Inns of Court: Animal Law

On March 10, 2016, Judge Mockler’s pupilage group (starring Scott Reep, Susan Aglietti, Sarah Glueck, Dawn Ceizler, Jon Babione, Michael Davis, Tanya DeBorba, Marie Quashnock and Remsen Barnard) put on a rousing, energetic Jeopardy-like contest centered around animal law, which is a part of law few people know a lot about.

What is animal law? Many people vaguely remember the criminal liability for dog bites (one free bite rule) from law school. Like the barren cow, it is one of those universal experiences that everybody only “kind of” remembers.

In actual fact, it isn’t so much its own distinct field as it is intertwined through many different types of law, and we were about to learn how little we actually knew!

Each pupilage group had to select one person as a “Hunger Games tribute” to go up and compete against the other groups in a trivia contest; think “Jeopardy,” but all the questions are about animal law.

If you have never seen Jeopardy, let me explain the rules to you … but first, how have you never seen Jeopardy? Are you some sort of rabid Wheel of Fortune fan who wouldn’t cheat on Pat and Vanna with Alex? Do you find Jeopardy too beneath you and your extensive ascot collection?

Back to Jeopardy … basically, there are a series of answers in increasing levels of difficulty organized around a theme (within the larger theme of animal law). Contestants buzz in with what they think is the correct question for each answer. If you get it right, you get points. If you get it wrong, you lose points. The player who successfully answers the question gets to choose the next question and the person with the most points at the end wins.

Pretty straightforward, right? Except that instead of everyone showing off their vast knowledge of the law, every team almost immediately found themselves well into negative points. I guess we are not as good at animal law as we would all like to think we are. It got very raucous as people started yelling out answers to the contestants.

Some of the more interesting topics focused on pets—what happens to them when we die or divorce? Some of these topics were easier than others, and it really depended on your field of practice. Take pet trusts … as a trusts and estates lawyer, this was something I had handled before, and it was good to see other people dig into it.

In California, pet trust law was updated in 2008. Pursuant to the new law (California Probate Code 15212), pet trusts are funds wherein people can place money for the care and well-being of their pet; these are enforceable under California law.

I was feeling pretty good about myself, but then there were questions about splitting custody of pets in divorces. As a trusts and estates lawyer, I have never handled this ever and had no idea it was even a thing that existed.

This may be why our team got so deep into the negative that we felt like Bane from The Dark Knight Rises. We were born into negative points. We did not see the light until we were already adults and by then it was nothing to us but blinding.

As it turns out, there is a growing consensus amongst judges to view pets in divorces similar to children, not objects. California Family Code 6320 actually allows judges to provide protective orders regarding the care of pets. For example, if one party to the marriage is likely to harm the animal, the judge can grant custody of the pet to the other party.

Overall, it was a really fun evening and we learned a lot about animal law and how it intersects with so many other areas of practice. Even better, we really showed all those Wheel-thusiasts what is
the best part of the ABC 7 p.m. hour!

If you are interested in applying for RGMAIOC membership, please contact Patricia Kelly at