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Many Americans today think of their pets as loving companions and family members, though American law still views them as property, according to Nadia S. Adawi, Esq., an attorney who specializes in animal law and serves as Vice Chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Animal Law Committee.

These opposing views, at times, result in heartbreak for pet lovers. For instance, if a pet owner were to sue after a dog or cat has been injured by a groomer or pet sitter, and win, he or she might expect to receive market value for their beloved pet which, for an aging shelter dog, may add up to no more than a few dollars.

From Feb. 23-27, the Fox Rothschild Center for Law and Society at Community College of Philadelphia held its 16th Annual Law and Society Week, which included a session, “Is the Law Going to the Dogs?” The session examined how the law is struggling to catch up with the rapidly evolving view of animals by society. More than 100 students, faculty and guests at Community College of Philadelphia packed an auditorium on Feb. 24 to consider the changing legal landscape in the nation, and how it might affect their pets.

Currently, about 68 percent of American households have a pet. There are 179 million cats and dogs living in American homes, according to the Humane Society of the United States. With the U.S. population tipping 319 million in 2014, that’s an abundant supply of pets. Consider that, in 2014, the population of humans—a.k.a. pet companions—was 12.7 million in Pennsylvania; 26.96 million in Texas and 6.5 million in Tennessee.

As pets have been transformed into celebrities, people walkers, therapy animals and guides, complex legal issues have begun to arise, Adawi says:

  • Seventy-one percent of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims. Still, many domestic abuse shelters don’t accept pets, Awari says, making their choices difficult. Between 25 percent and 40 percent of battered women are unable to escape abusive situations because they worry about what will happen to their pets or livestock should they leave.
  • People are creating trusts so their pets will be provided for after they die. The care of pets is becoming more important in estate law. Pet protection agreements, which are less expensive than trusts and allow people to name pet guardians, are gaining in popularity.
  • Divorcing couples are fighting over pets and, in some cases, custody hearings have been held to determine where the pet will live after a couple splits. There are not pre-pup agreements (at least not yet), Awai says, but divorce courts are delving deeper into animal issues.

The laws under discussion right now will shape the direction of animal laws and are watched closely, she says. In Pennsylvania alone, 33 animal-related bills were introduced last session in the General Assembly. One of them, House Bill 1750, prohibited the raising or killing of

cats and dogs for human consumption. The measure won approval in the state Senate, but later was buried in the House Rules Committee.

A standoff developed after an amendment was attached to the bill prohibiting pigeon shoots, where captive birds are released and shot. At that point, the National Rifle Association joined the debate and legislators let the measure expire. The NRA called the proposed ban of ‘pigeon shoots’ a slippery slope, and said it could open the door to more restrictions on hunting.

Afterwards, people around the country poked fun at the state, after headlines blared: “It is still perfectly legal to cook your dog in Pennsylvania.”

Since animals are considered by law to be property, much like a chair or a table, they don’t have rights, Adawi says. Not now, at least. Some animal rights groups are hard at work trying to change that attitude, however.

New laws and court rulings are changing the petscape constantly, Adawi says, providing a “good way of looking at where we might be going in the future.”

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Elena Tsizer credits Community College of Philadelphia for helping achieve her vision of the American dream.Elena Tsizer

Attorney Tsizer is now a solo practitioner living and working in Framingham, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. Her law practice focuses on family law, estate planning and consumer bankruptcy. She is also providing pro bono (free) legal services for the residents of several Massachusetts counties.

But when you speak to Tsizer, who arrived in Philadelphia in 1993 after emigrating from Ukraine, she makes one thing very clear—she is always grateful for the Paralegal Studies education she received at Community College of Philadelphia.

“The two greatest things about the program are a fantastic faculty, which consists of both practicing and non-practicing attorneys, who teach you how the law is truly practiced,” Tsizer said. “They teach you the skills you need to actually succeed in the legal field and outside of it. The second great thing about the program is that it teaches you how to research. The value of that skill cannot be overstated, regardless of whether you remain in the legal field or go elsewhere. I continue to use the skills I was taught here every day.”

Tsizer is a real-life example of a person who used a community college as a path to law school.

An analysis by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) in 2008 found that students starting at two-year institutions tend to succeed in law school as well as students who start at four-year institutions. LSAC also reports that more law school applicants, especially Hispanic/Latino applicants, are beginning their undergraduate education at more racially diverse two-year institutions nationwide.

She started at the College in 1996 after Philadelphia attorney Thomas Hora, who was then teaching at the College’s Paralegal program, recommended that she apply. She credits Kathleen M. Smith, J.D., director of the College’s Fox Rothschild Center for Law and Society, with helping her to enroll and eventually to graduate with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Paralegal Studies in 2003.

While at the College, she worked full time as a secretary in a solo Philadelphia law practice that served Russian and Ukrainian immigrants.

After her graduation, Tsizer went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Public Relations/Advertising from Temple University, a Juris Doctor degree from the New England School of Law and a Master of Laws in Taxation from Boston University.

Following law school, she served as a judicial law clerk for the Family and Probate Court Department of the Massachusetts Trial Court, which handles, amongst other things, the litigation of divorces, will contests, guardianship and custody cases.

Before her emigration to the United States, Tsizer was a ballet dancer in her native Ukraine, performing for the National Opera House of Ukraine, Kiev Classical Ballet Theater, and Kiev Theater for Children and Youth. An injury ended her dancing career.

Her hard work and upbeat attitude is helping secure a bright future for her. When you ask her what are among her life’s fondest memories, she smiles and says that her time at Community College of Philadelphia will always have a special place in her heart.

“This was one of the best programs I could have ever wished for,” she said. “It truly started my path to where I am today so it is truly a path to opportunity. When I attended the Paralegal Studies program, my life really didn’t begin until 5:45 p.m. in the afternoon when my classes started here. My fondest memory is actually coming here and studying and learning new things in English, which is my second language. This (College) was really my life and everything else I did all day was leading up to this.”

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Andrew Taylor, a student with ASD currently studying at Temple University, agreed, explaining that he started out at a four-year college in Philadelphia, “but it was too much. I switched to Community College of Philadelphia to take it easy and to start over. After I got my Associate of Arts from there, I went back to a nearby four-year college, and… it all fell into place.”

Congratulations to the Community College of Philadelphia men's basketball team for an amazing season. The Colonials recently returned from the National Junior College Athletic Association’s (NJCAA) Division III Championships in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y., where Rafiq Johnson was named to the all-tournament team. The Colonials finished eighth (26-5) in the nation in Division III.

During the first two weeks of March, HabiJax hosted students from Community College of Philadelphia, Simpson College, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame and Vanderbilt University.

"This is a microcosm," said Hughes, who serves on the organization's board. He had lost a job in banking and now works full time as a business adviser at Community College of Philadelphia.

Herkimer, 29-4 and ranked fourth nationally, plays Community College of Philadelphia at noon today in a consolation game.