Paw Law at the University of Tulsa

posted November 16th, 2013 by
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by Anna Holton – Dean

While animals don’t have a voice in their own welfare, it’s reassuring to know that somewhere there are people who care and are willing to speak up on their behalf—-people with the education and authority to make a difference in existing and future laws. That “somewhere” is right here in Tulsa.

Meet the students of Paw Law, a University of Tulsa College of Law organization which advocates for animals of every kind.

“We are an on-campus organization aimed at improving the livelihood for animals in the Tulsa area through grassroots initiatives in community service,” Lauren Sanchez, a second year law student who serves as secretary for Paw Law, says. “We are dedicated to providing a forum for education, advocacy aimed at protecting the lives and advancing the interests of animals through the legal system, and raising the profile of the field of animal law.”

Paw Law members advocate for local animals in a myriad of hands-on ways, volunteering at Tulsa Animal Welfare and other shelters, taking part in adoption events like Woofstock, delivering pet food to owners who do not have access or resources to feed their own pets, and by participating in many other projects. Sanchez says the group hopes to expand its activities by partnering with other likeminded organizations that need assistance and volunteers.

By participating in already established local animal-related events and launching new ones of their own, group members hope to encourage others to get involved, bringing awareness to the needs of local animals.

“We are looking forward to planning several events this year,” Kayla Dewitt, vicepresident of Paw Law and first year law student, says. “We hope to have more students participating at animal shelters, Meals on Wheels for pets, and at adoption drives. We are working on planning a pet chipping drive also.”

President Danielle Weaver, a second year law student, says her love of animals is what brought about her desire to help animals in need, advancing and educating others about animal rights.

“I believe the biggest obstacle we face in animal welfare is changing the way our society values animals,” Weaver says. “Education is fundamental to change behaviors that have been accepted in the past.

“Many people are unaware of the suffering that most animals face in laboratories and factory farms in the United States. One of the main goals of our group is to educate others in the hopes that once knowledge of inhumane practices is brought to light, people will demand change.”

Humane, quality care is especially concerning to the members of Paw Law as there are no current standards. “An animal owner is simply required to provide food, water and shelter,” Weaver says.

“There is no standard for what that actually means, so many people get away with letting their animals live in terrible conditions with dirty water and very little food.

“The penalties for breaking the law need to be strengthened. Often, those who are caught breaking the law are not prosecuted or only get probation, which allows the abuse and neglect to continue.

“I think people assume that the police and courts will make sure that those who are responsible for breaking animal laws are held accountable, but that is not always the case.”

The aforementioned farmed animals’ welfare is equally concerning. “Chickens, pigs, cows, etc., have no protection,” Weaver says. “These animals are no different than the ones we call ‘our pets,’ yet the majority of the public is unaware of the extreme abuse and hardship these animals suffer in factory farms across the nation.

“The horrific conditions these animals face are concealed from the public with the end result being a nice, neat package of meat in the supermarket. This problem is so big that everyone who cares about animal welfare, the environment and the nation’s health, in general, should educate themselves about the process of factory farming and find a way that they can make a change. Any effort helps!”

And the members of Paw Law are leading by example, not just in word but in deed.

“I volunteered at Woofstock,” DeWitt says. “It was so wonderful to see members of the Tulsa community supporting the pet community and even more wonderful to see so many families interested in adopting their pets.

“One of the events that I would really like to see a big turnout for is the chipping drive we are planning. I have never worried about chipping because my dog never leaves my side and doesn’t get spooked over things like storms and fireworks, and my cat is an inside cat.

“However, when the Moore tornadoes hit, and I saw so many animals displaced by the destruction, I began to worry more about the safety of my pet— especially after seeing the story on the news about one of the pets who had been claimed by a displaced family, being accidentally euthanized.”

DeWitt would also like to see Paw Law make a difference in raising donations for local shelters.

“This summer, I took a few bags of donations in to a local business to be taken to the animal shelters that were housing the pets displaced by tornadoes,” she says.

“I was impressed with how much they already had, and I would love to see more of that participation from the community year-round. It doesn’t take much [money] to donate. I have seen shelters ask for bowls, towels and cleaners, which can all be found at the Dollar Tree if you are wanting to keep costs down.”

Paw Law currently has 15 members, but the group plans to grow throughout the semester and coming years. Sanchez says they are dedicated to impacting the local animal community by raising awareness, money, and providing emotional support and love needed to find these unwanted pets loving, forever homes.

However, they will take on an even bigger task for animal welfare when they leave the classroom and begin their careers.

Weaver plans to focus on estate planning but will additionally practice animal law. Sanchez also can envision herself being a legal advocate and charging those guilty with animal abuse and neglect.

“Our passion for justice is what led us to law school,” Sanchez says. “And our love for animals is what brought us all together. Together, our Paw Law organization activities are not only aimed to impact in the short-term projects we take part of, but hopefully change the long-term aims of animal rights through ratifying local laws to raise the standards of care for our furry community.

“Paw law advocates for animals of every kind, and I believe our members are fully dedicated to improving the lives of others so that we can provide animals and people alike the love and passion we feel for our own animal companions.”

The future lawyers of Paw Law are clearly committed to making a difference for all animals, through every avenue at their disposal. As Paw Law Treasurer Kevin Lewis, a second year law student, points out, lawyers are often the subject of many one-liners—less than desirable. Yet this group is the antithesis of that stereotype.

“Despite all the familiar lawyer jokes,” he says, “lawyers play a unique role of protecting those that cannot speak or defend themselves in our society. The 2012 Humane Society’s ‘Humane State Rankings’ placed Oklahoma 30th in its laws protecting animals. By speaking for them, I’m convinced that TU Paw Law can make a significant contribution in raising the awareness of these issues to other law students and the greater community.”

Why Do You Advocate for Animals?

“Since I was little, I have always had a special connection with pets. I was and still am a huge fan of Jack Hanna, and I wanted to grow up to be exactly like him. The work that he does for animals and with animals is inspiring, and I want to do whatever I can to strengthen and support the animal community.” -Kayla DeWitt

“Some of my best friends have had four legs and could only tell me how happy they were to see me by their slobbery licks. Although I often envy the cushy lives my pets have known, their experience is not shared by others like them. My motivation for joining Paw Law is to honor the love my friends have shown me by my commitment to fighting animal cruelty and neglect of those less fortunate than them.” – Kevin Lewis

“I have always had a special place in my heart for animals. Throughout the years, that has developed into a desire to help animals and do what I can to advance animal rights and educate others on animal rights issues.” – Danielle Weaver

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