As CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen reports, it's no joke. It's called animal law and Taimie Bryant, an animal law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, says it goes far beyond custody battles over Bowser.
"Animal law properly also deals with alleviating animal suffering," says Bryant.
And six of the nation's premier law schools, including Columbia, Duke, Stanford, UCLA, Yale and Northwestern, have each been given $1 million endowments to train future animal law attorneys.
It was a gift from Bob Barker, host of CBS' "Price Is Right" game show. Barker, a longtime advocate for animal welfare, hopes to influence a new generation of lawyers
"I hope they'll become aware of the exploitation and mistreatment of animals," says Barker.
The concern is less about pound animals or the nations 280 million domestic pets than the 10 billion animals that are raised for food and research; creatures largely unprotected by cruelty and welfare laws.
The Federal Animal Welfare Act does not cover 95 percent of research animals, including birds and mice, because they are not defined as animals.
"Chickens, for example, are not animals for purposes of the Humane Slaughter Act," says Bryant.
That means factory farm workers can handle chickens in ways that might get owners of pet chickens prosecuted for animal cruelty, says Bryant.
But that's not all. There is talk of animal property rights as new research reveals that animals, like prairie dogs, not only have feelings but language skills.
"If the human is wearing a yellow shirt, they are able to describe the color of the yellow shirt," says Dr. Con Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University.
And if the man in the yellow shirt wants to build a house on a prairie dog mound?
"There's a difficult question as to whether or not animals should be allowed to own land, which they've been able to occupy prior to human beings," says Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago Law School.
It's a very difficult question says Epstein, an animal law skeptic.
"If the animal rights movement had prevailed, in primitive times you would never have civilization as you know it," says Epstein.
It's a civilization that's now considering the scope of legal protection for every animal under the sun, including that chicken crossing the road.