Inspired by real world cases that show a sensitivity to the way animals are treated as part of human entertainment such as in circuses or zoos, Vermont Law School is offering a two-week class taught by two attorneys and a veterinarian. Delcianna Winders, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation vice president and deputy general counsel, Dr. Heather Rally, PETA Foundation supervising veterinarian, and Donald Baur, a partner at Washington, D.C., law firm Perkins Coie, Winders and Rally, are teaching the course on animal-welfare law. “This course is really focused on captive wildlife and their legal status and how traditional animal welfare and conservation law do and do not serve their needs currently,” she said. Baur described the course, which is offered for the first time at the school in South Royalton this summer, as a very broad, survey-type course that focuses on key federal laws that address “the manner in which human activities affect animals primarily in situations where they're held in captivity or used for a variety of different human activities” instead of animal population or conservation. “This class focuses more on the health and welfare of individual animals as opposed to looking at big picture conservation issues associated with animals in the wild,” he said. Winders said animal law as a whole is rapidly evolving and captive-animal law in particular is changing quickly in recent years. “As a result, many of our cases that we're talking about in the class are currently in the court so it's a very dynamic opportunity for the students. The course will include study of cases such as the legal efforts that have closed circuses and the end of SeaWorld's orca-breeding program. “I would say (animal-welfare law) is in a lot of flux. The law has not yet caught up with public opinion. We know from repeated polling that people care a lot about animals, that people don't want to see animals abused whether that's for food, for clothing, for entertainment or research. Our laws for the most part are woefully behind in recognizing that, but we are seeing a lot of progress,” she said. Baur has been teaching a summer course on ocean law at Vermont Law School for 20 years. Winders has been working on captive wildlife cases for more than a decade, primarily in cases involving circuses and unaccredited roadside zoos, “sort of the worst of the worst conditions for captive wildlife,” she said. Rally is a wildlife veterinarian whose work includes assisting in rescuing animals and relocating them to reputable sanctuaries. The class was proposed by its current instructors. Baur said he thought it fit well with VSL's strong reputation in the area of environmental law. “This class fits in well to the overall environmental law curriculum at the Vermont Law School. This is a specialized area of law, for sure, but it is a rapidly growing and increasingly important area of law that affects a wide variety of human activities and businesses and government agencies,” he said. The course is “very intensive,” Baur said. The daily, three-hour sessions began this week and will continue through next week. “Students are very engaged, very interested, and as somebody who's taught at the school for 20 years, I find every time I teach, I learn something. It's great to be able to interact with the students because they raise great issues and really great questions that cause me, and I think the other instructors, to really think about ways that this area of law should continue to evolve in the future,” he said. Winders said there are about 10 students in the course which allows for a lot of interaction between instructors and students. “I think they're appreciating the full breadth of the unique opportunity to hear from both a veterinarian and attorneys who are experts in the field,” she said. Winders said she's hoping the class will continue as an annual summer offering at VSL. Today, VSL will host two public events related to the course. From noon to 1, Winders and Rally will host “Protecting Elephants Near and Far: Hurdles and Victories in the Struggle to Improve Elephant Lives.” At 6:30 p.m. in the Chase Center, a panel of artists, conservationists and policymakers will discuss the importance of visual arts and popular media in promoting environmental stewardship and wildlife conservation.

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