A Closer Look: Animal Law 101

Kelly Levenda
Kelly Levenda

On this edition of A Closer Look, Animal Legal Defense Fund attorney Kelly Levenda gives us a basic introduction to Animal Law. Look for a follow up post soon on careers in animal law and how law students and lawyers can get involved in this fascinating field.

What is Animal Law?

Animal law is the field of law in which nonhuman animals or their interests are involved. It encompasses all types of animals, including companion animalswildlife, and animals used in entertainmentresearch, and raised for food. Animal law intersects with many other areas of the law, including administrative, criminal, trusts and estates, constitutional, contract, and family law.


Hot Topics & Current Issues in Animal Law

In the last few years, many states have attempted to pass ag gag laws, which criminalize exposing animal abuse on factory farms. The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and a broad-based public interest coalition are currently challenging the constitutionality of ag gag laws in Utah and Idaho as they infringe on the free speech rights of activists, investigators, and journalists.

Since the 2013 release of the documentary Blackfish, which critiqued SeaWorld’s imprisonment of orcas, large mammals who suffer in captivity, such as cetaceanstigers, and elephants, have come to the forefront of the public’s consciousness. Recently, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced it would retire its elephants by 2018, in part due to new local animal protection laws that ban the use of bullhooks, weapons used to control captive elephants through pain and fear. ALDF and a coalition of nonprofits have recently succeeded in achieving Endangered Species Act protections for Lolita, the oldest living captive orca. This means that, after decades of suffering in a pathetically small tank at the Miami Seaquarium, Lolita may be able to be transferred to a sea sanctuary, or even reunited with her pod!

Legal animal advocates have also seen some successes recently in banning some forms of intensive confinement of farmed animals. Animals who are intensively confined suffer severe mental distress and physical abuse. Most notably, Proposition 2 in California, which was passed in 2008 and came into effect in 2015, prohibits the intensive confinement of egg laying hens in battery cages, mother pigs in gestation crates, and calves raised for their meat in veal crates.

The Growth of Animal Law

The field of animal law has grown steadily over the past thirty years. For example, in 2000, only nine U.S. law schools had animal law courses, compared to 150 law schools in 2015. Additionally, student interest in animal law has ignited. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is the parent organization to the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF), which are law student organizations that share ALDF’s mission to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. In 2000, there were 12 SALDF chapters and currently there are 203 U.S. and international chapters.

There is even a law school that has its very own animal law program! The Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) was launched in 2008 by ALDF in collaboration with Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. CALS works to ensure animals’ interests are considered in the legal realm and provide the best education to the next generation of animal law attorneys. CALS offers almost thirty animal law courses and an LL.M. in animal law, the first advanced legal degree in this field. They also have a robust summer animal law program that’s great for visiting students.


  • For more information on current issues in animal law, check out ALDF’s current cases.
  • For a good overview of the expansion of the field of animal law, check out Science Magazine’sThe Rise of Animal Law.”
  • If you are interested in learning or teaching animal law, check out the casebook Animal Law Cases and Materials.


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