A recently passed law in Connecticut allows judges to appoint official legal advocates for abused animals — similar to the widespread process of courts appointing advocates for human children.
“Every state has the problem of overburdened courts that understandably prioritize human cases over animal cases in allocating resources,” University of Connecticut law professor and animal law expert Jessica Rubin told the Associated Press. “Here’s a way to help.”
Rubin is one of eight people in Connecticut who have been approved as legal advocates for animals. All of the advocates are volunteers, and it’s up to an individual judge to decide whether to appoint an animal legal advocate in any given case. Advocates are able to interview witnesses and experts, write briefs and make recommendations to a judge.
The legislation has been in place for six months, but the AP published an extensive report on the law Friday. Though judges have appointed advocates in five cases so far, this week was the first time that an advocate testified in court. UConn law student Taylor Hansen spoke on behalf of three pit bulls involved in a dogfighting case.
The legislation is called “Desmond’s Law” in memory of a dog named Desmond who was beaten, starved and strangled to death in 2012, according to the local Hartford Courant. The defendant received accelerated rehabilitation, meaning that the conviction was expunged from his record. Proponents of the law say it can help prevent animal abusers from just getting a slap on the wrist.
Rubin told the newspaper that Desmond’s Law is the first of its kind in the United States.
The law appears to be part of a trend of the legal world taking animal welfare more seriously. In January, Alaska passed a law requiring judges to take the well-being of pets into consideration when ruling on divorce cases. While judges across the U.S. obviously have the ability to consider animal welfare in divorce cases — and many judges do — Alaska was the first state to pass a law requiring them to do so.
And in 2016, the FBI began tracking data on animal cruelty crimes the same way it collects data on homicide, arson and assault.
Law schools are also offering more courses in animal law, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund. The animal rights group states that the number of U.S. schools offering animal law classes has grown from only nine law schools in 2000, to 151 law schools in 2015.