Animal Law Bites Back

A immigrant rights supporter grasps a flag during an immigration rights march through Phoenix, Tuesday, May 1, 2007.
AP Photo/Matt York
It's a little lonelier for Iris Lewis than it used to be at her rural New York home. For almost 10 years she shared these grounds with her dog Emily, reports CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger.

"For years I was connected to this animal and when she died a part of me died," said Lewis.

Iris Lewis' dog died after she says a pharmacy printed the wrong instructions on the dog's prescription bottle. At first she was told the dog wasn't worth more than a few dollars. Now she's suing — for millions.

"They hurt me. And why should they be able to just kill my pet and just walk away and say 'too bad,' as if it was like a chair," recalled Lewis.

It's the kind of case that attorneys and judges are starting to take seriously.

Stephen Wise has written books about animal law and taught courses on it at several law schools including Harvard. He said, "I think they are realizing that for many people, companion animals are treasured members of their family. It's a growing trend."

In addition to Harvard, several other major law schools are teaching animal law. Big law firms are taking on cases involving animals and more lawsuits are being filed for big money.

"Finally society is stopped and is looking at this issue seriously with objective, reasoned judgment and is recognizing that the way it works now is not right," said David Wolfson. He works at one of New York's oldest blue-blood law firms. Most of the time he works on multi- billion-dollar corporate mergers.

But in his free time, he represented an animal sanctuary in upstate New York. The local town wanted to revoke the sanctuary's tax exemption.

The town argued this wasn't a real charitable organization because it helped only animals and not humans.

A state appeals court ruled in favor of the sanctuary and set a precedent.

"It said that caring for animals is charitable because doing so is beneficial to humans generally," said Wolfson.

There are lawyers - who are animal lovers - who worry that the courts are going too far.

Richard Cupp teaches law at Pepperdine University. "These legal arguments are steps towards having us think of animals as having rights," said Cupp.

And that, worries Cupp, could lead to huge payouts in lawsuits over animals.

It's an argument Iris Lewis has heard before from lawyers who have said she is only entitled to enough money to buy another dog to replace Emily. But the question she wants a court to answer is: how much Emily is worth to her.

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