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Matthew Taxman meets Joshua the cow at Farm Sanctuary in Orland. The sanctuary is for rescued farm animals, and is home to more than 300 pigs, sheep, cattle, chickens, and others that can be met face-to-face on a tour with a guide.

Litigating and lobbying for a facet of the global population that affects everyday life for the human populous continues to gain ground.

The number of law schools to offer courses in animal law recently added JFK University to the list, with the founder of the Animal Legal Defense Fund teaching the class for the first time last fall.

Dean Barbieri, vice president of academic affairs and dean of the JFK School of Law, cites some of animal law's integrative legal realms: settling contracts; civil and criminal law; community property disputes; constitutional law; and torts, involved in cases of malicious injury to an animal.

"Animal law is not just some area of the law. It's about our relationship with animals. The legal issues we're dealing with touches us on a daily basis," he says, referring to such arenas as animal testing, cruelty cases and factory farming abuses.

ALDF founder Joyce Tischler, who also is general counsel for the 100,000-member nonprofit, has crusaded for the legal protection and rights of animals for more than three decades.

She welcomes the Pleasant Hill campus to the fold that includes an increasing number of pro bono attorneys from prestigious mainstream law firms who are championing cases against animal cruelty that are spurned by a continual objectifying of animals that are considered as property -- rather than worthy of their own rights, she cites.

Tischler recalls the book, "Animal Liberation" by Peter Singer (HarperCollins, 1975), which set her on her course.

"It put a philosophy to what I always intuited. It enabled me to hang my hat on something beyond I just love animals," she says. "It just took a while to connect the dots."

As a nonprofit and with a daunting landscape of abuses, it is essential, she says, for ALDF to hone its priority list to cases involving the most number of affected animals, those cases where there's a political or ethical reason to pursue it -- and there are instances when one's dander is raised and one "just has to try."

Tischler cites one example of litigation ALDF pursued against the federal patent trademark office in 1990, which did -- and continues to allow -- protective patents on genetically modified animals that serve to perpetuate their "massive exploitation."

"It is such an outrageous thing to do, to completely ignore the sentience and intelligence of animals," she says, noting that while losing the case in the United States, that ensuing Canadian law opted in their favor.

The new course of action at JFK coincides with law student Matthew Taxman's launching a student ALDF chapter that was honored for its animal advocacy efforts last fall at the annual Animal Law Conference, co-presented by ALDF and the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark Law School that has been around since 2008.

The official local chapter, the 189th in the country, celebrated its one-year anniversary last month.

Taxman notes that this was his first foray into the realm of activism, burgeoned by his love of animals and the realization that a legal path could pave the way to making a difference.

"I owe a debt to animals. It's the least I can I do to improve their quality of life," Taxman adds, himself ascribing to the law of least effort that comes "when you're doing what you should be doing," and creates both an inner sense of calm and wellspring of boundless energy.

The 30-plus members have raised more than $1,200 for ALDF, and continue their commitment to raise awareness about a stark reality of which Taxman says many opt to remain "blithely unaware."

Removing the animating principle from the consideration makes it easier, but "when you see the family bonds (of these animals,) it's real," says Taxman, a Pleasant Hill resident, whose family includes a dog and two cats that he has rescued.

Animal law
For more information about the Animal Legal Defense Fund, visit www.aldf.org.