Animals have few advocates that are willing to step up to shield them from abuse and neglect or to speak out for their interests. We are among them. Our animal law practice – both pro bono and fee-based – is nationally recognized and broad. Bruce Wagman, the partner in our San Francisco office who heads it up, teams up with associates firmwide on this work. In the last few years, we’ve handled cases involving a wide range of animals. Our recent work includes the following:
Since 2007, we have worked closely with an extraordinary sanctuary – Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest – in Washington State. We started by negotiating the release of seven chimpanzees who had lived their entire lives – roughly thirty years – in tiny, uncomfortable cages, with virtually no comfort, enrichment, or exercise. The “Cle Elum Seven” chimpanzees had been used for decades as research subjects and as breeding machines, with their babies taken away at birth. Since their rescue, the Cle Elum Seven have prospered, and the sanctuary’s facilities have grown and developed with Schiff Hardin’s help. Our lawyers have provided the same kind of assistance for America’s newest chimpanzee sanctuary, Project Chimps, which welcomed its first chimpanzee residents in September 2016.
Schiff’s lawyers have also been on the forefront in protecting animals involved in food production – including horses, chickens, pigs, cows, and even sharks. We help our clients defend laws intended to protect these animals. Our work in this area includes litigation in state and federal trial courts, federal courts of appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court. For example, in 2016, the Supreme Court considered briefing on a challenge to California’s laws prohibiting the sale, possession, and distribution of detached shark fins, a law directed at conservation, public safety and animal cruelty. The Court, agreeing with Schiff and the State of California, rejected the request to review the case.
In the case of horses, we work to prevent American horses – wild as well as those discarded by owners and racetracks – from being slaughtered for food. Schiff led the litigation against horse slaughter, with successes in the Tenth Circuit and New Mexico state court shutting down the slaughterhouses. Schiff also litigates regularly to protect wild horses and prevent the federal government from mismanaging them. In the summer of 2016, we sued the federal government for attempting to begin dangerous and untested surgical sterilization “research” on wild mares; the federal agency dropped the program a few months after the lawsuit was filed.
We also work to protect farm animals. When our lawyers learned that the managers of an egg business had abandoned 50,000 egg-laying hens, they immediately signed up to help. When the hens were discovered, many were near death and could not drink or eat because they were so weak. After our clients rescued nearly 5000 of the hens, we joined forces with an animal protection group and sued the responsible parties on a variety of novel legal claims. The result: a ban on the defendants’ direct involvement with hens, and a monetary settlement to partially defray the enormous cost of the rescue.
Our lawyers also help law enforcement and prosecutors when they are handling animal cruelty cases. Our clients are on the front lines rescuing horses, dogs, cats, birds, and any species that is in danger or animals that are being abused and neglected.
We also focus on protecting consumers as well as their pets. Since 2014, our lawyers in three different Schiff offices have represented clients seeking to prevent the abusive practices seen in industrial breeding facilities known as “puppymills.” We have been able to reduce the number of puppymill puppies, kittens, and rabbits sold through litigation and consultation on legislative drafting. Our work has reduced the suffering of these animals and promoted the adoption of animals who would otherwise be euthanized in local shelters.
We also represent those local shelters. We provide ongoing counseling, litigation defense, and advocacy advice on a national basis to local shelters that are doing the vital work of protecting and rescuing America’s homeless and abandoned animals.
Finally, our work includes education and spreading the word about animals and their proper treatment, and the laws that help protect them. Schiff’s lawyers publish and present on a range of animal law issues more than twenty times every year, to increase the number of practitioners exposed to and willing to engage in animal law work.