Legally Dog: a Brief Introduction

Legally Dog: a Brief Introduction

By: Sara Chisnell-Voigt  Date: 01/14/2013 Category: | Animal Legislation |

Ed. note: we are delighted to introduce Sara Chisnell-Voigt, attorney and legal council for the United Kennel Club, who has generously agreed to lend her talents to the NAIA as a recurring columnist, with a focus on canine and hunting issues. We asked her to start by introducing herself as there will undoubtedly be plenty of time for animal legalese later in 2013. So without any further ado...


Legally Dog

I come from a family that has a great passion and love for animals. While growing up, we had the normal pets—cats and dogs—but also some less common animals. A couple of ducks, box turtles, an injured cottontail rabbit, and some of the most memorable: a pair of opossum babies. Those were mine and I cared for them like babies; I even had a windbreaker with a pouch in the front where I carried the possums, mimicking their marsupial mother. We mostly had mixed-breed dogs that were either found strays, accidental breedings, or shelter dogs. While they were all family pets, one always felt more like ‘my’ dog—Nikki, a Doberman/Rottweiler ‘whoops’ cross. I showed her in 4-H Obedience and she was just my buddy as I grew up. I also had the horse bug from the time I was a little girl. My parents thought it was a phase but it just never went away. In high school my dreams of having my own horse were finally realized and the equine element was added into my life.

All of these factors set the course for my life. I was very active in 4-H all through school and my projects always involved animals in some form. I chose what college I went to based on the strength of their equestrian team and equine science program. I started as a pre-vet major, then decided to go with the 4 year veterinary technician program and follow with vet school further down the road. Then I had to take an equine law class for my equine science major. I LOVED the class, so much so I took the LSAT. That was all she wrote—my path changed and law school it was. I ended up at Michigan State University College of Law, which I believe was one of the few law schools in the country to have an Animal Law class at that time. There was no specialty or focus on Animal Law, but I made things relatable where I could. My last year of law school I elected to do an independent study and wrote what was in essence the law school equivalent of a thesis on equine sales and caveat emptor (“let the buyer beware”).

I had every intention of becoming an equine law attorney, which in reality is more like business law than other factions of animal law. I knew very little about animal rights and their side of the fence, but I knew all about breed specific legislation (coming from Ohio) and the many aspects of equine law. Knowing little about animal rights outside of PETA, I joined the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund and that’s where my eyes were soon opened. It started with equine law; Julie Fershtman, nationally known equine lawyer and 2012 president of the Michigan State Bar, was not necessarily given the greatest reception when she spoke at our Animal Law Symposium. It blew my mind, as she is one of the more successful attorneys in the world of animal law! However, like I said, equine law is more business law and deals with the property aspect of horses more than anything. Animal rights proponents hate the idea of animals as property, so they weren’t interested in hearing from a highly esteemed equine lawyer.

Hunting with Ozzy in Michigan

My experience with ‘animal law’ went downhill from there. While there were several well-intentioned law students in the group, there were some real extremists involved as well. The mourning dove issue reached its peak in Michigan while I was in law school, and I wish now I had paid more attention to the battle at the time. The SALDF got very involved, but I thought the whole fight was silly; hunting mourning doves has always been legal in Ohio so I really didn’t see what the big deal was, and honestly, at the time, didn’t really care either way. Looking back now, it’s scary that they won. Michigan is a big time hunting state, and they had celebrity Ted Nugent leading the battle, but the animal rightists (ARs) won and there is still no hunting of mourning doves in Michigan. Then someone in our group pushed through the idea of doing a “Meet Your Meat” table in the lobby of the law school, which was just too much PETA for me! THIS is the picture of animal law that most people get; not the animal law that people like Julie Fershtman practice and make an actual living from, but rather the radical animal rights activism side that is in reality only a small faction of animal law.

After law school, I got very involved with the sport of dock jumping with my German Shorthaired Pointer Oskar. The sport took us all over the country and led me to become more educated on all things dog: purebred dogs, health and nutrition, conditioning, behavior, and training. It also landed me at United Kennel Club’s Premier in 2007, where UKC President Wayne Cavanaugh took notice of Oskar. One thing led to another and a few months later I was working at UKC. I’ve been here 5 years and have learned so very much more about animal rights in that short window of time, and can now see what a very real threat it is. My passion for animals, dogs especially, has led me to a career I love. I analyze the issues for UKC, represent them when needed, and get my analysis out to dog owners to help them to become better armed in protecting our rights.

About The Author

Sara Chisnell-Voigt's photo
Sara Chisnell-Voigt -

Sara Chisnell-Voigt is an attorney who works as legal counsel for the United Kennel Club. She is also a board member of the Michigan Association of Purebred Dogs, Secretary for the Michigan chapter of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association, Council Member for the Animal Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, and a member of the American Bar Association TIPS Animal…

All Authors Of This Article: | Sara Chisnell-Voigt |




blog comments powered by Disqus