Defending dangerous dogs and fur babies: The growing field of animal law
The fourth in a series about the weird and wonderful of the workplace
For many lawyers, the call to practice their profession is rooted in a deep desire to defend those without a voice.
That's especially true for Vancouver-based animal lawyer Rebeka Breder.
From dangerous dogs to pets facing eviction notices, Breder represents animals and their owners in the court system.
"Looking at the eyes of animals — that's what keeps me doing the job that I do," she said from her brick-walled office in Gastown, where she keeps dog treats and water bowls for visiting clients.
"Every single animal is a sentient being who deserves to be protected."
Breder, 41, has been practising animal law for more than a decade. In December 2016, she opened her own office. She says her field is quickly evolving — and growing.
Western culture increasingly values the humane treatment of animals, Breder says. And, more and more, people treat their beloved "fur babies" as family.
"I equate it to where environmental law was 20, 25 years ago," she said.
"That's where animal law is right now. It's really at the beginning of being recognized as an actual area of practice because it's such a wide range of issues that we deal with."
Animal lawyer in training
Breder lives in Port Moody with her family, which includes her husband, four-year-daughter, three rescue cats, and an aged Great Dane mastiff.
She often comes to work with pet fur on her slacks.
Breder considers herself lucky — she was just a kid when knew she was destined to defend animals.
When she was 13, growing up in the Montreal suburbs, Breder turned up at Pointe Claire city council to argue against duck hunting at a local lake.
A few years later, she moved to Vancouver to attend law school at the University of British Columbia.
After she joined Boughton Law, a large firm in downtown Vancouver, she immediately started to take on animal law cases.
She opened her own practice in late 2016. She says business has been steady ever since.
"People are very often surprised ... when I say that I practice animal law and that is all I do," she said. "They often ask if I can sustain a living by practising animal law. Yes you can."
Breder doesn't take on animal cruelty cases — those fall under criminal law and are taken on by Crown attorneys.
The most common cases she deals with include pet "custody" disputes when couples split up, as well as battles against condominium stratas that forbid pets, and dogs labelled as dangerous after they have bitten someone.
Because pets are increasingly treated like family, she says the cases often spark strong emotions.
For instance, she recently defended a "wonderful, beautiful, amazing husky" that escaped its yard in Port Coquitlam and attacked two young boys playing on scooters, one whom required two stitches from a puncture wound.
The city said the dog was likely to seriously injure more people and applied in provincial court to have it put down.
Robin Wishart, the city's director of corporate support, said the case was "quite shocking." Wishart thinks one of children could have been killed if an adult hadn't intervened. He said the boys were still "extremely traumatized."
But Breder argued the dog was just playing with the boys. As she does in most dangerous dog cases, she said the dog wasn't inherently aggressive, and it could be spared its life if precautions like a muzzle were put in place.
The case dragged out for months, while the dog was kept in a cement-floored cage at the pound. The husky was ultimately saved and released under several conditions.
"It was excruciating for the clients and the dog," she said.
Breder also teaches animal law as an adjunct professor at UBC. She says she has increasingly noticed courses and programs in her field of practice.
She believes animal law will grow as more lawyers become aware and trained.
"This area of law is expanding because people are very open about caring for animals. It's not as taboo to talk about how much you love your cat more than you may actually love your brother or sister," she said.
"Our society is showing more compassion towards the issues that involve animals."