Thursday, May 26, 2011

Big ideas? and BIG ideas!

I made a New Year’s resolution that I was going to blog once a month. Well, umm… it’s almost June and this is my first post. If I blog two times a month from now until January 2012, can I claim success? The real question is, will I blog even a second time? I’m usually too busy with day-to-day Center business or pestering others for postings to actually write any of my own. So for now, let’s just call this an experiment.

It is quiet at the Law School these days. Spring semester is over and summer classes have yet to start. I find it to be a good time for reflection. For me, not only upon the last year but the last three I’ve spent working at the Center.

I moved to Portland in June of 2008, leaving my beloved Sonoran Desert quite literally behind in the dust. It was a leap of faith to say the least. A random job posting on Craigslist of all places started the journey north. The first time I visited Portland was to interview for that random job posting. The second time I visited was when I rolled into town along with Foxi Roxi, She-Ra, Chavo, Jebediah, and all of my worldly possessions and dreams to make a difference for animals in tow.

Those first few weeks, okay maybe months, at Lewis & Clark now seem surreal. I remember looking out the window of my then office overlooking Tryon Creek State Park. I was in awe of the big, green trees and the beautiful green ivy decadently hanging from the canopy and hugging the trees’ trunks. I’d always jokingly referred to Arizona as The Land of AZ but here in Portland I found myself in a real-life Emerald City. One can imagine my dismay when I learned the ivy I’d been admiring for weeks was Hedara helix or English Ivy, a horribly invasive specie slowly strangling the forest, determined to bring it down and destroy the homes of the many animals depending on it for safe haven. Sigh…. So much to learn.

And learn I have! It was a steep learning curve indeed but I was up for the challenge. Not only did I have a new job in a new city but the goals of our team were BIG to say the least. 2008 marked the start of the historic collaboration between Lewis & Clark and the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) via the Center. Lewis & Clark already had a great animal law program and a tremendous reputation as a leading environmental law school and wonderfully unique institution of higher learning. But now, we were striving to take the program to the next level. I am very proud to say, and I make no apologies about my lack of modesty, that we have achieved that goal.

The Animal Law Program at Lewis & Clark now boasts of more animal law courses than some schools might offer in an entire decade. Courses are taught by some of the biggest names in the field, folks whose works I’d read, lectures I’d listened to, and who I had generally admired for years prior to my northbound trek. Our visiting professors, much like our students, sometimes travel thousands upon thousands of miles to contribute to the enduring synergy. Our biggest events, The Animal Law Conference at Lewis & Clark and the National Animal Law Competitions, grew even more in popularity.

At the same time, incredible projects took root such as the symposia and forthcoming works addressing the outmoded use of animals in the toxicity testing of chemicals. (Visit our symposium webpage.) We wrote op-eds, like that about the lasting effects of abuse on Rose-Tu and perhaps Samudra at the Oregon Zoo, and we authored items like the amicus curiae brief we submitted in the U.S. Supreme Court case, U.S. v. Stevens, outlining why preventing animal cruelty is a compelling governmental interest.

Assistant Dean/Executive Director Pamela Frasch and Animal Law Clinic Director Kathy Hessler traveled thousands upon thousands of miles too. They authored or co-authored - well – I’ve lost count of how many articles and books on animal law! All of this in pursuit of furthering the field of animal law and our mission to ensure the interests of animals are always considered.

I have watched the field of animal law continue to develop in splendor. I believe that as a society we are starting to come to terms with the need to change how we view animals and our duty towards them. The time is ripe for increased dialogue and many are seizing the opportunity. Not just at law schools either; additional animal studies programs have sprung up at colleges too! Take for example, the Forum on Animal Rights directed by the magnetic Dr. Patricia McEachern and started by Mr. Bob Barker at his alma mater, Drury University. Or, the brand new animal studies program started by determined Lewis & Clark alumnus Sam Edwards ('95) at Green Mountain College. While the legal profession as a whole struggles, careers in animal law are only growing. The opportunities are ample and are emerging all around us, not just in random Craigslist ads anymore.

As I look back on the last three years, I feel good. When I look to the next three years, I feel even better. Truthfully, I can only imagine what new developments in animal law will materialize at Lewis & Clark (Animal Law LL.M.?!), not to mention beyond our Emerald City. There is much work to be done. After all, the law is slow to catch up, sometimes even to long-accepted social norms. There is still much for me and all of us to learn and almost endless gains to be made for animals. The continued support of ALDF, incredible colleagues like those in our award-winning Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program, visionary administrators like Dean Robert Klonoff, and of course the amazing students for whom we work so hard will foster positive change. In this, I have no doubt.

Soon, I will label my surreal musings of still-to-come successes on behalf of animals and those providing them a much-needed voice as simply real. Hell, I might even write a blog post about it.

Laura Handzel, J.D.
Assistant Director,
Center for Animal Law Studies

Pictured left: Photo of She-Ra by Juliya Lezhen

Pictured below: Foxi Roxi & Jebediah, the ever-watchful Chavo behind

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