Eric Torberson Receives Don Feare Animal Advocacy Award 2018

Eric Torberson is an Austin-based criminal defense attorney and animal defender who practices in the central Texas region. He received the Don Feare award in April 2018 for his dedication to animals and animal owners.

Torberson, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, is a former assistant district attorney and is involved in many organizations and associations, including the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the National College of DUI Defense Attorneys. He is a lifetime member of the VFW.

He got his start in animal law about four years ago, when he was approached by a colleague through the Austin Animal Law section to work on a case that required courtroom experience.

“There was a dangerous dog hearing set before my client’s case, and the owner didn’t show up,” said Torberson. “So the dog was ordered to be euthanized as a result.”

In that moment, Torberson felt he had to do more for the animal community in the courtroom.

“We treat our animals like family members, but in the court system many animals do not get due process,” he said. “When a person is accused of something, they have rights and can defend themselves. Often, there is no one to stand up for the animals. Juries and judges who have never met the animal are making life and death decisions about them.”

Eric TobersonTorberson has three dogs – Max, General Patton, and Nadia. He plans to continue practicing animal law, which takes up about 40 percent of his caseload.

The Don Feare award was created in 2012 after Feare, an Arlington-based civil litigation and criminal defense attorney, received a lifetime achievement awards for his dedication to animal law. That same year, he was also honored as one of the Top 10 Animal Defenders in America by the Animal League Defense Fund.

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Randy Turner Receives Don Feare Award 2012

Randy TurnerRandy Turner has always been an advocate for animals, and as a Fort-Worth based attorney, he has been dedicating a portion of his law practice to representing animal groups, humane societies, animal rights activists, and others who help animals for more than 30 years.

This dedication to animals earned him the Don Feare award in 2012.

Right out of law school, Turner moved to Fort Worth and started his own practice. It was then that he also began volunteering at the local humane society, cleaning out cages and caring for animals. When they learned he was an attorney, they asked him to join the board. That move launched the beginning of his work for animals—most of which he does pro bono.

“They didn’t teach animal law when I was in law school, so I was self-taught,” Turner said. He worked on cases defending PETA, the Humane Society of North Texas, and other organizations.

One of his proudest achievements is that, in all his years practicing animal law, none of the animal rights groups or activists he has defended in either criminal or civil cases has been convicted or found liable; they were either found not guilty or the cases were dismissed.

Turner has worked as a volunteer on wildlife conservation projects around the world, including orangutan rehabilitation in Borneo, Indonesia, elephant conservation in Kenya, and black rhino conservation in Zimbabwe.

The list of animal welfare organizations he has represented or served on is long. He has represented and served on the boards of directors of several animal welfare organizations. He is a founding member and past chairman of the Animal Law Section of the State Bar of Texas and frequently lectures on animal law and has testified several times in the Texas House of Representatives and Senate committee hearings on bills pertaining to animals.

The Don Feare award was created in 2012 after Feare, an Arlington-based civil litigation and criminal defense attorney, received a lifetime achievement awards for his dedication to animal law. That same year, he was also honored as one of the Top 10 Animal Defenders in America by the Animal League Defense Fund.

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Winners of the First Annual Student Writing Competition

The Animal Law Section of the State Bar of Texas announced the winners of its first annual student writing competition at the Animal Law Institute that took place on March 9, 2012, in Fort Worth, Texas. Students at Texas Law schools were asked to write a paper on any topic related to animal law. Winners were as follows:

Student Writing Competition Winners
Winners at the Animal Law Institute, with Professor Fran Ortiz

First place – Sarah L. Weinstein, South Texas College of Law, Animals and the Antiquities Act of 1906

Second place – Lisa Turner, Texas Wesleyan School of Law, Valuing Companion Animals in Tort: Why the Texas Supreme Court Should Revisit and Reform Its 1891 Holding in Heiligmann v. Rose to Allow Companion Animal Owners to Plead Sentimental Value Damages

Third place – Cathryn Copeland, SMU Dedman School of Law, More than the Sum of Their Parts: Why Animals Should Not Constitute Patentable Subject Matter

Honorable Mention – Melissa Ann Lesniak, St. Mary’s University School of Law, Comingling Canines and Other Unique Considerations of the Legal Rules of Professional Conduct in Cases Involving Animals

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Careers in Animal Law

Careers in Animal Lawby Yolanda Eisenstein

Yolanda Eisenstein is an attorney with an animal law practice in Dallas, Texas.  She is an adjunct professor in animal law at SMU Dedman School of Law.  She is vice chair of the American Bar Association TIPS Animal Law Committee and former chair of the State Bar of Texas Animal Law Section.  She serves on the advisory board of the Texas Humane Legislation Network, a nonprofit organization that advocates for pro-animal legislation in Texas.  She speaks regularly on animal issues and has written a book, Careers in Animal Law: Welfare, Protection, and Advocacy, published by the ABA Law Practice Management Section and ABA Law Student Division.  Eisenstein graduated with honors from SMU Dedman School of Law.  She is licensed to practice in Texas and New Mexico.

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Don Feare Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Also at the Animal Law Institute, Don Feare was awarded with the first “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the Animal Law Section for his work in animal advocacy. Don practices civil litigation and criminal defense in Arlington. He regularly handles a large volume of animal law cases. Don has also been honored as one of the Top Ten Animal Defenders in America by the Animal Legal Defense Fund in 2012, and was recognized by the City of Arlington for his role in the largest animal cruelty seizure in world history in which 27,000 animals were seized from an import/export business. Don is a past member of the board and the legislative committee of the Texas Humane Legislation Network (THLN). He is a photographer and field contributor to Nature Photographer magazine, and writes about animal law and waterfowl behavior and diseases. In addition, he speaks to civic and animal groups throughout the country. Don lives at the Wildflight Rescue Foundation, the sanctuary he established in the late 1980’s. Don is an adjunct professor of animal law at his alma mater Texas Wesleyan School of Law, where he has been voted as a distinguished alumni from the law school.

Don Feare, Lifetime Achievement Award

Don receiving the award from Randy Turner, the Section Chair.

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About the ABA Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section Animal Law Committee

Founded in late 2004, the American Bar Association Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section’s Animal Law Committee addresses all issues concerning the intersection of animals and the law.  The status of animals in our legal system, and in our society at large, is in flux, and attorneys are discovering creative and interesting ways to use the rule of law in many different arenas to create a just world for all.  These arenas involve a vast array of human/animal interactions, including estate planning for companion animals, liability standards and insurance coverage when an animal causes harm, appropriate compensation when an animal is killed or injured, standards of care and accountability for animals used in industry and agriculture, expanding notions of what constitutes “cruelty to animals,” and the competing interests of wild animals and humans in dwindling resources.  The mission of the Animal Law Committee is to be the instrument of a paradigm shift in the way the law addresses animals within our society.

The Animal Law Committee has approximately 380 members and is growing.  The Committee has been extremely active since its inception providing its members with a variety of resources to promote professional development while also promoting the protection of animals though the law.  The Animal Law Committee has published three books, hosted a number of CLE programs, and created a podcast series.  The Animal Law Committee boasts twelve substantive subcommittees, produces three newsletters a year, maintains an active Facebook page to keep their membership up-to-date on the developments in animal law globally, and annually recognizes the outstanding achievements of one of its members through the Excellence in the Advancement of Animal Law Award.  Through the Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section, the Animal Law Committee, has sought ABA approval of a number of policy initiatives including the adoption of a Model Act Governing Standards for the Care and Disposition of Disaster Animals while also being active in a number of public interest projects, including the establishment of the Animal Disaster Network and a continuing and expanding humane education project.

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Spotlight: South Texas College of Law Animal Law Society

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) indicates that one of the largest contributors to the growth of Animal Law as a course of study in law schools is through the efforts of student ALDF (SALDF) chapters. SALDF chapters have been established at seven of the nine Texas law schools. This month’s spotlight focuses on one such chapter, the Animal Law Society established at South Texas College of Law in Houston.

STCL’s Animal Law Society was organized in 2007 by three students interested in learning about the practice of animal law. Through their efforts, the organization achieved recognized status as an official student organization the following year. Since that time, ALS has become one of the more visible student groups on campus and has been named Student Organization of the Year four times. Under the leadership of five different presidents since its creation, the group continues to thrive.

The stated mission of the ALS is to “provid[e] a forum for education, advocacy and scholarship aimed at protecting the lives and advancing the interests of animals through the legal system and rais[e] the profile of the field of animal law.” To that end, the ALS brings in speakers each month to address issues of importance to the animal law community and has worked on joint speaker programs with the Houston Bar Association Animal Law Section (HBA-ALS). Past speakers have included, among many others, Belinda Smith, Chief of the Animal Cruelty Section of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office; Officer Joel Caldwell, Commander of the Animal Services Unit of the Galveston Police Department; John Pippin, Director of Academic Affairs for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine; Tom Linney with ALDF; and Allie Keaton with My Service Dog, Inc. In one memorable event, ALS joined with the HBA-ALS to present a viewing of Behind the Mask, a documentary about the Animal Liberation Front, followed by a forum on the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act with Shannon Keith, animal advocate and director of the movie, and STCL national security law professor Geoffrey Corn. Animal law professor Fran Ortiz moderated.

ALS is particularly known for its charitable efforts and has sought to increase its gift-giving every year since its inception. The group holds two main fundraisers, a Howl-O-Ween photo contest in the fall and a silent auction in the spring. Last year, under the leadership of president Christina Fojas, ALS raised over $16,000, the bulk of which was contributed to the Spay-Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP) to provide for five Spay Days with SNAP’s mobile clinic in low-income neighborhoods in Houston and Interfaith Ministry’s aniMeals on Wheels. Last semester’s fundraising efforts, led by president Johanna Miller, have already raised over $4,000, most of which was donated to My Service Dog, Inc., for training of a therapy dog for the physically challenged son of a STCL student. The balance went towards relief for residents and animals displaced by the Texas Wildfires. Past recipients of ALS donations include San Antonio’s Guide Dogs of Texas, Inc., the Houston Humane Society R.A.I.D.E.R. program, Caring Critters (a therapy dog organization), and various organizations assisting in disaster relief in Japan.

This semester’s silent auction fundraiser, led by current ALS president Jennifer Fox, was held February 27 through March 7, 2012 for the benefit of SNAP and Corridor Rescue, Inc., an organization dedicated to helping abandoned animals in Houston’s “corridor of cruelty.”

ALS also maintains funding for the Hon. Michael H. Schneider, Jr. Animal Law Society Scholarship, established by Judge Schneider in 2009. The scholarship is awarded to up to two students annually who have demonstrated an interest in animal law, animal welfare, or animal rights. Anyone interested in contributing to the scholarship may do so by contacting Kim Parker, Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations at South Texas College of Law, at

South Texas College of Law offers courses covering animal welfare, animal rights, and management of wildlife resources as well as student internships relating to animal law. For more information about the animal law program at STCL or about ALS, contact Professor Fran Ortiz at

Animal Law Society Silent Auction 2010

Animal Law Society members man the tables at its annual Silent Auction in 2010.

ALS President Christina Fojas (left) and Vice President (later President) Johanna Miller pose with Student Bar Association President Joe Patranella after ALS was named 2010-2011 Student Organization of the Year.


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Animal Law Annual Institute

The 2011 Texas Animal Law Institute took place on April 29, 2011, in Austin, Texas, and began with a section report from Jean Jennings, 2011 Chair. A variety of topics were presented at the Institute, including Estate Planning for Pets, Lobbying for Animals, City Ordinances affecting animals, Scientific Research, Wild Horses and the Bureau of Land Management, and other “Hot Topics” in Animal Law. The day concluded with a lively debate on Animal Protection, with perspective given for both the Animal Rights and Animal Welfare views.

New officers were announced; Randy Turner will serve as the 2012 Chair with Fran Ortiz as the Vice-Chair. The secretary position will be held by Katherine Killingsworth, and treasurer by Jill Elsey. Four council positions were up for election and were filled by Don Feare, Joel Hailey, Ann Manes, and Dawn Reveley. The remaining four council positions will continue to be held for one additional year by Amy Bures Dana, Bill Davis, Dena Fisher, and Susan Hightower.

Plans are already underway for the 2012 Institute, which is scheduled to take place on Friday, March 9, at the Texas Wesleyan University Law School in Fort Worth, Texas.  For additional information, please visit

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Animal Law Section’s New Website

The Animal Law Section is pleased to present its new website. The content will be launched in phases as we develop and post new news and information. Serving as the Section’s professional resource, the new site will reinforce the Section’s mission to promote the study and understanding of animal law.  New or prospective members and the public visiting the site will have a clear sense of the Section’s mission, history, and goals, as well as its membership and programs. The e-mail list, newsletter, and Section directory, and a place to post referrals, will be compiled for members in a secure and password-protected portion of the site.  Finally, efforts are underway to compile research content and analysis to assist Section members involved in cases which implicate the status or interests of animals under Texas and federal law.

For questions, comments, or suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact Kristen Schlemmer, Chair of the Website Committee, at

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Animal Law in Action

by Katherine Killingsworth

In February of 2001, Samson- a German Shepherd mix, met Moe Nasr. Samson was just a tiny pup of five weeks old at that time- and had arrived at Moe’s office in a box. To say it was love at first sight is an understatement; Moe called his wife Louise right away and proclaimed Samson to be “the best dog in the world.” Moe and Louise adopted Samson and watched him grow to a full 95 pounds. Samson soon became a regular fixture at Moe’s office and loved playing soccer with all the guys- he could even block the ball with his chest!

At age six, the Nasrs were devastated to learn Samson had been diagnosed with cancer, but were hopeful he would overcome the disease with proper care. Sadly, in August of 2009, Samson succumbed to the cancer – possibly due to overtreatment.

After Samson’s death, Moe and Louise contacted Animal Law attorney Amy Bures Danna. They discussed several options, including taking action against the veterinarian that possibly over-treated Samson. Through this process, the Nasrs learned about many Texas animal law issues, and decided that “the only true means to helping animals is through the law.” Because of this, the Nasrs established an animal law scholarship in Samson’s honor at the University of Houston Law Center.

The Samson Memorial Scholarship will be awarded annually to a second or third year University of Houston Law Center student that wins an essay competition on an animal law related issue. The first recipient was Kathy M. Goodwin; she received the $1,000 scholarship at a law school award ceremony on April 20, 2011.

SamsonWhile Louise and Moe still feel Samson’s loss every day, they find satisfaction in knowing that the Samson Memorial Scholarship provides an avenue for them to make a positive impact on animal related legal issues in Texas. Louise and Moe are grateful for the assistance that Amy Bures Danna was able to provide and hope that the scholarship recipients will follow in her footsteps by using their legal expertise to help promote saving animals.

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