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KU law student organizes animal cruelty clinic

  • Published Tuesday, April 19, 2011, at 12:07 a.m.

LAWRENCE — A dog-loving law student at the University of Kansas wants to make sure criminal cases of animal cruelty are prosecuted as thoroughly as violence against people.

At the suggestion of a professor, Katie Barnett is organizing what her research suggests would be the first animal cruelty prosecution clinic at a U.S. law school.

Law students taking part in the clinic will work with animal control, animal cruelty investigators at the Humane Society, police and prosecutors in Douglas County to make sure cases are prosecuted to a conclusion.

"This is the chance for me to give the animals a voice and a place in the justice system," said Barnett, a 30-year-old third-year law student.

Barnett's first dog was an Australian shepherd she adopted at 16. As a 19-year-old college student, she adopted a Rottweiler. She also lobbies around Kansas for Best Friends Animal Society and, with her husband, Anthony, started Game Dog Guardian, a Lawrence organization that rehabilitates pit bulls and helps find adoptive homes.

"She has a long history in involvement in animal rights issues," said law professor William Westerbeke, who approached Barnett about starting the clinic.

Many law students do clinical work already, and he said designating one to specifically coordinate and keep track of the animal cases would be beneficial for all involved. It also would save the Humane Society money and be terrific experience for the student, he said.

"It would guarantee, or hopefully enable, us to have those cases handled more efficiently or in a prompter way," he said.

Lawrence had a couple of high-profile animal cruelty cases two years ago, around the time Barnett started researching how to create the clinic. She has spoken with relevant city and state agencies to make sure they would be interested in the clinic, ridden along with police, gone on checks with animal cruelty investigators and gone to court.

"I spent a lot of time researching, seeing what everybody does," she said.

The first student in the program will begin in fall 2011, and Westerbeke said other eastern Kansas counties have expressed interest in the program if it succeeds.

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