VLS welcomes new professor and expanded offerings in animal law

By Kirsten Williams, Staff Writer

Professor Delcianna Winders

Vermont Law School (VLS) announced that “renowned animal law expert and advocate” Professor Delcianna Winders will join the faculty as a visiting associate professor of law and the director of the school’s new Animal Law Program.

Prof. Winders joins VLS from Lewis & Clark Law School, where she directed the nation’s first law school clinic dedicated to farmed animal advocacy. She has extensive experience with the PETA Foundation and the Harvard Animal Law & Policy Program. She has also taught at several universities and her scholarship has appeared in numerous law reviews.

In anticipation of the new year, Prof. Winders answered some questions for The Forum about her experience in the field of animal law. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Q: How did you become interested/involved in the field of animal law?

A: “I went to law school specifically to practice animal law. By then, I’d been an animal advocate for about a decade—ever since learning how horrifically animals are treated in factory farms. Given my penchant for arguing, researching, and writing, law felt like the right avenue for my advocacy. Thankfully I was right!”

Q: Has anything really notable changed in the field since you first entered? For the better or worse?

A: “The field of animal law has grown tremendously in the 15 years since I started practicing. We’re seeing more and more programs in law schools—and I’m so thrilled to be a part of launching VLS’ very own—more jobs in the field, and more legal advocacy work for animals across the board. And there have been huge successes for the animals, with the days of elephants in circuses and tiger cub petting operations numbered, for example, and more and more jurisdictions banning some of the cruelest factory farm practices and the retail sale of companion animals. To be sure, there is still much work to be done and I’m excited to start training VLS students to tackle this work strategically and skillfully.”

Q: What is the most important thing law students should know about animal law?

A: “There is no one single way to practice animal law. We interact with nonhuman animals in a million different ways, and there are just as many ways to be an animal lawyer. But no matter what, having a solid legal education—including not just animal law classes but a broad range of coursework—is critical to being an effective animal lawyer.”

Q: What do you see as the key intersecting issue between environmental law in general and animal law specifically?

A: “Animal law and environmental law intersect in so many different ways; rich ways. For example, I recently published a book chapter about captive wildlife under the Endangered Species Act, a complex and rapidly evolving topic. But if I had to pick one key intersection, I’d say factory farming… the way that 99 percent of the animals used for food in our country are raised and slaughtered has dire implications not just for animal welfare, but also for the environment and the humans who live in it. I’m proud to be a part of coalition work addressing the combined animal, environmental, and human impacts of this unsustainable and cruel food system.”

Q: What are you most looking forward to about living in Vermont?

A: “The students and the whole community at VLS. I’ve had the good fortune to get to know this community a bit through teaching [Animal Welfare Law] in the summer program for four years, and it’s very special. The enthusiasm for and commitment to changing the world is exceptional.”

VLS will offer two courses in animal law for Fall 2021: Animals & the Law (taught by Prof. Winders) and Constitutional Animal Law, a Special Topics seminar (taught by Prof. Vesilind).

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