Can you talk a little about your current position and your work at GW?
I have one of the best jobs around—teaching the next generation of lawyers and inspiring them to find what they are passionate about and then pursue a career in the law to further that passion. It took me a while to find my true passion but I learned a lot along the way which helped me to truly appreciate how important it is to combine one’s passion with one’s work.
Being a law prof allows me to do just that. Obviously one of the most important and rewarding aspects of my position is my teaching. My primary course is Civil Procedure, a full year class, and the only class that I have taught since starting at GW back in 1992! And it is still my favorite class to teach as I get to meet our entering class of 1Ls at the beginning of their law school career, when they are still excited and engaged, and introduce them to the study of law. I also teach our Sexuality and the Law class which focuses on how the law impacts the lives of LGBT folks. That class is on the cutting edge as we have seen so much progress over the past several years as the Supreme Court has recognized important liberty rights of LGBT citizens, including, most recently, the right to marry. I have to say, that given Justice Kennedy’s retirement I am VERY concerned and disturbed that the current president will have an opportunity to appoint another Justice. Appointments to the Supreme Court are, of course, for life, and have a dramatic and long-term effect on all of our lives. I hope at the very least that the Senate will not confirm an appointment until after the November elections.
In addition to my teaching I get to know students on a more personal level through my engagement with a variety of student organizations.
I am the faculty advisor to, and editor-in-chief of, the AIPLA QJ. You might wonder why I head up an Intellectual Property (IP) Journal. When I started at GW I was hired into our IP program and taught Patent Law because I have a Mechanical Engineering degree. At that time AIPLA was looking for a new editor for their Journal and I sought out the position to bring the Journal to GW so that our IP students would have an IP-focused Journal on which to work. That was 1994 and although my teaching and scholarship has shifted over the years away from IP I am still the editor-in-chief of the Journal!
I am also the Faculty Advisor to Lambda Law, our LGBT+ student organization. I was the first out faculty member at GW Law when I arrived in 1992. In 1993, I hosted the first LGBT+ breakfast during orientation for the 1L class. I bought some bagels and coffee and about two students showed up, it was a very small affair. However, every year the event grew and today it is one of the signature events during orientation! 1L and upper-level students, faculty, administrators, staff and alumni come out to welcome our entering class and demonstrate the inclusive environment we now have at GW for all. Last year we celebrated the 25th annual breakfast and it felt so rewarding!
You also direct the animal law focus area at GW. Can you tell us about this work? I read that it includes a curriculum, conferences, field placements, a pro bono project and scholarships for students.
I started the GW Animal Law Program with my colleague, and now DC Councilwoman, Mary Cheh, in 2003. It began as a 1-year pro bono project to review the laws in the District as they relate to non-human animals and propose revisions to provide greater protections for their lives. That project culminated in a comprehensive report and ultimately the DC Animal Protection Amendment Act of 2008. As a result of that project, I became aware of the area of animal law, fond my true passion, and began focusing my own scholarship in the area.
Today, the Animal Law Program at GW provides a broad range of educational and practical opportunities for law students to study and practice animal law while also providing public education, pro bono services, and support to the District, humane organizations, and community groups working to protect animals worldwide.
The Animal Law Programhas several components. First, there are two courses focused on animals—Animal Law and Wildlife and Ecosystems Law. Second, the program hosts conferences and panels on a variety of animal law topics. This past year the animal law panels included: “Careers in Animal Law,” “Man’s Best Friend or Man’s Best Specimen?,” and “Legal Advocacy for Abused Animals: Connecticut’s ‘Desmond’s Law’ as a Roadmap for Change in D.C.”
Third, the GW field placement program offers students opportunities to gain real-world experience advocating on behalf of animals with organizations such as the Animal Welfare Institute and the Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division, Wildlife and Marine Resources Section. Additionally, the program includes an “in-house” Animal Welfare Pro Bono Project that allows students to effect change through legislative and regulatory avenues.
We also have two scholarships, named after two beloved dogs—Samantha and HoJo—to support students committed to improving the protection of animals through the law.
Although all aspects of the program are important, the most rewarding aspect for me and the students is the work of the Animal Welfare Pro Bono Project(AWP). In past years the AWP, submitted a comment in support of the Proposed Rule of the Fish and Wildlife Service United States Department of Interior to List all Chimpanzees as Endangered as well as a comment to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in opposition to the Georgia Aquarium Application to Import 18 Beluga Whales from Russia. In both cases the final decisions of the agencies were in accordance with our positions. We also have worked with the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys to provide state summariesof case law interpreting the anti-cruelty statutes of each state as a resource for local prosecutors and advocates. Although the number of students at GW that actively participate in the various projects is relatively small, they are an engaged and compassionate group committed to promoting the interests of animals through the law.
You hold an Animal Law Night annually in the Spring during DC Week for the Animals with diverse topics and speakers. You sponsored an International Wildlife Conference in November 2015. Can you say more about this event and if a follow up conference is planned?
Sure, as you know, DC Week for the Animals Law Night has become a tradition as part of DC Week for the Animalssponsored by Animal World USA. Our program in early June was our 10th annual. This year we had three terrific speakers on the topic of service and emotional support animals entitled, “It’s A Zoo Out There: Making Sense of Animal Accommodation Laws.”
The International Wildlife Workshop was a 2-day affair that brought together about a hundred wildlife advocates representing governments and international governmental institutions, non-government organizations, and academia, to discuss “International Law and Wildlife Well-Being.” The workshop was sponsored jointly by the American Society of International Law’s (ASIL) forum on wildlife law, and the Association of American Law Schools’ (AALS) animal law section. (I was chair of that section that year.) The workshop evolved as the shared vision and through an ongoing dialogue of international wildlife lawyers and animal lawyers to bridge the “gap” between the two approaches to the protection and regulation of wildlife.International wildlife law addresses conservation and sustainable use issues requiring international cooperation, while animal law pursues humane treatment of the individual animal and moral considerations of wildlife well-being. Generally, conservation lawyers want to ensure that the species does not go extinct, while animal lawyers aim for the well-being of individuals of the species. The workshop’s objective was to converge these two approaches. This issue has become cutting-edge with the escalating decimation of wildlife populations worldwide. Current international conventions address conservation issues but have little to say about protecting individualwild animals from inhumane treatment. I currently do not have plans to hold a follow-up workshop although it is certainly possible sometime in the future. I will say that the effort to bridge the gap between animalists and environmentalists has been gaining momentum and we are seeing more attention to respecting the welfare of individual wild animals in the environmental and conservation movements, a theory and approach that is typically termed compassionate conservationism.
You cohosted a conference on no kill sheltering. How was that experience?
Hosting with Nathan Winograd the No-Kill conference for 5 years was an awe-inspiring experience. We brought advocates, shelter workers, veterinarians, and volunteers from all over the world together to discuss best practices for saving the lives of all shelter animals. As you know that movement has grown and we are seeing more and more jurisdictions becoming no-kill every year. Nathan has devoted his life to this movement and does wonderful work in this area. His organization’s web site, No Kill Advocacy Center, is a treasure trove of information on how to succeed based on his No Kill Equation of 11 components for shelters including: TNR, foster care programs, an army of active volunteers, comprehensive adoption programs, programs to help retention by owners, Proactive redemption programs to reunify lost animals with owners, low cost high-volume spay/neuter, rehabilitation of sick and behaviorally challenged animals, a compassionate director, coordination with rescue groups, and programs to educate and engage the public. We could spend an entire interview on this but suffice it to say that I was honored to have hosted that conference from 2009-2013 and am excited to see the growth in the movement over the years.
Also, I want to mention that all of the conferences I host are vegan. I must admit that when we first started the No Kill conference we got a bit of grief from some participants that it was vegan and we explained that the No Kill SHELTER movement should embrace no kill for ALL sentient beings and thus advocates should embrace a vegan life-style.
You advise the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund. What kinds of events or projects do they hold?
GW has a very robust student chapter of the Animal Legal Defense Fund that engages in local public service and educational outreach. SALDF works to promote veganism by holding vegan bake sales for example. The two most popular SALDF events are our Pet Study Breaks and Pet Photo Contest. We started Pet Study Breaks several years ago to bring adoptable dogs and cats to campus to help with their socializing and to help relieve student stress during midterms and finals. As you know, socializing with companion animals does wonders for human emotional health! While it is not an adoption event per se, we have had several dogs and cats adopted over the years. The Pet Photo Contest provides an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to enter a photo of their pet and for the law school community to vote on the most adorable pet. The top 12 winners are then featured in the GW Law Pet Calendar. Of course, everyone is a winner as they are all adorable. The contest and calendar help raise funds for students to attend the ALDF animal law conference in October and to raise funds for other events.
Do you see an increased interest in Animal Law/Rights/Welfare over the course of your tenure at GW?
When I started at GW in 1992 the area of animal law was virtually unknown. A few attorneys were using the law to help promote animals’ interests but it was not a recognized practice area. In 2000 things began to change and of course today it is a recognized area of the law. A large majority of all US law schools have an animal law class, the American Bar Association now has two animal law committees, and the Association of American Law Schools has an Animal Law Section. I am proud to have been the lead in establishing that Section and was the founding chair in 2008. It is still difficult to find jobs in the area so many students do not pursue a full-time career in animal law but there are many pro bono opportunities and other ways to help promote animals through the law.
You also advise Lambda Law, the LGBTQ student organization. So much progress has occurred in recent years in the area of LGBT rights. Do you see any parallels with the vegan community and specifically your work advising SALDF?
Yes, I do see parallels between LGBT rights and animal rights/veganism movements. As you may know, there is substantial feminist literature that draws parallels between women’s rights and animal rights. In fact, the feminist ethic-of-care theory of animal rights and its conception of a “morality of responsibility” emphasizing connections and relationships among all animals (human and non-human alike) is grounded in our having empathy, compassion and respect for all animals. Regarding LGBT issues specifically, the notion of representing those without a voice was a compelling parallel as years ago many gay folks were in the closet and literally were not seen nor heard. The commonality among all of the human civil rights struggles and non-human rights struggles is for those in power to have respect for the rights of the “other.” To recognize their intrinsic value, to have empathy, compassion and respect for their interests, and to protect at least their most basic interests and needs.
You also work with the American Bar Association Animal Law Committee and have received an award for your efforts in this area of the law. Can you tell us more about this work?
I am very involved in the Animal Law Committee in the Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section of the ABA. It was established in 2004. The Mission of the ALC is “to address all issues concerning the intersection of animals and the law to create a paradigm shift resulting in a just world for all.” The status of animals in our legal system, and in our society at large, is in flux, and we focus on ways to use the rule of law to create a just world for all. These arenas involve a vast array of human/animal interactions, including estate planning for companion animals, due process protections in dangerous dog/reckless owner laws, appropriate compensation when a companion animal is killed or injured, protections against breed discrimination, standards of care and accountability for animals used in industry and agriculture, expanding notions of what constitutes "cruelty to animals," and the competing interests of wild animals and humans in a world with dwindling resources. There are a variety of ways in which we raise awareness and educate attorneys and the public about animal law—through (1) publications, including books, such as Litigating Animal Law Disputes, and three substantive newsletters/year (in fact I am the newsletter editor), (2) Continuing Legal Education webinars and in-person panels and conferences, for example, annually we put on a half-day shelter symposium in coordination with NACA, National Animal Care and Control Association, (3) public service events at ABA and TIPS meetings, for example, at the ABA Annual meeting this August we will be visiting Safe Humane Chicago to help with their Courthouse Dog Program by socializing with the courthouse dogs, those dogs who are victims of cruelty and are deemed “evidence” in the case against their abuser, and perhaps most importantly (4) setting policy through the establishment of ABA House of Delegates Resolutions. It is very helpful to advocates seeking to enact laws throughout the US to better protect animals if they can argue that the American Bar Association (hardly an animal welfare/rights organization) is in support of the proposed laws. Over the years we have been successful in getting six Resolutions adopted. They have covered issues such as the care and disposition of animals during disasters, service animals, breed discrimination, and the private ownership of exotic animals. I am most proud of our most recent resolution adopted last August that supports the adoption and implementation of TNVR programs for the management of free-roaming cats which I co-authored and presented to the HOD.
About 2 years ago the International Section of the ABA established an Animal Law Committee. I am now a member and have been working on a public interest project to bring a handful of canine victims of the China meat dog trade to the US as ambassadors to help raise awareness of this horrific practice. I am thrilled to say that on June 23rd our first rescue, Little Yella, now named Ellie, arrived in Chicago from Beijung. She was destined for Denver but had to be fostered for a week waiting for her human companion to ride with her to Denver and in that time a family fell in love with her and she has been adopted! I cannot wait until next month when I will be heading to Chicago for the ABA annual meeting and will have an opportunity to meet her!
I am interested in how you got to this point in your life — from engineering to law professor. When did you first decide you wanted to go into engineering? What influenced you to become an attorney.
There was not some grand plan. In fact, all though school my passion was music. I started playing drums in a fife, drum and bugle corps when I was 9. I was born to be a drummer! I was always banging on something when I was small and I fought hard to be allowed to follow that dream because in the mid-sixties it was not easy to be a girl and play drums. In fact, they first handed me a fife and said I had to play that because girls did not play drums. I tried playing the fife for about a month and HATED it! I finally persuaded them to let me play the snare drum and never turned back. In junior high and high school I played in every musical group there was—marching band, concert band, orchestra, jazz ensemble, musical theater, chorus. If someone needed a percussionist/drummer, I was there! I toured Europe with the US Honor Band when I was 16 and ultimately went to USC to be a percussion performance major. HOWEVER, I soon got nervous about getting a real job and after 1 semester I changed my major to Mechanical Engineering because I had always done well in math and physics. What I did not realize at the time is that engineering was not my passion. I went to MIT and got a Master’s degree in ME and then worked for 7 years in Atlanta. However, I was not happy and I was fortunate to be able to reevaluate my career path and go back to USC for law school. By then I had come to understand that the law has a significant impact on the lives of all of us. As a member of the LGBT community, I was both confused and angry that I was deemed immoral, sick, and criminal for being “different” and wanted to effect change. Ultimately, I have not actually practiced law but instead went into academia. I nevertheless hope that I have made a small difference for LGBT and animal rights issues through my teaching, scholarship and mentoring of law students.
I have to admit that I miss music. After college, I have played in different groups over the years. When in Atlanta I played for Onstage Atlanta, a musical theater group, and the band Jane Doe. Then more recently while in DC I played for a couple of bands, the last one was the Outskirts of Town. I had a great time with them but ultimately the band disbanded and my work with animals changed the trajectory of my life and left me less time to play drums!
I believe I read that you were born in New York and moved to San Diego when you were 11. Who influenced you as a young person?
This sounds cliché but my parents had the most influence on my life. I am an only child and was so very fortunate to have TWO parents who were very supportive and involved in my life… sometimes almost too much! My Dad was president of the PTA and the band parents group. If a chaperone was needed, my parents were there! My mom was always home when I came home from school and helped me with my studies. Both parents took me to countless music rehearsals, performances, and competitions throughout the state of California and when I went to USC they were at EVERY football game including the Rose Bowl to see me in the Trojan Marching band. I learned from them to always do my best, to be honest and trustworthy, and to be humble and giving to others. The one memory of my dad that “summarizes” the man he was, was of him as Santa Claus. My first Christmas memory was of having Santa come to the door on Chrstmas Eve! My dad would go to the homes of everyone on our block and bring presents to all of the kids. It took me several years before I realized Santa was my Dad. And he never stopped. I became an adult and left home and Dad still was Santa and in later years he and my mom as Mrs. Claus, continued the tradition and worked with groups to bring presents to families in need. My Dad was the most giving and compassionate person I knew. I hope a little bit of that rubbed off on me.
Did you have companion animals growing up? And now?
I always felt a deep connection to animals, in fact, growing up I collected “stuffed animals” (not the real ones) that took an entire room in our house to display! I got my first puppy when I was 5, Pal. Unfortunately, Pal died very young from distemper and I was devastated. We soon got another dog, Inky, she was all black and we had a great time together. When Inky passed we got Taffy, a beautiful Cockerpoo, who was with our family until I was out of college and working. Once I left home, I did not have any companion animals for many years. I would donate to animal welfare groups and occasionally did a bit of volunteering at the local shelter but I told myself that I was too busy with work to have the time to spend with an animal. It was not until I started the animal law program at GW that I went from having no animals to now having a feline sanctuary! I am literally the crazy cat lady of DC! Liberty, Justice Freedom and Equality, EQ for short, started it all. Four 6-week old kittens in 2004 who were brought to my office by a student who rescued them from her apartment complex when she heard the super was going to call animal control and have them taken away. On that day, I got involved with Alley Cat Allies and WHS, now HRA, to help rescue and foster kittens and cats. For several years I was quite successful in adopting out kittens and cats but after a few years I had way more cats come in than go out. I am unable to say NO to any feline in need of a home. Today, I am no longer fostering, everyone in my home now is a Schaffner. My home now is a sanctuary for those cats who truly have no other option and I love them all!
When did you become vegan and why?
I have been vegan for about 10 years now. Getting involved in animal law and rights and becoming aware of the immorality of our use and abuse of non-human animals of all kinds, and most importantly our farmed animals, caused me to become vegan. Mariann Sullivan, the cofounder of Our Hen House, was instrumental in my turning vegan. She was a member of the ABA ALC as well, in fact she was chair-elect when I was chair, and I learned a lot from her advocacy. I have to admit that I am ashamed it took me so long to come to the realization that we cannot use animals for our own purposes. They have lives of their own and demand respect and compassion. I look back at my life growing up in San Diego in the 70s and going to Sea World. How could I not have realized how we were exploiting the orcas and dolphins there “performing” for my mere entertainment! No more.
I thought I read somewhere that you participate in Crossfit. This is amazing. Can you tell us a little about this experience?
Crossfit is a new “passion” of mine. I have been doing Crossfit now for 2 years and I really enjoy it. As you can tell from my story, I was never an athlete. Marching Band was the most athletic thing I did growing up. Although, one of the reasons I really enjoyed drumming was the physicality of the performance! However, as an adult I got more interested in physical fitness. For example, years ago I tried my hand at body building for a short while. I then joined the AIDS Marathon training program and completed the Marine Corps marathon here in DC. I also ran a half marathon at the Gay Games in Montreal years ago. That was a blast. Now I am doing Crossfit at Crossfit Silver Spring. It is a great mix of strength training and cardio and there is a focus on building relationships with your Crossfit partners. I am at least 25 years older than most everyone I work out with but the classes are small and I enjoy getting together with the group. Everyone is supportive of each other—we are all there to get fit and to make our lives more enjoyable. I hope to be able to continue my Crossfit regimen for years to come.