With increasing frequency, pet owners, breeders, animal activists, and other are turning to the legal system to settle disputes over animals and to protect the creatures. This has led the Florida Bar to recently approve an Animal Law Section, which goes into effect July 1. The Bar is encouraging attorneys to begin or continue developing their expertise in this area of law.
Gil Panzer is a family law attorney located in Boca Raton who helped create the new animal law section. “The animal law field is expanding rapidly,” Panzer said. “I think that’s because so many people are interested or involved with animals. About two-thirds of households today have pets, more than children.”
The new animal law section will replace the Florida Bar’s Animal Law Committee, which was created in 2004. Unlike committees, sections have the power to provide input on legislation, giving animal attorneys more pull over contested issues like puppy mill regulations, housing and public access rights for service or therapy animals, and negligence standards for groomers, veterinarians, and pet product manufacturers.
Tallahassee attorney Ralph DeMeo will chair the section. He believes that the section’s creation provides an opportunity to educate both Bar members and the general public on the role animal law plays in other areas of law and will prove how great the need for the new section is. According to DeMeo, more than 1,000 Bar members have indicated interest in joining the new section this summer.
South Florida’s animal activists are some of the section’s most avid supports. “It’s tremendous and long overdue,” said Michele Lazarow, a Hallandale beach commissioner who is passionate about banning “puppy mills” and similar large-scale breeding operations. “I think there is a paradigm shift away from animals being viewed as property, and I think it’s happening very quickly.” Lazarow added, “The section will be a tremendous help to advocates who need lawyers.”
Marcy LaHart is a former Palm Beach County attorney and is recognized as one of Florida’s first animal legal specialists. LaHart currently handles cases from around the state, and reports that most of her animal cases come from South Florida, “because that’s where the condos are.” The majority of LaHart’s clients are pet owners fighting to have companion animals under the Fair Housing Act.
People with service animals often have trouble when they go to public spaces or move to housing with condo or property associations. These pet owners, even those suffering from debilitating and limiting medical conditions, are often asked to prove their need for a service animal.
Right now, it is unlikely that a large number of attorneys will choose to exclusively represent animals and their owners, because the money isn’t there yet. But as Florida joins 17 other states with animal law sections, and the attitude toward animal rights evolves, the practicing of animal law holds future promise. For more information, [Click Here]