The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

Animal Law in Florida: Here and Now

Featured Article

Photo of dog with stick on a beach The Florida Bar Animal Law Committee (ALC) is pleased to present this special issue of The Florida Bar Journal. While the Journal is no stranger to the subject and has published a number of articles in recent years,1 the growth in awareness of and interest in animal law from attorneys, law students, law schools, and the public has increased exponentially in recent years. Of course, the first question that is often asked by those who are unfamiliar with the ALC and animal law is “what is animal law?” The simplest definition that covers the breadth of the field is that animal law encompasses all legal matters involving nonhuman animals. Perhaps the more interesting question to ask is what sorts of issues fall under the umbrella of animal law. While the casual observer may think that animal law is limited to companion animals, there are specialized statutes, rules, and case law that apply not only to companion animals, but also animals used for food, animals used in research and entertainment, and wildlife. In fact, animal law is composed of a variety of substantive legal areas and touches upon almost every area of law. These include state and local regulations, dangerous dogs, domestic relations, landlord/tenant, condominium associations, international and historic animal protection laws, animal cruelty, pet trusts, entertainment and sports law, equine law, agricultural law, health law, and criminal law, among others. When one stops and thinks of the number of ways in which animals and humans interact, and how the law governs those interactions, the scope of the field is astounding.

Despite its wide expanse, the recognition of animal law as its own field of study does not have a long history.2 Groups like the ALC are a relatively new phenomenon. Here in Florida, it was just 10 years ago that a group of attorneys approached The Florida Bar with a proposal to create a committee dedicated to animal law. At the time, this fledgling area of practice was not well-known and the proposal faced some skepticism. It is noteworthy that in creating the ALC, Florida became one of the first states in the country to show a commitment to the study and dissemination of animal law.3

Prior to being considered its own area of the law, animal law was often treated as a subset of some other area of law. In fact, all traditional areas of law have some crossover with animal law. Environmental and land use attorneys frequently encounter legal issues involving wildlife and habitat. Family law attorneys are becoming increasingly familiar with issues involving custody disputes over family pets and the links between domestic violence against human and nonhuman animals. Criminal law attorneys prosecute and defend individuals charged with animal cruelty and neglect. Estates and trusts attorneys help clients prepare for the care and maintenance of pets after the clients are gone. Agricultural and equine lawyers provide advice to Florida’s animal-related industries. And administrative lawyers help administer and enforce regulations regarding food animals, veterinary medicine, wildlife protection, hunting, fishing, protection from zoonotic illnesses, and entertainment animals, just to name a few.

Unsurprisingly, many legal issues can be traced to the large amount of economic activity generated by human and animal interactions. Most people have heard reports on the amount of money Americans spend on the care and maintenance of their companion animals, but this spending is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the impact that animals have on our economy. Here in Florida, the amount of economic activity involving animals is staggering. The Florida Department of Agriculture’s Division of Animal Industry estimates Florida’s livestock inventory includes 26 million poultry, 1.5 million beef cattle, 500,000 horses, 140,000 dairy cattle, 100,000 swine, 30,000 goats, and 10,000 sheep.4 The equine industry alone generates $6.5 billion in economic impact on Florida’s gross domestic product and is the source of more than 72,000 jobs.5 Recreational hunting and fishing combined produce an estimated $8.7 billion in economic impact and the seafood industry’s impact is $5.6 billion.6 In 2006, sales associated with wildlife viewing in Florida were estimated at $3.1 billion and these activities provided over 51,000 jobs — nearly as many in-state jobs as Walt Disney World.7

With these numbers, it was natural that interesting legal issues would start to coalesce around the way the law treats animals, and in recent years, the pace of development has increased. As animal law has become more mainstream, the interest in it has grown exponentially. This interest is often driven by younger attorneys and law students, many of whom attended law school with an aim toward practicing in the area of animal law. There are more than 148 law schools in the U.S. that offer courses in animal law, including all of the major law schools in Florida.8 There are also five law review journals dedicated solely to animal law,9 and numerous others that include animal law as a component of their journals.10 While the ALC was a novelty 10 years ago, a majority of state bar associations now have animal law committees or sections.

Florida has also been involved in a substantial way in some of the major developments in constitutional animal law at the highest level. With regard to First Amendment free speech, the U.S. Supreme Court in Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993), held that the city of Hialeah’s ordinance targeted at the practice of animal sacrifice by the Santeria religion was unconstitutional. Seventeen years later, the Florida attorney general was the lead counsel for a group of 26 states that joined the United States in arguing that the ban on the sale of videos depicting animal cruelty should be upheld.11 Just last year, opinions in appeals from Florida provided clarification on when police use of drug-detecting dogs amounts to a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.12

Another indication of the increased significance of animal law in Florida is the number of new bills introduced into the Florida Legislature every year. For example, in the 2014 legislative session, more than 20 bills relating to animals were filed, including bills concerning greyhound decoupling, animal cruelty, service animals, sales of dogs and cats, public records for animal researchers at public research facilities, sales tax exemption for pet foods, and other animal welfare bills.

As animal law develops, the way the legal system treats animals is increasingly under scrutiny as well. Historically, animals have been treated the same as other personal property under the law. However, it is becoming more commonplace for this simplistic legal framework to be challenged. Damages in cases involving the loss of a companion animal have started to recognize the special value these animals have above their mere market value.13 Clients are more inclined to hire attorneys in disputes involving animal custody, with courts taking into account the animal’s best interest.14 The use of animals and fledgling recognition of some intrinsic value is coming in other areas as well. The National Institute of Health recently announced it was retiring most government-owned chimpanzees from biomedical research.15

Since its inception, the ALC has focused on expanding the practice of animal law and educating members of The Florida Bar and the public about this vibrant and exciting area of law. The ALC reaches out to members of The Florida Bar and other organizations through its subcommittees and has worked closely with the Administrative, Appellate Practice, City, County and Local Government, Environmental & Land Use Law, General Practice Solo and Small Firm, and Real Property, Probate and Trust Law sections of The Florida Bar, and the Young Lawyers Division.

A number of jurisdictions around the state have started using therapy animals in criminal cases involving child victims and in dependency cases with child witnesses. Photo by Wade Bishop.

The ALC has held a continuing legal education seminar at each annual Florida Bar Convention since 2004. Attendance of active licensed Florida lawyers has been high, and in two of the last three years, attendance at the seminars has been sold out. At these programs, the speakers have reflected the diversity of issues referenced herein, including informative topics in recent years like the BP oil spill’s impact on wildlife at the national, state, and local levels and practical training on the legal issues involved and litigating disputes between condominium associations and tenants on therapy and service animals. The ALC also publishes several informative newsletters throughout the year that cover areas as diverse as product defect litigation against pet food companies involved in pet deaths and urban farming.

A vivid example of the importance of animal law and the work of the ALC occurred recently when in response to an ALC Newsletter article on Key Deer, U.S. Congressman Joe Garcia (26th District) saw the article and reached out to the law student author to discuss how to implement her ideas for additional signage to protect Key Deer.16 Working with Congressman Garcia’s staff and local stakeholders, signs warning people not to feed Key Deer are now posted throughout the National Key Deer Refuge in Monroe County.17

The ALC also circulates other animal law materials to attorneys who have signed up to receive updates.18 In recent years, the ALC has devoted more time and efforts tracking the many bills in the Florida Legislature that address animal­-related issues. The ALC also now gives an award to a Florida attorney and to a law student enrolled or recently graduated from a Florida law school, who have made outstanding contributions to animal law.

The ALC is particularly pleased about its prospects for becoming a dedicated section of The Florida Bar. This year the ALC has made great progress toward this goal. The ALC’s petition drive to gather the signatures required to support section status has been a success; we have exceeded our goal and obtained the signatures of over 1,000 active members of The Florida Bar.

Finally, animals have also made their legal stature more readily known in a very direct way — by appearing in Florida courtrooms in cases involving children. A number of jurisdictions around the state have started using therapy animals in criminal cases involving child victims and in dependency cases with child witnesses. The ALC, in conjunction with officials from the Second Judicial Circuit and from Florida Courthouse Therapy Dogs, have been spreading the word about this practice and providing resources to those who are interested in starting similar programs in their jurisdictions.19

In this special issue, the ALC has attempted to identify animal law issues that would be of interest to a variety of law practices. While the articles herein are not meant to be an exhaustive representation of all the areas of animal law, they do reflect its broad scope. This includes articles on animal cruelty by Jan McDonald, integrated animal court by Sarah Taitt and Susanne Suiter, estate planning and pet trusts by Margaret Hoyt and Sarah AuMiller, dog bite law by Phyllis Coleman, and equine law by Renee Thompson and Amanda Simmons. We hope that Florida lawyers and the general public will benefit from these articles and from becoming more familiar with the exciting field of animal law.

Features in Special Issue:

Can You Trust Your Pet? A Primer on Florida Pet Trustsby Margaret R. Hoyt and Sarah S. AuMiller

Taking Notice of Florida’s Antiquated Equine Lien Lawsby Amanda Simmons Luby and Renée E. Thompson

Integrated Animal Court: A Better Fit for Animal Law Cases in Floridaby Susanne M. Suiter and Sarah Rissman Taitt

Dog Bites Human: Why Florida Lawyers Should Care and What They Need to Knowby Phyllis Coleman

Defending Those Who Cannot Speak: Civil and Criminal Prosecution of Animal Abuseby Janet A. McDonald

1 See, e.g., Michael T. Olexa, et al. , A Horse Is a Horse (of Course, of Course) But Is It Agriculture? Whether Ranches Dedicated to Abused, Abandoned, and Aging Horses Qualify for “Agricultural” Classifications Under Florida’s Greenbelt Law, 86 Fla. B. J. 10 (Feb. 2012); Susan Roeder Martin, Continued Protection of the Bald Eagle After Delisting, 82 Fla. B. J (July/Aug 2008); Damian C. Adams, et al. , Udder Nonsense? The Emerging Issue of Raw Milk Sales in Florida, Parts I & II: Regulation & Legal Liability, 82 Fla. B. J 75 (Oct. 2008); Darin I. Zenov & Barbara Ruiz-Gonzalez, Trusts for Pets, 79 Fla. B. J. 22 (Dec. 2005); Craig I. Scheiner, Crimes Against Nonhuman Animals and Florida’s Courts: 1889-2001, 75 Fla. B. J 52 (Nov. 2001); Elizabeth R. Blandon , Reasonable Accommodation or Nuisance? Service Animals for the Disabled, 75 Fla. B. J. 12 (Mar. 2001); Marc A. Wites, Back in the Saddle Again: An Analysis of Florida’s Equine Immunity Act, 71 Fla. B. J. 18 (Nov. 1997).

2 For a more in-depth examination of the history of the development of animal law, see Joyce Tischler, The History of Animal Law, Part I (1972-1987), 1 Stan. J. Animal L. & Pol’y (2008); Joyce Tischler, A Brief History of Animal Law, Part II ( 1985-2011), 5 Stan. J. Animal L. & Pol’y 27 (2012).

3 When the organizers of the Animal Law Committee filed their application with the Bar, there were just six states with some type of official animal law section or committee affiliated with their state bar organization. See Amended Application to the Florida Bar Board of Governors for Approval of Formation of an Animal Law Committee, available at  /TFB/TFBResources.nsf/Attachments/1C62E0A7E0F640E785256FB8007B242F/$FILE/Animal%20Law%20Committee%20Proposal7.29.04.pdf?OpenElement. Today, there are more than 26 such organizations. See Animal Legal Defense Fund, List of Bar Association Animal Law Sections and Committees, http://aldf.org/resources/law-professional-law-student-resources/law-professionals/bar-association-animal-law-sections-and-committees.

4 Statistics provided by the Fla. Dep’t of Ag. and Consumer Servs., Division of Animial Industry, http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Animal-Industry.

5 See Fla. Dep’t of Ag. and Consumer Servs., The Florida Horse Industry, available at http://www.freshfromflorida.com/content/download/17160/272479/P-01377.pdf.

6 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Economics of Fish and Wildlife Recreation, Seafood and Boating, available at http://myfwc.com/media/1313374/EconomicsOfFishAndWildlifeRecJan2011.pdf.

7 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, The 2006 Economic Benefits of Wildlife-Viewing Recreation in Florida, (Feb. 27, 2008), available at http://floridabirdingtrail.com/images/pages/wv_economics_report.pdf.

8 See Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Law Courses, http://aldf.org/resources/law-professional-law-student-resources/law-students-saldf-chapters/animal-law-courses/. This trend among young lawyers has also been apparent in the membership of the ALC. A third of the members of the committee are also members of The Florida Bar’s Young Lawyers Division.

9 Animal Law Review (Lewis and Clark College); Journal of Animal Law (Michigan State University); Journal of Animal Law and Ethics (University of Pennsylvania); Stanford Journal of Animal Law and Policy (Stanford University); and Journal of Animal and Environmental Law (University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law).

10 See, e.g., Kentucky Journal of Equine, Agriculture & Natural Resources Law (University of Kentucky College of Law).

11 United States v. Stevens, 559 U.S. 460 (2010).

12 State of Florida v. Jardines, 133 S. Ct. 1409 (2013); State of Florida v. Harris, 133 S. Ct. 1050 (2013).

13 See Matthew Liebman, Damages in Companion Animal Cases, Florida Bar Animal Law Committee Animal Law Newsletter (Spring 2009). All of the ALC’s past newsletters are available at The Florida Bar’s website at the ALC’s webpage, /tfb/TFBComm.nsf/6b07501281c8e567852570000072a0b9/75596148fbf58b2085257440005e153d!OpenDocument.

14 Cameron Saucier, Pets Increasingly at Center of Divorce Battles, USA Today, Aug. 24, 2014 (citing to the opinion in Raymond v. Lachmann, 264 AD 2d 340 (NY App. Div. 1999), which recognized the “cherished status accorded to pets in our society” and the need to decide such custody disputes in the best interest of all concerned, including the pet).

15 See National Institutes of Health, NIH to Reduce Significantly the use of Chimpanzees in Research (June 26, 2013), available at http://www.nih.gov/news/health/jun2013/od-26.htm.

16 See Yanae Barroso, The Florida Keys Key Deer, Florida Bar Animal Law Committee Animal Law Newsletter (Winter 2012).

17 See Key Deer Update, Florida Bar Animal Law Committee Animal Law Newsletter (Winter 2014).

18 Interested individuals should contact ALC Vice Chairs Gregg Morton at [email protected] or Gil Panzer at [email protected] to be added to the ALC mail list. Questions or comments also may be directed to ALC Chair Ralph DeMeo at [email protected] or ALC Vice Chair Jennifer Dietz at [email protected]

19 See Susan Mitchell, Stephanie Perkins & Chuck Mitchell, Second Judicial Circuit Courthouse Therapy Dogs, Florida Bar Animal Law Committee Animal Law Newsletter (Winter 2014); Jan Pudlow, ‘Low-tech and High-touch’: Pet Therapy in the Courts is a New Tool for Victims, Fla. B. News, March 15, 2010. For more information about the use of therapy animals in courts, see Florida Courthouse Therapy Dogs, http://www.flcourtdogs.com.

Ralph A. DeMeo is a shareholder in Tallahassee’s Hopping Green & Sams, LLC, practicing environmental, land use, real estate, and animal law. His B.A. and M.A. are from Stetson University and J.D. from FSU. He is the present chair of The Florida Bar Animal Law Committee, and past chair of the Environmental and Land Use Law Section and Journal and News Editorial Board. He is the founder and a board member of Pets Ad Litem.

Gregg Morton works in Tallahassee as a hearing officer with the Public Employees Relations Commission.  He is a past chair and current vice chair of The Florida Bar’s Animal Law Committee. In 2013, he received The Florida Bar Animal Law Committee’s Outstanding Service Award for contributions to the field of animal law in Florida.

Special Issue Editors : Sarah Taitt (vice chair of ALC and chair of ALC’s publications and website subcommittee); Tim Martin (past chair ALC’s CLE subcommittee); Fran Toomey (ALC’s liaison to the Appellate Practice Section); Ralph DeMeo (chair of ALC); and Gregg Morton (vice chair of ALC).