MSBA Creates Animal Law Section
Animal law is now a
popular area of law practice, and the number of practitioners in this field in
Maryland and across the country continues to climb. Responding to this trend,
MSBA created an Animal Law Committee catering to the special needs of these
practitioners in September 2005. This Committee attracted so many interested
attorneys – 122 in just eight months – that it became a MSBA Section last
June. MSBA members approved the MSBA Animal Law Section at the 2006 MSBA Annual
Meeting and the Association's newest Section is now 160 members strong.
Today, more than 100
million households have at least one indoor domestic pet, and many have two or
more, including 65+ million dogs and 77+ millions cats. Plus, there is a large
number of domestic animals that are classified as companions or service animals.
Maryland has a large horse population, too, as the state is renowned for the
breeding and racing of horses. In addition, animals reside on farms and
pastures, in zoos and exotic parks and natural habitats across this country,
some protected as endangered species.
Americans now spend
billions of dollars on animals every year. The pet industry alone has become a
huge multi-million dollar enterprise in this country. The American Pet Products
Manufacturers Association estimates that Americans will spend roughly $38.4
billion on their pets this year, with $2.7 billion alone going to boarding and
grooming. Animals are an integral part of our culture and, as the public's
interest in animals grows, so does their status in our legal system.
"Animals are slowly
gaining status as something more than property in Maryland and across the
country," asserts Alan S. Nemeth, Chair of MSBA's Animal Law Section. "Pets
affect families and communities and, thus, the law."
Today's consumer is
increasingly encountering legal issues relating to human/animal interactions.
These include everything from the legality of estate planning for companion
animals, the changing liability standards and insurance coverage in dog-bite
cases, leash laws and compensation beyond fair market value when an animal is
killed, to veterinary malpractice, custody battles, public and private conflicts
about where an animal can be and competing interests of wild animals and urban,
farming and recreational land use.
"Animal law is not
limited to animal rights issues," stresses Nemeth. "There are a number of legal
issues that touch on pets, in such areas as family law, contracts, trusts,
torts, property, criminal and landlord/tenant law. Trusts and wills is one of
There are many states,
including Maryland, where animals have no legal standing in court; animals have
no legal rights. As Nemeth explains, "when a person creates a Pet Trust for the
care of an animal in Maryland, in the event of that person's death, that animal
is not considered a person, so it has no standing in court. Therefore, that
trust can be contested by a family member."
Pet trusts and pet
visitation rights in divorce cases are two big issues in animal law, although
Nemeth reports case law is emerging in a number of key areas relating to
animals. Veterinary medical malpractice, wildlife law and regulations (like the
recent black bear hunt), animal cruelty and protection laws and exotic animal
laws are all emerging issues.
As evidenced above,
Maryland attorneys are now tackling an array of animal-related issues, and
MSBA's new Animal Law Section will broaden the support services provided by the
former Committee to better assist MSBA members. In the last 11 months, this
group developed CLE programs and other practitioner resources and pursued animal
law legislation to advance the practice of animal law in Maryland.
Last fall, the Committee
was launched as a forum so animal law practitioners could network and draw
support from their colleagues, share their expertise in this unique area of
practice and exchange creative and interesting ways to use legal arguments in
the face of some of these increasingly complex scenarios. "We focused on
everything from the treatment of animals and the protections afforded animals to
the rights and responsibilities of people who have an interest in animals,"
The Committee was very
active on the legislative front during the 2006 session of the Maryland General
Assembly. It supported legislation prohibiting a person from inflicting
unnecessary suffering or pain on an animal, which passed into law, and backed
the creation of a pet trust care for animals, which passed the Senate but failed
in the House, due to a time crunch. The Section will pursue it again next year.
However, its "main goal
was to build members so it could become a Section," recalls Nemeth, who is
thrilled with MSBA Section status. "We are more solidified as an MSBA
substantive law Section," he declares. "It gives us credibility, stability and
"The MSBA is delighted
with the response and participation by our members in the creation and
development of the Animal Law Section," states Paul V. Carlin, MSBA's Executive
Director. "As we've done with other special practice areas, the MSBA wants to
assist in their evolution and be responsive to the interests of our members."
The new Section is
already hard at work on its bylaws and is creating a newsletter. In the coming
year, it plans to focus on pet domestic violence issues and prosecution of the
animal cruelty felony statute. It is also exploring the possibility of
establishing animal law clinics in Maryland's two law schools.
MSBA members interested
in joining the new Animal Law Section may sign-up for membership at