Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said animal cruelty was rampant when he was growing up in east Texas. “Dog fighting was prevalent,” adds Emmett. “Cats were disposable.”
But Emmett is hoping a new initiative will help combat the animal abuse that still happens today in Harris County. He helped cut the ribbon for the new Animal Law Clinic at the South Texas College of Law-Houston.
South Texas now becomes one of about 20 law schools around the county with a legal clinic that handles animal issues. The clinic will assist lawyers with cases involving animals and it will also work with pet owners and animal rescue groups. Associate Dean Cathy Burnett says they decided to start the clinic after seeing a gap in legal services for animal cases.
“One of the main things we do is help sensitize people to the issues that might be present in a case that they don’t know about because they’re not used to thinking about animal law issues in the context of a divorce or in the context of estate planning,” explains Burnett. “We’re going to assist lawyers when animal issues are a part of their main case. Family law issues, who gets the dog, who gets the cat. In domestic violence, when one of the symptoms of the pathology of control is a threat to abuse the family animal.”
And after hundreds of animals were sheltered along with their owners following Hurricane Harvey, Burnett says one of their big concerns is what happens to pets in a natural disaster. She says south Texas students are now working with the organization Friends for Life to establish a manual on how to handle animals after a big weather event. They’re hoping that manual can be used nationally.
Burnett says she also hopes the clinic will help educate the communityabout animal abuse.
“If they know the district attorney is aggressively prosecuting animal cruelty, if they know there is a number to call, then people are more proactive,” says Burnett.