OTI Online
Winter 2009

An Animal Lawyer Makes a Manifesto
by Barbara J. Gislason

We asked leading thinkers to describe New Revolutions We Need for a feminist and progressive future. Here's one response.


The Revolution Occurs Within: Manifesto of an Animal Lawyer

by Barbara J. Gislason

Admitting to ourselves that we are the
We look into the pool, blindfolded,
reach into the water for our reflection.

As the water buffalo rises,
we grasp its hide and hang on.
Science slumbers in the laboratory.
The water buffalo fades,
but her power assists us
in our internal journey
joined with external sensation.

It is more that we thought.
Thoughts, changing, permeable,
living within thought systems,
rising like bubbles,
disappearing over horizons,
the pretenders of truth.

Smell of flower, buzz of night,
shadow of rainfall, morning of air
whisper about the animal kingdom.
Shame, shame, shame.

Humans join the chorus.
He is bad.
She has lost her mother’s womb.
If science woke up,
we could evolve.

Hush, humans, blind to our mother.
Where is the author
of this manifesto?
A female attorney
shaping the emergence of animal law,
looking beyond the beyond
of revolutions.

There is a proclamation of who is bad.
It is you, you, you!
I turn to myself.
There is no distance.
There can be no distance.

Science wakes up and measures
the beginning of the circle.
The humans are inside.
All animals outside.
The circle is flat.

Elephants pick up spheres.
Can we see them through a microscope?
Can we see when there is no distance?
Nowhere to begin,
except with ourselves.

I feel a presence press upon my skin
inhaling who I am with gentleness
before lifting me high in the air.
My eyes turn toward elephant eyes,
the eyes search and the trunk cradles.
I am washed in elephant tears.

She lifts me higher and there I see
her family dining on acacia trees
with the lion in the distance, so still.
There are rumblings beneath my senses—
elephants, lions, or gunfire.

It is over and the bodies bleed red
over me as I am at the center of
my baptism in elephant tears.
I walk among them
administering final rites
and place the young ones together,
trunk leading trunk
past tusk less remains.

The Rule of Law has been opened.
Search the index for heart.
Religious texts have been opened.
Search the index for limitation.
Scientific methods are scrutinized,
but the elephants are missing.

Today I touch the dog, horse, antelope, deer,
sniff the tiger,
see my life force shining back.
Shall I be a seed planter, a doorway?
Where do I store animal knowledge,
unrecorded by civilization?
Can I ask the Wizard of Oz
for an elixir to infuse
the Rule of Law and
give the heart its home
for the elephants?

The world is on the axis of springtime.
Praise the exalted status of humans,
buildings, planes, starships.
How tall is our soul?

Scientists advance the work of Einstein
using scientific methods to unmask
the grand unifying principle.
I checked their index
but could not find love.

I am the scientist, the lawyer,
the lover of animals
and own my own dark shadow.
But I have grabbed my imagination,
greater than words,
and proclaim that
the circle shall disappear
and the elephants shall be reclaimed in the pool
beside the water buffalo.

We are all the water.

Introduction to my Manifesto

Beginning in 2003, I was the pivotal person launching Animal Law within the Minnesota State Bar Association and then the American Bar Association. At the time, I was afraid that animals would not survive in the increasingly toxic world described in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. I imagined how religion, mythology and science would influence the emergence of Animal Law, as distinct from Animal Rights Law. (See Q & A below.)

My quest for understanding is one that begs an honest view of the limitations of what we are willing to know. All facts cannot easily jump territorial and cultural barriers. Facts about cows in India, where they are sacred, are not interchangeable with facts about cows in the United States, where they are food and fiber.

Time after time, I see animal lawyers—and I have done this myself—utilize facts to justify what should not have to be justified, for example that animals should not be cruelly treated. We imagine methods for reform by placing within the circle of compassion the ones we love most -- our pets -- and hope the circle will develop.

Pet statistics, derived from the Amercan Pet Products Association are now typically included in articles to create the patina of objectivity. We learn that a majority of Americans consider a pet to be a family member, and collectively spend more than 40 billion dollars per year on them. Many pets have bed privileges and their names are mentioned in voice mail greetings and holiday greeting card signatures.

Animal law can have a transformative aspect. Stories can trump lifeless facts and figures. In our casebook law or common law, inspired judges can utilize, in effect, the stories offered in their courtrooms to take the ideals of justice inherent in the rule of law to new heights.

I challenged myself to weave together ideas, concepts and images. How influential was Renee Descartes, famous as a 17th century philosopher and designer of the scientific method, in our time? Was our willingness to minimize the essence of other animals traceable to him, or human superiority ideas imbedded in religiously based texts, as elucidated by mythologist Joseph Campbell? What about the history of science, described in books like David Bodanis’ E=mc2: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation? Why was the observation of abilities and phenomena beyond our understanding denied under the guise of scientific rigor, or, attributed to dark sources or celestial beings? Psychologist Carl Jung, and more recently, animal behaviorist Dr. Temple Grandin, offers ideas about humans thinking in pictures, and as Temple put it, “like animals do.”

In the end, I put my thoughts together in this “Manifesto.”


Animal Law: Q & A

Barbara Gislason is a pioneer in the development of the new field of Animal Law. Because of her efforts, Animal Law was recognized as a mainstream practice area in both the bar association in her home state of Minnesota and the American Bar Association. In this Q & A with On The Issues Magazine, she describes the field of Animal Law and why she wrote the “Manifesto” published in this edition.

Qu: What is Animal Law?

Barbara Gislason: Animal Law is a very broad, interdisciplinary field that is the intersection between the more traditional practice areas and the subject of animals. For example, an animal law case in family law could address who will receive title to the pet in a divorce, and perhaps, visitation. An animal law issue in estate planning would be how a person could provide for the future of the animal by will or trust. An animal issue in criminal law would be what type of cruelty laws apply to animals. In a medical malpractice case, an animal law issue would arise if a veterinarian negligently killed or harmed an animal. Lawyers in the field of animal law represent the plaintiff or the defendant, which means that the animal lawyers involved could have divergent points of view.

Qu: How is Animal Law different from Animal Rights Law, which you refer to in your writing?

Gislason: Animal Rights Law is really a subset of the animal rights movement, where people have strong views about a range of subjects, from animal cruelty to farming practices, and the belief that animals should no longer be considered property. An animal rights lawyer practices in the field of Animal Law. At this point in time, many of the animal lawyers have convictions associated with animal rights law because the field is in a pioneering stage. But a movement can never be synonymous with a practice area. For example, it is true that the environmental movement influenced the development of environmental law. But now, an environmental lawyer may be defending a company that is accused of environmental violations. In Animal Law, eventually you will have animal lawyers on both sides of an issue.

Qu: How did you get into Animal Law?

Gislason: I’m the kind of person who starts things. I was on a vacation in China in 2002 when I realized that I needed to do this. I described that experience in a newsletter article that is online at Maddie’s Fund.

Qu: What is the role of women in Animal Law?

Gislason: The leadership around the country is dominated by women. Perhaps empathy for an animal is similar to empathy for children. There are many men who love animals; the fact that fewer are involved in animal law speaks for itself. There may be more women leading this field because women, as a group, are more generous with their time, since it is challenging to earn money for legal services in this evolving field.

Qu: What did writing a Manifesto mean to you?

Gislason: I think when people are leaders, they have the ability to inspire others. Poetry is a universal language that reaches people intellectually and in symbolic ways that enables them to grasp ideas at a deeper level. The relationship between humans and animals is profound. Animals impact us in many ways. There is a spiritual aspect to animals and their relation to us that was well understood before modern times, and that has been lost in what we call civilization with its mechanistic use of animals. The fact that we do not comprehend the spiritual aspects of animals does not mean they do not exist. It is my personal belief that there is a consequence for our lack of recognition concerning the spiritual aspect of other life. Our ability to recognize a greater spiritual presence will affect such basic things as our ability to be happy. True happiness is not in the realm of the material, but in what is unseen, but real.


Barbara Gislason has been a practicing lawyer in Minnesota for 28 years. Read more about her work at AnimalAttorneyOnline and at her blog on Animal Law.

Also see The Poet's Eye in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See Terrorizing the Loved Pets of Women by Carol J. Adams in the Winter 2008 edition of On The Issues Magazine

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