A group of Baylor University Law School students is working to advance awareness and support for animal rights and humane treatment issues.

About 35 students have formed a student chapter of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a national group that lobbies for more legislation to protect animals and helps advance anti-cruelty cases.

“There’s a bunch of animal lovers at Baylor, so the love of animals is the driving force,” said the group’s president, Skylar Simons, who also volunteers at Waco’s Animal Birth Control Clinic.

“Other law schools have Animal Legal Defense Fund chapters . . . and it sounded like a really fun way to get involved and give back.”

Simons said eventually she hopes members can take on local animal cruelty cases pro bono.

For now, the Baylor chapter’s main goal is to encourage more awareness about current laws that protect animals and to encourage more aspiring lawyers to consider animal law as a field.

The organization is holding a panel discussion Monday at the law school exploring the link between domestic violence and animal abuse, such as cases in which an abuser attacks a pet as a means of intimidating family members.

Representatives from Waco’s Family Abuse Center and the state director of the Humane Society of the United States will speak at the 11:45 a.m. event.

This isn’t the first animal rights group to exist at the law school. Simons said another organization called Laws for Paws had similar goals, but disbanded about three years ago after the original founders graduated from Baylor.

Baylor does not have an animal law elective course, but the group hopes to lobby for one in the future as the organization becomes more established and draws more members.

“There’s kind of not a lot of (attention on animal law), it’s kind of where environmental law was 30 years ago,” Simons said. “I think that in the upcoming years, there will become more prevalent animal laws. It’s kind of a new area of law that’s being created right now.”

In addition to animal cruelty issues, Simons said groups statewide and nationally are lobbying for a system that prevents people convicted of abusing animals from being able to adopt a pet, as well as stronger laws that deter “puppy mills” with poor living conditions. There are also efforts to improve the Food and Drug Administration’s oversight of dog food and treats in response to recent cases in which pet food led to several dog deaths, she said.

Carrie Kuehl, executive director of the Animal Birth Control Clinic in Waco, said having a group dedicated to animal issues could prove useful in seeking justice in cruelty cases and strengthen community focus on being an advocate for animals.

“If we were aware of something going on, we would want to contact them so that they have the experience of (working) through that, and two, so that they can help even as students, maybe along with their adviser,” Kuehl said. “It’s a great Baylor-Waco area community partnership.”

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