Guest Blogger, Emily Bank: Rutgers Law Student
The day I became an animal advocate is one I will never forget. It was a Sunday and the weather was less than perfect (a rarity in LA) so instead of my usual Sunday hike, I decided to scroll through Netflix- not your typical passage to a life changing moment, I will admit. Netflix recommended the movie Forks Over Knives, so I obliged. After an hour and thirty-six minutes of absorbing as much information as I could, I felt like everything I’d ever known had been turned upside down. Was it possible that I’d been partaking in a system my whole life that I didn’t truly support? Or at the very least, didn’t fully understand? I needed to know more and needed to know it now. The flame had been lit, and my search of the truth began. Several documentaries and numerous books later, I vowed to always use my voice to stand up for animals.
Sparing the details of the next few years, my path led me to another life-changing moment when I was offered a job at PETA. My preconceived notions about the most well-known animal rights organization, had me worried I would not be radical enough to work there. However, my position as the Social Media Correspondent required me to be PETA’s digital voice, which seemed more subdued than the organization’s often outrageous public persona. As I worked and fought for animal rights, my curiosity and concern spread to other injustices of the world. Sitting on the sidelines while others made a positive impact was no longer an option for me. However, as I typed away vigorously and replied to tweets, I began to realize that social media was not an adequate outlet for my activism.
Once I got my hands on Rutgers Law School Professor, Gary Francione’s book Animals, Property, and the Law, it became clear that in order to best help the cause, I needed to learn the law. And where better to learn the law than at Rutgers, which was the first university to welcome animal rights law into the regular academic curriculum. About a year and a half into school, I decided it was time to take what I’d learned and put it into action. Along with another classmate, I formed the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund.
Fast forward a few months and many bake sales later, I attended the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s annual conference in Chicago. It was here that I first heard UConn School of Law Professor Jessica Rubin tell the heartbreaking story of a dog named Desmond. It is important to know what happened to Desmond as his story is horrific but tragically not unique. Desmond was beat, starved, and ultimately strangled at the hands of his so-called adopter. I will spare you the details of this gruesome story since I think it is safe to assume that anyone reading this blog is vehemently against the abuse of animals. What do you think someone deserves for doing that? Prison time? A lifetime ban from owning another animal? Certainly, at the very least a heavy fine? Nope. The Connecticut Court decided he should get the legal equivalent of a slap on the wrist and the conviction wiped from his record. When I heard this, I felt as angry and sad as I’m sure you feel reading about it now.
Desmond’s Law sets out to prevent future abusers from receiving the same hollow punishment that Desmond’s killer did. The law allows judges to appoint legal advocates, volunteer lawyers and law students, to abused animals involved in cases of animal cruelty. I know this is something we can do…something we have to do… in New Jersey.
When I returned from the conference I reached out to Senator Lesniak as I had been impressed by his activism for some time. I remember the delight I felt leaving The Lesniak Institute because I know together we will get this done! When this bill passes, it will mean that countless New Jersey animals are granted the legal protection they deserve, and it will mean that Desmond did not die in vain.