Thinking About Animal Law

Bruce Wagman

Lately, I have been thinking about animal law almost constantly.  That has been the case for some time actually.  I’ve had the honor of being involved in the field for about eighteen years at some level, and pretty much had a full time animal law practice for the last five years.  I’ve been talking about animal law, reading about it, going to conferences and meeting the leaders in the field, and I have been privileged to participate in the national moot court competitions and work on a wide variety of cases.  Since I work it, live it and breathe it, I am also always talking about it.  I spend significant time explaining what animal law is – to other lawyers, to clients and to friends.  Being forced to describe and define it in ways that others understand, and so that they can get an idea of the scope of the field, requires some distillation.  Because at this point the field is expansive and has a variety of sub-specialties.  There are many lawyers who incorporate animal law into their practice and focus almost exclusively on one specific area within the field — companion animals, farmed animals, wills and trusts.       Continue reading

Thinking About Chimpanzees

Bruce Wagman

Lately I have been thinking about chimpanzees.  I have been fascinated by them since one spit on me as a child, and then overwhelmed by my first visit to Gombe National Park in the months before I began practicing law, when I saw their natural lives, as perfect as anything I could have imagined.  At about the same time I began to become painfully aware of their treatment by humans.  I’ve never fully returned from those first views of the Gombe chimpanzees and (on the same trip) the Rwanda gorillas, in the sense that I have always felt since that point that something had gone seriously wrong on the planet, and that my species was responsible.  What I mean is things like gorilla-hand ashtrays and chimpanzees in biomedical research where they are tortured daily, by virtue of their confinement in tiny cages with no enrichment, no stimulation for their minds, lying on metal floors alone in frightening situations.  The contrast between Gombe and that reality make heaven and hell seem like adjoining bedroom communities of the same large city.

The accepted facts are that chimpanzees have the intellectual capacity of a three- to five-year old human and their emotional lives are at least as rich and vibrant as ours.  So imagine taking any intelligent three-, four- or five-year old human that you know and locking her up, alone, in a metal cage without a toy or book or parent or sibling or friend.  Imagine then some horrible monster comes in every once in awhile and sprays her down or drags her out of her cage to be anesthetized and then dumped back in her cage.  That horror of horrors – which is legally repeated thousands of times a day for thousands of chimpanzees – is a reality that leaves me gasping for breath, fighting back tears, and feeling like I would give my life to change theirs.   Continue reading