Bar News - September 20, 2017
Practitioner Profile: Animals and the Law: A Varied Niche
By: Kathie Ragsdale
Pat Morris would “rather shovel it in a barn than in an office.”
Animal law attorney Patricia Morris at her Center Barnstead farm with two of her adopted steeds, Joey, left, and Sundance.
Pat Morris poses for a photo with some of the thank-you letters she has received from the clients of her animal law practice.
Photos by Kathie Ragsdale
She may be the only attorney in New Hampshire who has represented the owner of a horse that nearly made it to the Olympics, has won reprieve for a pit bull facing death row and has occasionally accepted payment in the form of honey, maple syrup or fresh produce.
Patricia Morris, whose practice is focused on animal law, is no stranger to the unorthodox.
A Philadelphia native who grew up in Hopkinton, New Hampshire, Morris graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in economics in 1995, worked for telecom companies for several years, and then – at 32 – decided to go to law school to pursue business law. After graduating cum laude with a juris doctor from UNH Law in 2006, she went to work as corporate counsel for Pan Am Systems Inc., in Portsmouth.
“I was at work one day and said, ‘this isn’t cutting it,’” the longtime animal lover remembers of that time. “’I’m going to do animal law.’”
These days, Morris lives on her sprawling Center Barnstead farm with her partner of 20 years, whom she has known since high school, two dogs, a cat and five horses – including one bought from a kill/meat buyer and another that has one eye. She practices primarily from her home office and has a particular interest in equine cases.
Clients range from livestock owners navigating planning and zoning requirements to animal shelters dealing with state regulations to law enforcement agencies investigating animal cruelty cases. She takes the cruelty cases on a pro bono basis.
The work has taken her to such places as equestrian capital Wellington, Florida, as well as New Hampshire homes overcrowded with sick and neglected animals, and the dirt floors of a client’s outbuilding.
“I’d rather shovel it in a barn than an office,” Morris says with a laugh.
She has also worked with the Legislature and state agencies to craft bills and regulations pertaining to animals, is a board member at Volunteer NH!, and chairs both the Governor’s Commission on the Humane Treatment of Animals and the New Hampshire Disaster Animal Response Team.
A former adjunct professor of animal law at the University of New Hampshire Law School, Morris has also lectured at venues ranging from UNH’s Equine Studies Department to the University of North Carolina Law School and has published numerous articles on animal law.
Her animal advocacy has not gone unnoticed: In 2013, she was named Horse Person of the Year by the New Hampshire Horse Council, and this year the Humane Society of Greater Nashua chose her as the 2017 Animal Advocate of the Year.
The wall above her desk is papered with other sorts of accolades – thank-you notes from clients.
Ross Norwood, the woman who heads up Canine Commitment of New England, a nonprofit rescue organization, says Morris “has been an incredible resource for us and truly helps us be a better rescue,” and has been especially helpful in interpreting state laws and regulations.
As an example, Norwood says, she recently renewed the license for her operation, and said on the application that she uses three veterinarians. The state kicked the form back, saying she should only list one. Morris stepped in and noted the law does not stipulate a single veterinarian and the matter was resolved.
“As an independent rescuer, it can be pretty lonely because there’s no one there to support you,” Norwood says, “so having her has really been life-saving.”
Morris estimates that transactional work, such as liability waivers and contracts, accounts for about 50 percent of her practice and litigation another 20 percent, with the remaining 30 percent devoted to pro bono work, such as legislation and animal cruelty cases.
One transactional case involved a client from New Hampshire who had a Friesian horse she wanted to get onto an American-Brazilian Olympic dressage team. Morris spent the winter in Wellington, Florida, helping to navigate everything from Olympics regulations to Brazilian laws. The horse needed to score 64 points to qualify for the team – and got 63.56. But, says Morris, “it was a great experience.”
Because animals are considered property under domestic laws, “the hardest thing is damages,” she explains. Morris cites the story of a client with cancer whose golden retriever, Maggie, sat with him during his at-home treatments and was a great comfort to him in his illness. One day, a truck delivering his medical supplies struck and killed Maggie, and the cancer patient was so distraught he wanted to sue.
“What he really wanted was Maggie back,” says Morris, “but that wasn’t possible.” She negotiated with the delivery company, which agreed to donate $5,000 to establish “Maggie’s Fund” at a local animal hospital to help people who couldn’t afford treatment for their animals – a resolution her client accepted.
When not practicing, Morris likes to romp on the beach – on horseback, of course – and think back on the diversity of cases she’s handled. “I have to write a memoir someday,” she says.
Kathie Ragsdale is a freelance writer based in Chester, NH.