February 20, 2018

LC SALDF Hosts Prof. Rebecca Huss - Guardian of Vicktory Dogs

LC SALDF Hosts Prof. Rebecca Huss - Guardian of Vicktory Dogs

On Thursday, February 15th, 2018, SALDF hosted Professor Rebecca Huss via Skype, who discussed specific issues from the famous Michael Vick dog fighting case, where she acted as court-appointed Guardian for the “Vicktory” dogs, as well as other general issues regarding the confiscation of animals in criminal trials.

Professor Huss is also a distinguished professor of law at Valparaiso University School of Law where she teaches: business associations, mergers and acquisitions, animal law, and securities regulation. Professor Huss is member of the TIPS Animal Law Committee in which she has actively participated since its founding in 2004.

SALDF’s co-director, Maral Cavner launched the event by introducing Rebecca and directing everyone to the delicious lunch provided by Indian Connection for the event.

Rebecca commenced the talk by encouraging everyone to sign up as members of the American Bar Association and select a couple of subject areas where they would like to receive up to date information. More particularly, Rebecca spoke about the TIPS Animal Law Committee Section of the ABA and suggested that those interested should fill in the sheet handed around at the event. She discussed some of the benefits of being involved with the bar including staying up to date on development, potential job opportunities and exposure to different legal areas.

Rebecca then went on to discuss specific aspects of the Michael Vick case, which involved a dog fighting ring, and how she ultimately became involved. She distinguished between the criminal aspects of the case being the charges for animal cruelty as well as the civil aspects, including asset forfeiture – with the dogs being the property in question. She further explained the rationale for the prosecutors charging the defendant not with simply a dog fighting charge but rather a charge of conspiracy. The reason for this being that the potential for harsher punishment existed in using a conspiracy charge.

Rebecca then discussed some of the challenges with the Animal Welfare Act and in particular with regard to animal fighting cases but how these had improved somewhat since the case. She also talked to restitution (more particularly in light of the costs incurred in relation to the dogs between the time of seizure and ultimate conclusion of the case) and how these costs were important in ensuring that the seized animals (48 at the time) were properly cared for. An interesting point which arose in the case was the fact that the ASPCA did individual evaluations on each of the dogs in order to determine what should happen with them (ranging from euthanasia to placement in sanctuaries).

She then discussed her particular involvement and discussed the discretion she was offered in dealing with the case. She mentioned that because of the attention to the case, there was a broad variety of stakeholders with an interest in the case and the dogs and explained how she dealt with this.

Some of her key takeaways from the case included the following:

-        The importance of interim care for animals confiscated. Including stimulation for the dogs whilst in the shelters

-        The importance of veterinary care (and how this should be immediate).

Thankfully, Rebecca also presented a slide show showing some of the rescued dogs and the success stories and gave some updates on the animals as they are today.

Rebecca then spoke to some of the legal developments which occurred after the case as well as changes in policies, including that of HSUS.

Finally, she discussed some of the problems with seized property, particular in the context of animal property and looked forward at some issues with due process.