New York state lawyers focus on four-legged friends

Sunday, July 21, 2002

ALBANY, N.Y. -- If it seems like the legal profession has gone to the dogs, you're not that far off.

In what animal rights groups have called "an important precedent," New York's lawyers have decided to focus on the "care and ethical treatment of our furry, feathered and reptilian friends."

The New York State Bar Association this week created a 15-member committee to examine animal legal issues, ranging from pet health insurance to landlord restrictions against animals to providing for pets in wills.

Association President Lorraine Power Tharp said the group "will be a very practical, problem-solving committee that will look at all sides of the issues."

Lawyers have long overlooked animal issues, said committee Chairwoman Beverly Poppell, a New York City lawyer who hatched the idea.

"Animals have been my friends since I was a child," said the Long Island resident, whose cocker spaniel, Toby, recently died of cancer at age 17. "He was an extraordinary individual. He happened to be a dog, but he was a great friend."

She hopes the committee can help people find new ways of settling pet and livestock disputes. She also wants to help law schools develop animal law courses.

"We will determine whether there are enough laws on the books or whether more are needed, but it's not a specific goal to push for more laws," Poppell said.

The group will hold its first, informal meeting within a couple weeks. It likely won't identify which animal topics to analyze until September, Poppell said.

"The big problem will be narrowing it down," she said. "It seems every day there's at least one story in our newspapers about animals as it pertains to the law."

Animal rights groups applaud the association.

"If other state bars have done this, we've not heard of it," said Martin Mersereau, cruelty case worker at the Virginia-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "The idea has not even occurred to us, but it's setting an important precedent, and we will urge others to follow suit."

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