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Animal Law Practices Grow as 'Animal Companions' Gain Acceptance

The concept of animal companions, or pets as family members, is being taken seriously -- in legislation as well as in the courts.

Already growing animal law legal specialties include animal custody in divorces, estate planning for animals and prosecution for domestic violence against family pets. But if H.R. 3501 -- The Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years [HAPPY] Act -- makes it out of Congress this year, the IRS code would be amended to allow a deduction for pet-related expenses. Dog blogger Deanna Raeke reports that the bill, introduced by U.S. Representative Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., could provide up to $3,500 of tax relief. 

According to a 2006 Pew Research Center study, 85 percent of those with dogs and 78 percent with cats considered the animals "family members." No surprise then, the field of animal law is expanding rapidly. Because there are few precedents, each case can present intellectual challenges as well as a high profile for attorneys. And, it's a business that is growing, even during this legal downturn. Law firms have been establishing niche areas of expertise in animal law and solos are building whole practices based on it. In 2000, noted Lynne Marek in The National Law Journal, only nine law schools offered courses in that practice. Today, 110 do. The American Bar Association even has an Animal Law Committee.

What was once unthinkable, like the environmental and gay rights movements, can over time become thinkable. Those with animal family members could eventually win the right for pets to be included in their employer-funded medical benefits, paid bereavement days for pet loss and the end of landlord restrictions on leasing to those with animal companions. Is your practice ready?

Legal Blog Watch guest blogger Jane Genova is a communications consultant, journalist and a syndicated legal blogger at Law and More.

Posted by Jane Genova on September 2, 2009 at 10:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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