profits than compassion, Thieme is a breath of fresh air.

Thieme is driven to make the world a better place, both for humans and for animals, and her energy and passion are infectious. She has a commanding and captivating presence, and has gained the support and respect of many who wish to see her visions become a reality.

Thieme recognizes that her politics and policies set her apart from most of her colleagues — as she describes, for many Dutch politicians “animal welfare is high-priced nonsense.” This dynamic was especially apparent after the 2002 election which saw Jan Peter Balkenende come to power. As Thieme remembers, “farmers’ representatives of his coalition parties were keen to reverse all animal welfare measures from the last 20 years as swiftly as possible. Animals became objects once again, which were only intended to serve the appetite and the economic purposes of people.” In response to this, the Party for the Animals was founded, a political party that has since gained seats in both the European Parliament and the Dutch House of Representatives.

Getting support for a political party that has the treatment of animals as its main focus has not been an easy sell. “You can imagine how people mocked us,” Thieme exclaims, “they made fun of us, they couldn’t believe their ears when they hard of our existence.” But from the very beginning there was a core group of people who supported this endeavour — “feminists, famous authors, intellectuals, opinion leaders, who saw us as the next emancipation movement. After the liberation of slaves, womxn, giving rights to children, the next logical step was to consider the interests of animals seriously, to look beyond the interests of our own species.” In her recent book, The Canary in the Coal Mine, Thieme notes that while some have equated the Party for the Animals as “a betrayal of our own kind,” for many others it meshes nicely “with a planet-wide vision that they find lacking among the majority of our current leadership.”

Marianne Thieme

Marianne Thieme joined by several other womxn who support the Party for the Animals at a rally against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership in the Autumn of 2015.

One of the markers of the success and staying power of this new political party is that very soon after the Party for the Animals was founded other political parties began to pay more attention to animal welfare issues. The very presence of the Party for the Animals made other parties realize that constituents were becoming increasingly concerned about the treatment of animals and that they had to respond accordingly if they were to stay relevant.  As Thieme recalls, “many other parties jumped on the bandwagon because they realised that animal welfare was becoming an increasingly important issue for the electorate.” Even though the Party for the Animals doesn’t hold many seats in parliament, they have been very influential in ushering in change in the Netherlands because of this dynamic. Thieme is particularly proud of the way that The Party for the Animals has been able to “push other, bigger political parties to start being more animal friendly.” She points to the recent ban on fur farms in the Netherlands, an initiative that passed because of the support of several different political parties.

The rarity of a political party so centrally focused on the treatment of animals has garnered The Party for the Animals considerable media attention, something that Thieme does not take for granted. “Many environmental and animal welfare organisations and lobbyists have to work hard to get their 5 minutes in the spotlight of politics,” she says, “it is really special that we have managed to get in the door.”

Thieme and the others involved in the Party for the Animals are a hard-working, dedicated group (“we have been working our butts off in parliament!”) who constantly seek out new ways to make the world a better place for animals. As Thieme describes, “our tools vary, from participating in debates with Secretaries of Government Departments, to asking parliamentary questions, to proposing measures through petitions the parliament votes on.” Some of the initiatives that Theime is working on include: “a ban on enriched cage systems for laying hens, more budget for alternatives for animal experiments, a demand for transparency of the animal testing experiments, a 6 million euro budget per year for meat alternative innovations, stronger law enforcement on trade in wild and endangered animals and research on the animal welfare problems of circus animals and animals in zoos.”

When asked about some of the biggest political victories that she has seen so far in her career, Thieme points to a ban on wild animals in circuses that came in to effect on the 15th of September, 2015. Similarly a recent ban on the import of hunting trophies in the Netherlands is also an initiative that Thieme and her colleagues in the Party for the Animals are very proud of. One of the main goals that Thieme has is to continue to push for the end of factory farming. She wants to see initiatives like a “meat tax”  as a way to use economics to encourage people to switch to a plant-based diet.

Thieme has long worked to make the world a better place for animals, and her role with the Party for the Animals has certainly given her an important platform from which to speak out against the many injustices that animals continue to face in the 21st century. We certainly hope that her example continues to serve as an inspiration to both voters and other politicians.

Patty Mark

Patty Mark

Fierce and Fearless: Patty Mark’s Unique Approach to Animal Liberation

When many people hear the phrase “animal liberation” they imagine covert operations in which those participating are clad in head-to-toe in black, their faces covered in order to conceal their identities. The shadowy nature of these encounters (real or imagined) has contributed to a somewhat negative impression of animal liberation among the general public. There is a fear of violence, a sense that these cloak-and-dagger style operations have no place in a “civilized” society. It is the activists, in other words, that tend to be envisioned as the ones causing harm in this version of events.

Patty Mark, the founder of Australia’s Animal Liberation Victoria, has much respect for these non-violent activists, however, she chose to approach animal liberation differently. Mark pioneered a form of activism we now know as “open rescue,” and, in so doing, has helped to change the conversations about activism and about how nonhuman animals are treated and valued in our contemporary world. In the “open rescue” model, there is no attempt to hide or avoid detection. Those participating in open rescues rely on video footage to not only show the deplorable conditions they find the animals in but also the importance of the immediate care and attention given to neglected and enslaved animals in great need.

The first time that Mark engaged in this form of activism was in the early 1990s. A womxn who worked at an egg producing factory where thousands of hens were crammed in small battery cages had told her about the deplorable conditions in which these birds lived. Mark recalls that this this womxn “talked about hens crammed 7 to 8 inside multiple tiers of small cages, row after row, located above what she described as an ‘enclosed manure pit.’” Through this conversation, Mark learned that “hens would somehow get out of their cages then fall down into this pit, where there was no food and water, and they would slowly starve to death.” While Mark’s informant attempted to offer some assistance to these bird by breaking eggs and throwing them down for them to eat, she reported that “some of the other workers would do target practice trying to shoot these feeble hens trapped down in this pit.”

This horrific story haunted Mark, and a friend of hers, a womxn named Diana Simpson, offered to take a video camera in to the facility at night to obtain footage of these conditions. Mark will never forget the impact that this footage had on her, how:

Diana’s bravery (and filming skills) will never leave my mind. The footage she brought to me will also never leave my mind. There in front of me, clear and painfully sharp, were dead and dying hens sinking in their own feces; hens with their combs drooped over their eyes unable to hold their heads up waiting to die; piles of dead birds sinking into a liquid slush of feces where a water source from above had been leaking. They had obviously tried very hard to get a drink. It was beyond heartbreaking, it was beyond unjust.

Seeing this footage galvanized Mark who immediately began making plans to rescue the hens in this facility. She knew that turning the footage over to the authorities and imploring them to investigate on the grounds of cruelty and neglect would not help the hens as she had tried this too many times before. Instead, she “had an overwhelming gut reaction to go there myself, to hold them, help them, give them some water.” She began to organize a “rescue mission,” and part of this process involved talking to “a trusted media contact who offered to send a camera crew and reporter along.” Mark was excited by the potential of having this mission documented and, as she recalls, “it didn’t cross my mind for our action to be clandestine, only to somehow get ourselves in there safely so we could help as many hens as possible, to document conditions so people would become aware of what was happening and to openly identify ourselves while doing what needed to be done.” This first “open rescue” made the national news in Australia as a story titled “The Dungeons of Alpine Poultry.” This set the course for many more rescue operations of this nature in the subsequent decades.

Mark points to the “teamwork” aspect of open rescues, and how in this model a number of people come together to help animals who are in desperate need of a compassionate intervention. In addition to directly and immediately helping to improve the lives and wellbeing of the animals in these facilities, open rescue operations also help to “document the appalling conditions that billions of animals are forced to endure.” Further, the presence and visibility of rescuers in the footage helps to change the dialogue about animal liberation. As Mark notes, “by standing strongly right there with these animals we are openly acknowledging for all to see that what is happening to them is wrong and needs to stop.” In other words, in the open rescue model of animal liberation the idea of the activists as being the ones in the wrong is turned on its head. Instead, people are left asking questions about a system that permits such suffering to happen in the first place and which castigates those people reaching out to give immediate aid to sick and dying individuals who were left unattended.

Mark has been described as “fierce and fearless” in her efforts to make the world a better place for animals. She has been fined and arrested numerous times for her role in open rescues, but this does not deter her. She refuses to pay these fines on “ethical grounds,” noting that if she receives a parking ticket she pays it immediately, but that “there is something very strong inside me that balks at paying a fine for what is simply taking an ill, crippled or stressed individual for medical treatment and/or freedom.” She acknowledges that “it can be stressful being arrested and it’s definitely not something we want to happen, but it’s nothing compared to what the animals we are being arrested for are going through.” When talking about these arrests Mark points out that these experiences “only served to strengthen my resolve to keep working to free the animals because you really get a taste (albeit short) of what they are going through when you are locked up and can’t do what you want to do.”

Patty Mark being arrested for her activism c.1980. This image was published in Animal Liberation Victoria's magazine in 1993 (photo supplied by Animal Liberation Victoria)

Patty Mark being arrested for her activism c.1980. This image was published in Animal Liberation Victoria’s magazine in 1993 (photo supplied by Animal Liberation Victoria)

Mark is acutely aware of the scale of suffering and is haunted by thoughts of all the animals the ALV have not been able to save, the ones “we have to leave behind.” While she cannot forget these animals, she does not allow herself to be overwhelmed by sadness or despair. It is almost as if the memory of those she could not help pushes her forward and drives her to work even harder for those who still have a chance. Mark works tirelessly to make a difference and is singularly focused on helping animals—every decision she makes is based on how her actions will best help support her drive to help animals in need.

Mark’s mission to help animals began in the early 1970s. Like many people, she had considered herself to “love animals” but did not stop to think about the fact that so many of them suffer and are killed for food production. This all changed in 1974 when she saw a goat’s head in a cauldron of soup during an 18 month bicycle tour of Europe and Asia on her way to Australia. This sight caused her to become vegetarian immediately (17 years later she went vegan), and also forced her to reflect on the horrific ways in which so many animals are treated and the fact that animals have their own wants, needs, desires, and feelings that so often go ignored in favour of human wants, needs, desires, and feelings. Prior to this, the notion of “animals possessing autonomy” had never crossed her mind—“this was something I don’t recall ever being discussed or considered,” she notes. This realization changed when her husband brought Animal Liberation by Peter Singer home from the library. Mark credits this book with informing her about what was happening to animals on a grand scale. She states, “I had to repeatedly put the book down as finding out the truth and its enormity was too upsetting.” But it was many years later after she came across the writings of Gary Francione that her mind was opened to what animals needed most—abolition of animal use and abolishing the property status of animals.

Shortly after reading Singer’s book Mark founded Animal Liberation Victoria (ALV) and set about finding like-minded people to join her efforts to change the world for animals. She posted a notice containing the words “Help the Hens” in big, bold letters in a local shop, and on the 7th of December 1978, the first ALV meeting took place in Mark’s house. Seventeen people were in attendance at that now-historic meeting, and the focus of that evening’s discussions was on finding ways to abolish battery cages. Mark knew that changes like this would not happen overnight—“I remember telling this meeting that we had to be patient, that it may take us two years” to achieve this goal. In Australia the fight to ban battery cages continues to the present day, but Mark and ALV now don’t focus only on caged hens but on animal agriculture in all its forms. ALV and Mark are at times marginalised for their strong abolitionist stance, but they are not deterred by seemingly slow progress and they continue to work steadily to ensure a strong foundation for a successful animal movement.

Right from the earliest days of the organization ALV members gave talks at schools and public events, organized protests and marches, circulated petitions, and distributed countless leaflets outlining the reality of life and death for farmed animals. Mark and the other members of ALV made a conscious decision to focus their efforts on farmed animals because there was so little attention paid to their plight. As Mark recalls, “there was no Internet or Facebook at this time, and images of animal abuse inside animal agriculture were rare.” Mark and her colleagues at ALV felt that they “struck gold” when they were able to obtain images showing the deplorable conditions farmed animals faced and were convinced that “once we printed these images, for instance a featherless hen in a battery cage, onto a leaflet or a huge placard this horror would be banned immediately.” While they were dismayed to discover that this was not the case, Mark and her fellow advocates continued to work tirelessly to educate and raise awareness about the realities of life (and death) for the animals who are raised for food. Through the addition of “open rescues” in 1993 they were able to begin making a difference for the individual animals, something they felt was tremendously important for activists to do.

For years Mark’s home was also the headquarters of the ALV, and it was a place bursting with upbeat energy. Volunteers and staff bustled about, while rescued animals enjoyed their newfound freedom and all of the comforts that came with their new lives in a safe, loving environment. For example, visitors recall how sheep curiously walked inside the house, keeping a hopeful eye on the snacks that had been set out for the staff and volunteers. Mark’s son Noah is now the President of Animal Liberation Victoria, and under his direction this organization continues to “be strong in its mission statement of supporting animal rights, abolition, and veganism.”

Mark is a trailblazer in the world of animal liberation and has, no doubt, inspired many people with her work. She is, however, quick to acknowledge the work of people like artist Sue Coe who she met in 1999 and who remains a huge inspiration to her. She also has high words of praise for Emily Moran Barwick of Bite Size Vegan, and Joanna Lucas of Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary, activists who use their time and talents to bring the message of veganism and animal liberation to so many. Mark is also deeply inspired by the bravery, advocacy, and life of Jill Phipps, a British activist who was killed while attempting to stop a truck carrying veal calves in 1995.

Katherine Meyer

Katherine Meyer

“Sometimes You Can Lose the Battle and Still Win The War”: Katherine Meyer’s Fight for Justice for Animals

Katherine Meyer (photo by Eric Glitzenstein)

Katherine Meyer (photo by Eric Glitzenstein)

Katherine Meyer is a leading figure in the field of animal law and a founding partner at Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks, a law firm based in Washington, D.C. She has spent a large percentage of her professional life fighting to make the world a better place for animals and to protect the environment, and I was eager to meet her and interview her for the Unbound Project. Earlier this year I was in Washington for a conference and Meyer graciously agreed to meet me while I was in town. While I was looking forward to chatting with her about her ground-breaking work in the field of animal law, I was somewhat intimidated to meet her in person – what would she be like?, I wondered. We had arranged to meet in a vegan-friendly coffee shop near my hotel. “I’ll be wearing pink rain boots,” she told me as we arranged our meeting. That detail made me relax a bit – Meyer may be a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom, but she also clearly had a playful side.

 

I need not have worried about meeting Meyer. She greeted me with a hug and warm smile, and we spent the next hour drinking soy lattes and talking about the many ways that the law can be an important avenue for animal protection. I learned, for example, about how it isn’t always necessary to create new laws to fight animal cruelty. Meyer is especially skilled at taking existing laws and figuring out how they can be used to creatively advocate for the protection of animals. As she pointed out, “we try to use existing laws to protect animals to the greatest extent possible.”

For example, Meyer’s firm figured out that they could use the existing Endangered Species Act in the United States as a way to help captive animals. Previously there had existed a loophole that exempted members of an endangered species who were in captivity—chimpanzees in zoos, for example, wouldn’t have been granted the same legal protections as chimpanzees in the wild. Meyer and her team petitioned the United States Fish & Wildlife Service to amend the existing law so that all members of an endangered species were treated the same way. This was a multi-year effort and they drew upon the knowledge and expertise of a coalition of chimpanzee experts to help build a rock-solid scientific and legal basis for their claims. In February 2010 the petition was submitted, and in 2015 the Fish & Wildlife Service granted the petition which declared that all chimpanzees are endangered and, as such, are to be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Knuckles, a chimpanzee rescued by the Centre for Great Apes.

Knuckles, a chimpanzee rescued by the Centre for Great Apes.

At times the existing laws that Meyer and her team work with have been on the books for many decades as some state animal cruelty codes date as far back as the 19th century. While some might not see historical legislation as having much relevance in our contemporary society, Meyer finds creative ways to use these long-standing codes to help make a difference for animals today. In fact, she used this tactic with one of the first animal law cases she was involved with, an effort to shut down an annual pigeon shoot in a small rural Pennsylvania town. This was an event in which thousands of pigeons who had been captured throughout the year were released and then shot by those participating in the event. Most of the birds were not instantly killed by the gunshots, rather they were mortally wounded and lay on the ground suffering and slowly dying for hours. Meyer and her team learned that at the end of the event little “trapper boys” went out in the fields to pick up the wounded animals. They got one of the leading pediatric psychologists in the nation to support their efforts to shut down the event by providing a statement about how this kind of activity was not good for a child’s well-being.

It was, however, the state cruelty code in Pennsylvania turned out to be the most important part of the fight to stop this annual pigeon shoot. This piece of legislation was written in the 19th century and it had a unique provision that permitted an agent of a humane society to get involved in order to “prevent an action.” In most states the cruelty codes only permit involvement by animal advocacy groups after the fact, so this was an important feature of the legal landscape in Pennsylvania and one that helped Meyer and her team strategize about how best to stop this event. They eventually partnered with the Pennsylvania SPCA, local humane agents, and the Fund for Animals in order to introduce a series of lawsuits to try and stop the pigeon shoot.

This was an uphill battle as the pigeon shoot had been happening for years and was a much-loved community event. When the case first went to court the presiding judge declared it as “frivolous” and threatened to sanction Meyer for bringing it forward. She was undeterred and took the case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court where she was given a unanimous ruling in her favor. This was a monumental win—for many years animal rights activists had been trying unsuccessfully to stop this pigeon hunt, but Meyer and her team succeeded because they knew how to use statutes and apply existing law to the situation. They conducted extensive research in preparation for the case, including gathering data on the number of birds who were wounded instead of killed outright during the event. This allowed them to draw on existing case law specific to the treatment of wounded animals. In this case and in all subsequent animal law cases Meyer has worked on, she insists that her team take the time to plot out a strategy that involves “moving the law in the direction you need it to move.”

At this point in our conversation, Meyer stopped to stress that “sometimes you can lose the battle and win the war.” What she meant here is that often she knows that the cases she takes on will be difficult to win, but she takes them on anyhow in the hopes that the public education that inevitably occurs as a result of such cases will help change broader conversations about how animals should be treated in our contemporary society.

One such example was when Meyer brought a case against Feld Entertainment in an attempt to get Asian elephants removed from the Ringling Brothers circus acts. This became a massive lawsuit that played out over many years. There were many “highs and lows” throughout the process. Many of the world’s leading elephant experts became part of the team (most of whom worked pro bono), and the case eventually got to trial. Meyer was proud of the effort that this team put together—she called it a “great case”—but, in the end, the judge ruled against them on “standing” —he held that none of the plaintiffs in the case had enough of a “personal” stake in the outcome to provide the court with subject matter jurisdiction. As a consequence, the judge did not decide the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims, including whether the use of bullhooks and chaining of the animals violated the Endangered Species Act. This was a “heartbreaking” loss for Meyer, one that was compounded by the fact that Feld Entertainment brought retaliatory action against Meyer and her team.

However, all was not lost. This lawsuit drew sustained attention to the systematic abuse of animals in circus acts. The facts of the case and particularly the evidence adduced at the six-week trial held in the case were presented through major media outlets, including previously hidden details drawn from internal documents. The testimony in which employees admitted that elephants were beaten with bullhooks was particularly damning and served as an important catalyst for larger conversations. The attention this case received in the media led to widespread concern about the treatment of elephants in circus acts which, in turn, ushered in a number of instances of individual jurisdictions banning the use of bullhooks and paying closer attention to the ways in which animals were treated in these kinds of ventures.

Feld Entertainment recently announced that, after 150 years of the elephants being the symbol of the circus, it was “retiring” all elephants from their circus performances, which it just did in May 2016. During the legal battles representatives from Feld Entertainment testified that a circus could not exist without elephants, but they have since changed their tune. This is, no doubt, in large part to the increased public awareness about the treatment of elephants in circus acts as a result of the case that Meyer brought forward. Of this shift she remarked that “we may have technically lost the case, but it was worth it in the end. There will be no more baby elephants forced to endure the training and grueling treatment needed to make these wild animals perform ‘tricks’ in a circus. Now we need to get the elephants taken out of the circus to legitimate sanctuaries.”

An elephant performing in a circus act.

An elephant performing in a circus act.

When Meyer first started practicing law, “animal law” as we now know it did not exist. She began her professional career doing advocacy work for humans, and it was in this capacity that she learned how to think strategically about the law. She has always loved animals and has long felt a deep emotional connection with them. She fondly recalls the many cats and dogs who shared her home as she was growing up, including a Boxer named April who had a special place in her heart. She also remembers how uncomfortable she felt during class trips to the zoo—instead of enjoying herself, she left feeling sad. Thanks to the developments in the field of animal law in recent years, she is now able to combine that love of animals with her professional work.

In 1993 Meyer and her husband (Eric Glitzenstein) started their own firm which focused on environmental law and wildlife protection. Before too long before animal rights organizations began to contact Meyer & Glitzenstein (now Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks) to seek assistance with prosecuting perpetrators of animal cruelty, including federal and state agencies that were taking actions adverse to wildlife. These organizations who had contacted Meyer & Glitzenstein for help had rarely dealt with this form of animal advocacy before, but, as Meyer recalls, “these were people with good ideas and urgent matters.” Meyer and Glitzenstein worked with these organizations to figure out which legal strategies would make the most sense in each individual case. At times these strategies were successful and resulted in a victory in court, but often this was not the case. However, even when they did not win in court, Meyer always felt like progress had been made—“even just pursuing a meritorious case is useful as it furthers education on the topic. The more this happens, the more the public learns, and the more it becomes politically incorrect to mistreat animals and ignore the needs of wildlife.”

Dr. Theodora Capaldo, the President and Executive Director of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society deeply admires Meyer’s work and describes her as someone who “will not back down from hard cases.” Capaldo especially praises Meyer’s ability to “find a way through complex scenarios.”

Meyer works hard and has incredibly high standards, something she and Mr. Glitzenstein demand from the entire team at Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks. When the firm decides to bring a case forward it will always have been meticulously thought-out and planned. “We try not to let a brief go out the door with so much as a typo in it,” Meyer stresses, “we are up against the federal government and extremely prestigious corporate law firms, and our work needs to be of the highest caliber for us to have any chance of being successful in court.” Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks has developed a reputation as a firm that doesn’t “make idle threats about bringing law suits to vindicate the rights of animals,” and their opponents take them seriously in court. This has been incredibly important as the fields of environmental and animal law developed. As is often the case with emerging areas of knowledge, initially there were many who were skeptical about the legitimacy of these areas of practice, so Meyer knew just how crucial it was to always demonstrate their diligence and professionalism, to force people to take these cases as seriously as they would in any other sub-field of the law.

While many of the cases that Meyer has been involved in have been instrumental in shifting both policy and popular perception when it comes to the treatment of animals, she is quick to point out that successful advocacy happens on a number of different levels. “Every single part of advocacy counts,” she stresses, “it all adds up to public education, and public education is the most important element. It is the only way that things will change.” She points to films like Blackfish and The Cove as important aspects of animal advocacy because they reach a broad audience. She also sees humane education as being a very important avenue through which to continue to make the world a better place for animals–“teachers are so important, and kids have a natural inclination to love animals.”

Meyer also feels that it is important for animal rights groups and environmental groups to find more common ground. In many of her cases she ends up working with both environmental and animal organizations as co-plaintiffs, and because of this is keenly aware of how important it is to bridge the gaps that can exist between these two forms of advocacy work. She acknowledges that this is not always easy, but that it is an incredibly important goal. She sees “habitat protection as an animal rights issue” and, likewise, feels that environmental groups need to “understand that protecting wildlife is protecting the ecosystem. It isn’t just about protecting the land, but also about protecting the animals who live there.”

Meyer is now a leading figure in animal law, and has served as a mentor for many law clerks, interns, and associates who have worked with her. She finds it very rewarding to see so many of the people she has mentored branching out and finding success in this field, including some that she has nominated to be featured in the Unbound Project. For example, she points to Delcianna Winders the first fellow in animal law at Harvard Law School, and someone that Meyer refers to as a “wonderful, smart, and courageous lawyer.” She also was quick to praise the work of Amy Atwood and Tanya Sanerib who are both attorneys for the Centre for Biological Diversity, an organization that Meyer describes as “one of the most aggressive, effective, environmental groups in the country.” Meyer has been especially impressed by Atwood and Sanerib’s “amazing energy, intelligence and work ethic.” She also has high praise for the firm’s former associate, Michelle Sinnott, who served as the paralegal for the Ringling Brothers trial and is now an attorney with the prestigious environmental group Trustees for Alaska.

Meyer’s advice for young people who want to help make a difference for animals is to “follow your passion, and to be bold about following your passion.” Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks receives many resumes each year, and what Meyer looks for as she reads through these documents is evidence of applicants who clearly demonstrate commitment to the causes they most care about. For Meyer, things like grades are far less important than volunteer work and involvement with grassroots issues and campaigns.

Katherine Meyer with Parker, her grand-dog. (photo by Eric Glitzenstein)

Katherine Meyer with Parker, her grand-dog. (photo by Eric Glitzenstein)

One of the most important guiding principles in Meyer’s professional and personal life is “one step at a time.” Every case is treated like a new opportunity to continue to chip away at the systemic and deeply entrenched ways that animals are abused and exploited in our contemporary world. At the same time, however, Meyer has a lot of institutional knowledge and frequently remembers “the genesis of many of these issues in animal law as well as how it evolved.” In the more than 27 years since she has been practicing animal law she has learned so much, and each of her cases is helping to reform dominant ideas about how animals should be treated. Her work has helped countless animals and we truly admire the tenacity and fortitude she brings to each and every one of her cases.