In recent years, animal law has flourished, with extraordinarily talented and courageous women entering the field. Among them are these three women, all of whom have been featured by Unbound, the multimedia documentary project celebrating women in animal advocacy.
In 2012, Shatha Hamade was named Australia’s Young Lawyer of the Year. She had left the corporate world to train in law with the specific aim of helping animals, after a chance encounter with an animal welfare stall one evening in Sydney. “That night I learned about the battery hen, the sow stall, fur farms, animal testing etc., and that’s pretty much when my life changed,” she recalls.
Working initially as a prosecutor for the RSPCA South Australia, today she is Legal Counsel for Animals Australia, where both her focus and motivation is ending the trade in live exports.
“We send millions upon millions of Australian animals on vessels to importing countries so that they can be slaughtered over there,” she says. “The average vessel voyage is about 21 days where they basically stand in their own excrement in these horrible rickety ships with no airflow, only to turn up in markets that have no animal welfare protection. A lot of them die. The unlucky ones actually make the voyage.”
Governments around the world have long been unwilling to amend this trade, but there are signs that this is changing, thanks to the work of Hamade and Animals Australia. In June 2018, they took the Federal Government to court over the licensing of shipments to the Middle East, after the Australian Veterinary Association condemned the cruelty and declared that summer shipments of live sheep should be banned. Hamade won the case before it even went to trial, after the Department of Agriculture conceded it had made a legal error in granting the export permit.
The following international public outcry led the government to permanently cancel the export licence of Emmanuel Exports, one of the country’s leading live export companies, which sought to sidestep the ban and use the licence of its sister company (EMS Rural Exports) to ship 45,000 sheep from Fremantle. Hamade and her team were ready, and announced their intention to seek an injunction to stop the ship leaving should an export permit be granted. EMS Rural Exports’ licence was suspended.
Since then, the campaign to end the trade has truly gathered momentum, and it is hard to imagine that the Animals Australia team will not win in the long-term. Hamade has been integral to that fight. She says, “Every day I feel that I am in the best possible position to make the biggest impact for animals.”
After law school, Alanna Devine took a job as Director of Animal Advocacy at the Montreal branch of the Canadian SPCA. Her personal commitment to promoting animal protection brought her to veganism, while her professional commitment led her to focus initially on one key area. For Devine, it was dog welfare. She worked to close puppy mills and rescue the industry’s victims, while focusing on spaying and neutering, and ending the chaining of dogs. More recently, she has worked to combat breed-specific legislation.
While Quebec once lagged behind the rest of Canada – and much of the world – in its legal protection of animals, things are changing in the public mood and, consequently, in the law: In 2015, some animals there were finally recognised as sentient.
The road to animal protection is not littered with easy victories, but Devine believes that each milestone should be celebrated. “Anything that we do that reduces suffering in some way, shape, or form should be considered a victory, so whether it be one animal and focusing on that one animal, or one person who has decided that they are going to change their way of life because they actually understand that they don’t need to eat animals or wear animals, and that they can live a happy, healthy, joyful life without the causing suffering of others, is a victory.”
According to Devine, the most important thing that lawyers can do to change the status quo for animals is to normalize the conversations about animals in our society. “One of the really important things we should be doing, and I think we are doing, is encouraging the teaching of animal law in law schools, speaking with future lawyers and judges and politicians, and ensuring that their personal beliefs are aligned with an understanding of animal sentience and animal rights.”
This, she feels, will move concern for animals in legal realms from the margins to the mainstream. “If you are in front of a judge who is vegan, someone who understands that animals do not need to suffer for the various purposes we make them suffer for, I think that is fundamentally important.”
In July 2018, Sophie Gaillard took over the role of Director of Animal Advocacy at the Canadian SPCA from Devine.
She is passionate, with an innate sense of justice. “I became vegetarian when I was four years old and my parents first explained to me what meat was and where it came from very honestly. I was so shocked and revolted that I said I’m not eating any more of it.”
From there, her activism grew, though she could not initially see a career in animal protection, instead training as a speech-language pathologist. But when she came across the Animal Legal Defense Fund and saw lawyers working on behalf of animals, she knew what she wanted to do. She went back to school, got her law degree, finished her bar, and joined the SPCA.
Does this fulfil her? Certainly. Is it easy? Of course not. “When we choose law as our tool we are forced sometimes to bend to what we can use,” she says, remembering a mentor cautioning her against going to law school if she really cared about making a difference for animals. You can’t be an animal lawyer and be true to your philosophical beliefs in your practice, she was told. Gaillard disagreed then and still disagrees now, but she acknowledges that sometimes legal strategies take a long time to unfold, that it is necessary to move incrementally, which might involve some compromise.
“I think a lot of our work requires a little bit of sidestepping and tackling what may seem like minor issues in the grand scheme of things, but these ultimately help develop case law in a way that advances the interests of animals,” she explains.
“Things have moved a lot for the animal protection movement in the past ten years. This is a cause that wasn’t taken seriously, that was described as being sentimental – and as a woman, that is something that is particularly annoying.”
But now animal protection is emerging as an area of serious concern, she says, both ethically and legally. “It is an uphill battle all the way, but it makes us resilient.”
Visit www.UnboundProject.org to read more stories of women on the frontline of animal advocacy.