Animal Legal Defense Fund Grant Aids Animal Law Clinic

The grant will support new scholarship and trainings relating to courtroom animal advocate programs and expand efforts to establish similar programs in other states.

Associate Dean Jessica Rubin and Teaching Fellow Tara Cooley with dogs

Associate Dean Jessica Rubin, director of the Animal Law Clinic, left, and Teaching Fellow Tara Cooley on the UConn Law campus with some animal friends. (Molly Sullivan / UConn School of Law)

A grant from the Animal Legal Defense Fund will support the groundbreaking courtroom animal advocate program of the Animal Law Clinic at the UConn School of Law.

The grant will create new scholarship and trainings relating to courtroom animal advocate programs and expand efforts to establish similar programs in other states.  It will also support research and programming, including development of an animal care education program for offenders prosecuted in less serious cases of animal cruelty, and advocacy guides to serve as a resource for legal advocates.

Associate Dean Jessica Rubin founded the Animal Law Clinic in 2018 to train lawyers and law students to serve as advocates for justice in animal abuse cases under Connecticut’s pioneering Desmond’s Law. The clinic has also helped to establish a similar courtroom animal advocate program in Maine.

“The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s generous grant will allow our clinic to continue helping the courts adjudicate cases of animal cruelty and will enhance our efforts to address the underlying causes of animal abuse with education and training,” Rubin said. “We’re grateful and proud to work with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which is on the forefront of efforts to promote animal law education programs.”

The clinic’s teaching fellow, Tara Cooley, added, “It’s wonderful to collaborate with the Animal Legal Defense Fund to expand our efforts. It’s an impactful partnership that combines the organization’s vast criminal justice network with UConn’s innovative work.”

“Animal victims need representation in the criminal justice system, and courtroom animal advocate programs uniquely position legal advocates to speak specifically to the interests of the animals,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “Animal victims are unique, as they can’t testify to their treatment and are regularly living evidence, which many courts are not experienced in handling. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is thrilled to formalize this partnership with UConn School of Law, which has been at the forefront of implementing this important program.”

As of Aug. 1, 2022, the Animal Law Clinic had handled 93 animal cruelty cases in which dogs, cats, cows, rabbits and other animals were victims of maltreatment.  Acting as advocates for justice under the direction of Rubin and Cooley, the clinic’s students have presented courts with information about cruelty cases and relevant law and made recommendations on outcomes.

The student advocates’ work has extended to reviewing police reports, body camera footage, veterinary records and applications for diversionary programs. They have argued in court and participated in pre-trial conferences and plea negotiations.

“The pioneering work of Dean Rubin and the Animal Law Clinic has provided a new way of approaching cases of animal abuse in our criminal justice system. It has also provided beneficial experiential opportunities for our students. We are deeply grateful for the assistance of the Animal Legal Defense Fund in continuing and expanding this important work,” Dean Eboni S. Nelson said.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. The grant is the organization’s first to the clinic.