Animal law issues encompass a broad spectrum of approaches – from philosophical explorations of the rights of animals to pragmatic discussions about the rights of those who use animals, who has standing to sue when an animal is harmed in a way that violates the law, and what constitutes legal cruelty. Animal law permeates and affects most traditional areas of the law – including tort, contract, criminal and constitutional law. Examples of this intersection include:animal custody disputes in divorce or separations
veterinary malpractice cases
housing disputes involving "no pets" policies and discrimination laws
damages cases involving the wrongful death or injury to a companion animal
enforceable trusts for companions being adopted by states across the country
criminal law encompassing domestic violence × and anti-cruelty laws
A growing number of state and local bar associations now have animal law committees. The Animal Legal Defense Fund was founded by attorney Joyce Tischler in 1979 as the first organization dedicated to promoting the field of animal law and using the law to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals.
In the Swiss canton of Zurich an animal lawyer, Antoine Goetschel, was employed by the canton government to represent the interests of animals in animal cruelty cases from 2007 to 31 December 2010, when the Zurich Animal Advocate position was abolished. In this capacity, Goetschel attempted to ensure that Swiss animal protection laws, which are among the strictest in the world, were correctly enforced.
Animal law has been taught in at least 119 law schools in the US, including Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Northwestern, University of Michigan, Georgetown, Duke, and Lewis & Clark and is currently taught in at least 117 schools. Animal law is also currently taught in seven law schools in Canada. In the US there are Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) chapters in 132 law schools, with an additional seven chapters in Canada. SALDF chapters are student groups that are affiliated with the Animal Legal Defense Fund and share its mission to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system.
The comprehensive animal law casebook is Animal Law: Cases and Materials. Because animal law is not a traditional legal field, most of the book’s chapters are framed in terms of familiar subsets of law such as tort, contract, criminal and constitutional law. Each chapter sets out cases and commentary where animal law affects those broader areas.
The Animal Protection Laws of the United States of America & Canada compendium, by Stephan K. Otto, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, is a comprehensive animal protection laws collection. It contains a detailed survey of the general animal protection and related statutes for all of the states, principal districts and territories of the United States of America, and for all of Canada; along with full-text versions of each jurisdiction's laws.
One of the more comprehensive academic works on animal law is authored by Ven. Alex Bruce ('Tenpa') and titled "Animal Law in Australia: An Integrated Approach." Other animal law books include: Bagaric and Akers, Humanising Animals: Civilising People, Cao, Sharman & White, Animal Law in Australia and New Zealand, Sankoff & White (eds), Animal Law in Australasia, and Caulfield, Handbook of Australian Cruelty Law
Animal law is being taught in a few European universities in Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
The Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), in Spain, is the only European university to offer a Master’s Degree in Animal Law and Society (Derecho Animal y Sociedad). The highly interdisciplinary program, directed by Prof. Dr. Teresa Giménez-Candela, is taught in Spanish and English. It aims to provide students knowledge of animals in the fields of law, ethology, nutrition and welfare, ethical dimensions, artistic representations and entertainment, organization and social responsibility. The program is based on a comparative law perspective, keeping in mind the needs of society as a whole. A postgraduate diploma is also available in that specific field.
Initially, the Autonomous University of Barcelona Law School was the first Spanish university to officially offer optional courses in "Animal Law and Animal Welfare Law: comparative perspective (Derecho Animal y Derecho del Bienestar Animal: perspectiva comparada)" in 2007–2008. Due to student demand, a Postgraduate Degree in Animal Law and Society was established in 2009–2010. The first edition of the Master's program in Animal Law and Society was launched in 2011–2012 and is currently running its third edition (2013–2014).
Affiliated with the Master’s program in Animal Law and Society is the Derecho Animal Web Center, the first website in Spain which provides, since 2007, a database on legislation and jurisprudence regarding animals. It provides a service that is both scientific and educational. The same year was founded the Research Group ADS (Animales, Derecho y Sociedad), directed by Prof. Dr. Teresa Giménez-Candela. The international and multidisciplinary group aims to promote research in the field of Animal Law and Policy.
Although animal law is not yet taught in French universities, the University of Limoges has been publishing a biannual Law Review especially dedicated to animal law related topics since 2009. The Revue Semestrielle de Droit Animalier founded and directed by Prof. Dr. Jean-Pierre Marguénaud, relies on distinguished law professors and professionals, philosophers, and scientists who form the editorial board. Animal rights advocates and researchers are also invited to contribute on certain topics.
The University of Basel (Switzerland) in collaboration with the University of Zurich, launched in 2012 a doctoral program entitled “Law and Animals: Ethics at Crossroads”, under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Anne Peters.
In 2012, the Global Journal of Animal Law was established by Prof. Dr. Anna Birgitta Wahlberg of the Department of Law of the Åbo Akademi University, in Finland. The primary objective of this online semi-annual publication is to define legal approaches to non-human animals in different legal systems and to analyze the legal status of animals within these systems. The Global Journal of Animal Law focuses on legislation, implementation, interpretation, enforcement and compliance. The first issue was published in June 2013.
In February 2013, was created the EuroGroup for Animal Law Studies (EGALS), a collaborative partnership aimed to increase the interest of the European legal community for animal law and thus to encourage and facilitate the emergence of Animal Law Studies in European universities as well as to further research in this area. The founding partners are: Prof. Dr. Teresa Giménez-Candela (Autonomous University of Barcelona), Prof. Dr. Anne Peters (University of Basel), Dr. Margot Michel (University of Zurich) and the Fondation Droit Animal, éthique et sciences (LFDA).
The 2nd Global Animal Law Conference was set to be held on July 11 and 12, 2014 at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) by the Research Group ADS and the Derecho Animal Web Center, in collaboration with the Animal Legal & Historical Center (Michigan State University College of Law) and the Center for Animal Law Studies (Lewis & Clark School of Law).
Regarding the campaign to change the status of animals as property, the animal rights activists have seen success in several countries. In 1992, Switzerland amended its constitution to recognize animals as beings and not things. However, in 1999, the Swiss constitution was completely rewritten. A decade later, Germany guaranteed rights to animals in a 2002 amendment to its constitution, becoming the first European Union member to do so. The German Civil Code had been amended correspondingly in 1997. In 2015 the General Assembly of the Province of Quebec adopted a modification of the Quebec Civil Code according animals the status of sentient beings instead of property, as previously. The amendment, however, has not had much impact in German legal practice yet.
The greatest success of the animal rights activists has certainly been the granting of basic rights to five great ape species in New Zealand in 1999. Their use is now forbidden in research, testing or teaching. (it should be noted that the UK government banned experiments on great apes in 1986.) Some other countries have also banned or severely restricted the use of non-human great apes in research.
The Seattle-based Great Ape Project (GAP) – founded by Australian philosopher Peter Singer, the author of Animal Liberation, widely regarded as the founding philosophical work of the animal liberation movement – is campaigning for the United Nations to adopt its Declaration on Great Apes, which would see chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans included in a "community of equals" with human beings. The declaration wants to extend to the non-human apes the protection of three basic interests: the right to life, the protection of individual liberty, and the prohibition of torture. (see also great ape personhood).