PORTLAND, Ore. - Some things shouldn't happen even to a dog. But they do.
In Pennsylvania last year, a warden ordered two kennel operators to examine some of their charges for fleas. Instead, Elmer Zimmerman of Kutztown shot 70 dogs; his brother Ammon, who had a kennel next door, shot 10.
Horrible, yes, said Jessie Smith, the state's special deputy secretary for dog law enforcement, when the killings were reported. "But it's legal."
No more. Partly because of outrage over the shootings, dogs in Pennsylvania kennels now can be euthanized only by a veterinarian, and the state keeps a tighter leash on the "puppy mills."
Changes in animal law have come, and not just to Pennsylvania. Other incidents of abuse and a shifting national conscious have made this one of the fastest-growing fields in the legal profession. In 1993, just seven states had felony animal cruelty laws; today, all but four do.
"Animal law is where environmental law was 20 years ago. It's in its infancy but growing," said Pamela Frasch, who heads the National Center for Animal Law at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, where she has been an adjunct professor for 10 years.
Lewis & Clark opened the first Animal Legal Defense Fund chapter in 1992. Today, it has branches at more than 115 law schools in the United States and Canada.
In 2000, nine law schools had animal law studies. Today about 100 do.
David Favre, who teaches animal law at Michigan State University College of Law and is a top authority in the field, said most animal-law cases in private practice deal with issues such as dangerous dogs, divorce settlements, purchases or other property-related activities.
But it is the animal-rights cases that draw attention. And while there have been advances in recent years, some issues remain unsettled. Should pets have more rights than livestock or wild animals? Are some species more deserving of protection?
State laws vary widely.
For example: At a Montana campsite, Gunner, a chocolate lab, was killed by a camper who cut off the dog's head with a chain saw and threw it at the owners.
Russell Howald, 30, was sentenced to the maximum - two years.
But in Iowa, undercover video shot by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals shows farm workers hitting sows with metal rods, slamming piglets on a concrete floor and bragging about jamming rods into sows' hindquarters.
Scott Heiser of Portland, a former district attorney who now is criminal justice program director for the Animal Legal Defense Find, said Iowa's general animal cruelty law exempts livestock from protection. If charges were brought against the workers, they most likely would be misdemeanors, at most.