By Julia Guerrein, Editor-in-Chief
Last fall, current Vermont Law School (VLS) Masters of Environmental Law and Policy (MELP) student, Daria Bednarczyk, was picked to participate in the inaugural Animal Law Student Scholars’ Workshop (the Workshop). The Workshop is a year-long project hosted by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
Bednarczyk came to VLS this fall to study for her MELP with a focus on animal law because she loves animals. She specifically chose VLS because she was “searching for an opportunity to immerse myself in an education and community filled with likeminded people whose passion it is to explore and navigate environmental challenges,” and VLS fit that description.
“I have spent my whole life trying to surround myself with [animals],” she said. “Whether it’s my dogs at home, getting involved with local animal shelters, or flying overseas to volunteer with feral street dogs in the Caribbean or rescued animals in Thailand. I am constantly seeking ways to help animals.”
Upon arriving at VLS, Bednarczyk enrolled in Professor Delcianna Winders’ class “Animals and the Law.” Based on Bednarczyk’s topic for a class paper, Professor Winders recommended that Bednarczyk apply for the Workshop. After she applied, Bednarczyk was accepted a few weeks later.
The Workshop partners participants with animal law and legal writing faculty to help them write, publish, and present a piece of scholarship.
Bednarczyk’s proposal, titled “Don’t Let HeiHei Get Washed Away,” discussed the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS Act). The title, a reference to HeiHei the rooster from Disney’s Moana, points to the lack of protection for farmed animals under the PETS Act. Specifically, the Act only applies to “household pets” or “service animals,” which leaves farmed animals without protection from the PETS Act during extreme weather events or other natural disasters. Similarly, the Animal Welfare Act also excludes livestock from its protections. As Bednarczyk points out in her proposal, farmed animals, such as poultry and hogs, have died during natural disasters because of inadequate planning and response.
Although the Workshop issue was predetermined, participants were allowed to choose a topic as long as it fit within the intersection of farmed animals, natural disasters, and animal protection/welfare. For the purposes of the Workshop, “farmed animals” is defined as animals raised for meat, dairy, or eggs.
“I chose my topic based on my knowledge of the deficits that farmed animals face in almost every aspect of law,” Bednarczyk said. “What really grabbed my attention was the enactment of the PETS Act of 2006 following the devastating loss of animal lives in Hurricane Katrina. Farmed animals are not protected by the Act and yet they account for the largest percentage of animal fatalities during natural disasters. These animals are viewed as investments rather than living beings. It doesn’t sit well with me.”
The Workshop has already started, and so far Bednarczyk has had the opportunity to meet the other attendees. The first meeting also included an introduction to the Workshop and a research seminar.
After completing her MELP, Bednarczyk plans to continue her legal education in VLS’s JD program.
Overall, Bednarczyk believes “that the [W]orkshop will help me improve my legal research, writing, and advocating abilities. Refining these skills would make me a better animal advocate.”
More information about the Workshop can be found here.