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  legislation > animal law


‘Animal law’ has only recently been acknowledged and accepted as an area of practice. It’s growing, but it needs lawyers who will devote their skill and time to animal issues.


The law hasn’t caught up with how we view animals

Consider recent issues: Companion animals dying from tainted pet food. Seniors wanting to establish pet trusts for care of their animals after they die. Pets, as family members, in divorce cases. Liability and insurance coverage for dog bites. Protection of animals when used as food or fiber within agricultural facilities. Protection of wildlife from poaching.

There are many animal issues that touch our lives, and require legal action.

To amend old laws or create new animal welfare legislation, Minnesota needs informed citizens, animal advocates and progressive State and local government. Minnesota also requires a legal system that accepts ‘animal law’ as a valid practice; lawyers who are educated and trained in animal-related legal issues; and judges who will listen and acknowledge the cultural changes towards animals.

Good contacts for further information about Animal Law are:


Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) and American Bar Association (ABA)

Companion animals, such as dogs and cats, are not valued (legally) as family members. Animals are defined as property with a minimum ‘property value’ (the price of a product). This status has created a legal system where lawyers and prosecutors have been reluctant to pursue animal cases. The cost often exceeds any gain, except on moral grounds.

Slowly, this attitude is starting to change.

As recent as June 2003, the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) created an Animal Law Committee. In June 2004, the MSBA granted the Animal Law Committee section status, making it an integral part of the association. In October 2004, the American Bar Association also created an Animal Law Committee as part of the Tort Trial and Insurance Practice (TIPS) Section.


Three types of law

There are three types of law: Statutory Law, Case Law and Administrative Law. This is important to know when making new laws or challenging current laws and decisions in Minnesota.

Statutory laws
Statutory laws are the laws debated and enacted by the legislature. These written laws are called Statutes. Federal or state legislators wanting to set policy for their country or state — for instance, prohibit people from committing egregious acts against people or animals — will enact Statutes.

Case Law (also known as judicial or decisional law)
Case laws are laws made by judges. Why is this important in regards to animals? Lawyers cite statutes or case law about a particular issue in order to help inform the judge about the issue and sway his or her decision.

Judges make their decisions based on judicial opinions already made; in other words, they find, review and interpret prior cases, existing statutes, or other legal authority which will give them guidance when making their decision.

In Minnesota, judges first look at laws or legal writings that exist in Minnesota. Next, they will turn to laws in neighboring states, with the assumption that ‘our neighbors’ are similar to us in how we live and behave. (This is why, for Minnesota, it’s important to pay attention to the animal-related statutes and case laws decided or enacted in Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and other regional states.) And lastly, when forming a decision, judges will look to other states or countries for laws or actions that may apply to Minnesota. 

Administrative (or regulatory) Law
Administrative law refers to the body of law that individual units of government, such as government boards or commissions, create and must follow. If the legislature passes a law, for instance, and delegates it to a particular agency to administer, that agency may define the ‘details’ of the law. Rulemaking is one example. If specific regulations are required for a law (and they weren’t included in the law), a government agency may be ordered to make those rules. 



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