Law School News

South Texas College of Law Houston Launches Texas’ First and Only Animal Law Clinic

South Texas College of Law Houston (STCL Houston) recently launched Texas’ first and only Animal Law Clinic (ALC) – the 19th specialized clinic of the school’s onsite Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics.

STCL Houston’s Animal Law Clinic serves as a resource for students, professors, attorneys, organizations, media, and individual clients on animal rights law and advocacy. The ALC assists organizations and attorneys involved in animal protection litigation, legislation, and policy work.

Under the guidance of South Texas faculty members and ALC staff attorneys, second- and third-year law students research and analyze developments in animal protection law. Although the ALC focuses on animal protection issues of the Texas and Gulf Coast region, clinic attorneys and students maintain close connections with national and international animal welfare organizations.

As the initial outreach of the ALC, the law students and faculty directors are creating a comprehensive disaster readiness manual in response to the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey on area animals. The manual will set out specific protocols and best practices for animal protection before, during, and after catastrophic events.

“Students in the ALC are developing lifelong skills in legal research, legislative and transactional drafting, persuasive advocacy, and effective client collaboration in the context of their passion for animal welfare in our local community and beyond,” said Elizabeth Dennis, co-director of the ALC and STCL Houston faculty member. “As they begin their law practices, they will draw on these skills daily, and also work to ensure the protection of vulnerable animals through pro bono or other representation.

“Our aim is to create a resource for Houston, for Texas, and perhaps the nation,” said Dennis.

Student members of STCL Houston’s Animal Law Society will provide hands-on support to the school’s newest clinic.

“I became involved with the Animal Law Clinic at STCL Houston because it is a very unique opportunity our school has to offer, in addition to my interest in animal law advocacy,” said Nikki Lapine, third-year STCL Houston student and Animal Law Clinic intern. “There are a multitude of legal issues that surround animals, but unlike humans, they do not have a voice or the ability to advocate for themselves. I have a particular interest in finding a solution to the jurisdictional and property rights conflicts regarding animal law in Texas, and I am focusing my research in that area to help create a comprehensive disaster readiness manual for animals during crises such as Hurricane Harvey.”

Catherine Greene Burnett, vice president, associate dean, and professor of law at STCL Houston, noted, “Animal law intersects with many other legal fields, as pets are considered key family members for many in our community. Interns in our Animal Law Clinic likely will interact with clients in the school’s Family Law Clinics, Estate Planning Clinic, Domestic Violence Clinic, and Immigration Clinic, among others, as they seek justice for clients and their families.”

Attorneys interested in animal law have numerous opportunities to incorporate the field into their own practices. State, federal, local, and international laws all contain provisions regulating or impacting animals of all kinds.

Similarly, animal law overlaps with many traditional areas of the law such as family law, torts, criminal, wills and trusts, constitutional, and property law. Animal law is rooted in the practical application of statutes, regulations, and case law. Animal law also explores legal theory, philosophy, and jurisprudence. Fundamental questions about the nature of a legal right or interest, how laws create or establish power imbalances, and how those imbalances impact animals are explored.

Salise Shuttlesworth, STCL Houston adjunct professor, and executive director of Friends for Life Animal Shelter & Sanctuary in the Heights added, “We are delighted and honored to work with South Texas College of Law Houston on its new Animal Law Clinic. To be able to have the time, resources, and remarkable young legal minds to take a fresh and in-depth look at issues related to animals will be a game changer in achieving lasting progress for animals in Houston and in Texas.”

The ribbon cutting for STCL Houston’s new Animal Law Clinic featured a silent auction, with proceeds benefitting the ALC; rescue dogs from Houston-area shelters; and Friends for Life Animal Shelter & Sanctuary’s Mobile Adoption Vehicle filled with rescue animals looking for good homes. Guests also had the opportunity to purchase a “Catherine and Little Jake” reading gift set – including a children’s book authored by Pat Guter, a local animal rights attorney and wife of STCL Houston President and Dean Donald J. Guter. The gift set included plush “Catherine” and “Little Jake” stuffed toy kittens in a decorative crate, offered for a tax-deductible donation of $50 to benefit the Animal Law Clinic.

Get your own “Catherine and Little Jake” reading gift set here.


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