Pictured above (l to r): Kimberlee Martin (3L), Guest Speaker Will Potter, and Ashley Gruber (3L)
When third-year law students Kimberlee Martin and Ashley Gruber founded the FIU Law Student Animal Legal Defense Fund with alumna Aleksandra Sikorska ’12, they wanted to focus on educating the community on animal rights issues.
Staying true to their mission, SALDF hosted its Second Annual Animal Rights Panel on Saturday, March 30, in the Rafael Diaz-Balart Hall. With students and community members from all over South Florida in attendance, the panel featured three leading authorities on animal rights – Will Potter, Sherry Schlueter, and Richard “Kudo” Couto.
“Currently, many states are introducing ‘ag-gag’ bills that would criminalize whistle blowers and journalists for documenting and exposing animal abuses. This not only threatens animal rights, but raises constitutional concerns and food safety issues,” said Martin, president of SALDF. “We thought these three speakers could really shed some light on a lot of animal rights issues that are going virtually unnoticed.”
Potter, an award-winning independent journalist, discussed “Ag-gag” bills and how these laws would criminalize whistleblowing on factory farms that raise animals for food. Even though such bills differ from state to state, they share a few common elements including criminalizing the taking of pictures or video at these farms without authorization. As a result, Americans are kept in the dark about where their food is coming from.
Gruber, co-president of SALDF, echoed their sentiment. “While recent media attention has raised awareness of illegal slaughterhouses in South Florida, many people do not know the extent of the problem, or understand why those slaughterhouses absolutely need to be shut down.”
Couto and Schlueter, two individuals passionate and dedicated to animal rights, discussed their successes as activists. They illustrated how laws that prohibit activism are dangerous and could jeopardize everything they had diligently fought for.
Couto, founder of the Animal Recovery Mission, is well-known for his undercover investigations and work with the Miami-Dade State Attorney in shutting down nearly a hundred illegal slaughterhouses operating in South Florida.
Schlueter, a retired Broward Sheriff ‘Animal Cop’ and current executive director of the South Florida Wildlife Center, has extensive experience in the area of animal abuse investigation and prosecution, and has a profound knowledge of wildlife issues.
At the close of the event, Martin and Gruber received numerous compliments and even saw an increase in both student and community membership.
“The turnout alone was impressive,” said Schlueter. “I am comforted in the knowledge that intelligent, thoughtful students who care about social issues of great import to this society and its victimized inhabitants, will be leading this country one day soon as law professionals. It bodes well for all of us.”
With each event, the organization hopes to inspire responsible activism and it appears they are reaching this goal.