It was love at first sight for Pam Hart Alexander ’90, JD’02 when she met Max, the German shepherd-chow mix who set her on her path to pursue and advance the emerging field of animal law. Alexander adopted Max, who had been abused as a young puppy and was found abandoned at three months old in New York City. A few years later in Madison, she adopted Sophie, a catahoula-basenji mix with a broken jaw — the result of being on the periphery of a domestic-abuse household.
“I couldn’t understand how someone could hurt a vulnerable dog, especially when they trust us and rely on us,” says Alexander.
Addressing this largely ignored link between domestic violence and animal cruelty, she approached her public-interest law professor in 2000 with an idea to start a nonprofit for two credits. Working with Dane County Domestic Abuse Intervention Services and the Dane County Humane Society, Alexander co-founded Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims (SAAV) with fellow law student Megan Handzel Senatori ’98, JD’01.
SAAV is an all-volunteer organization that provides emergency, confidential foster care for pets of domestic-abuse victims receiving services or shelter in Dane County. Alexander remains active with the organization and now serves on its board of directors.
She also forged ahead with her law degree. No animal-law classes were taught at the UW Law School when she started, nor was there a student group. Alexander began studying and reading about the subject on her own and became a student member of the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). She now works remotely from Madison as director of the Animal Law Program for the California-based organization.
Founded in 1979, ALDF has blazed the trail for stronger enforcement of anti-cruelty laws and more humane treatment of animals through its three primary programs: litigation; criminal justice, which works with law enforcement and prosecutors to seek penalties for animal abusers; and animal law, which Alexander promotes among legal professionals and in law schools nationwide.
Alexander co-taught the first animal-law course at the UW Law School in 2003 with Senatori, and she continues as a lecturer at the University of Chicago. Since she began law school ten years ago, Alexander has seen much headway in the field. In 2000, only twelve student chapters of ALDF existed, and that number has now swelled to 150, including an active UW-Madison chapter. Likewise, only nine animal-law classes were taught in the country in 2000; now there are more than one hundred.
“This is a legitimate area of the law very much akin to where environmental law was thirty years ago, as far as people maybe questioning its validity,” she says. “Once you explain that animal law intersects all traditional areas of the law — criminal law, torts, family law, and constitutional law — people start to get it.”
Ben Wischnewski ’05