VLS Lawyer Raises Visibility Of Animal Law

Front Page / Oct. 1, 2009 1:29pm EDT

By M.D. Drysdale

Pamela Vesilind wanted to make one thing clear in an interview at the South Royalton Market last week:

“I’m NOT Pete’s lawyer,” she declared. With emphasis.

“Pete” is a moose that lives in the Northeast Kingdom, and you wouldn’t normally expect him to have a lawyer.

Nevertheless, a lot of people think that Vesilind, who is a lawyer and a 2008 graduate of Vermont Law School, either is Pete’s lawyer, or would like to be.

In fact, ever since she was interviewed about the moose at a demonstration for Pete in front of the Vermont Capitol, printed in the Barre Times Argus Sept. 13, she’s found herself to be a bit of a media celebrity.

In that interview she expressed interest in using her legal skills to help Pete, the moose that was found as a motherless calf and raised to adulthood by an elderly animal lover in Albany, David Lawrence. The moose now finds itself in a fenced elk hunting preserve, along with several wild deer.

The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife want Pete and the wild deer out of the enclosure. Wild animals and imported elk don’t mix, the department says. They worry particularly that the elk could carry the dangerous chronic wasting disease and could infect the wild population.

The moose’s status is even more complicated. It’s not an elk, and it’s not exactly wild, either. It’s more of a pet moose; but keeping a wild animal as a pet is illegal in Vermont.

Lawrence and Doug Nelson, who owns the elk preserve, both have claimed the department seeks the death warrant for the moose, and they’ve started a movement to support the animal, including a Facebook page which has reportedly attracted 5000 visitors.

The moose-support movement has attracted controversy as well. The danger of disease is real, wildlife officials say, and the fate of one moose ought not to stand in the way of wildlife health measures.

“Making a fetish of the moose known as Pete is absurd,” thundered the Rutland Herald and Times Argus in an editorial. Pete’s fate, the editorial said “ought not to be elevated above the fates of other moose or deer.”

The Sept. 12 rally in Montpelier attracted only about a dozen folks, and the issue seemed to be simmering down. But the appearance of Atty. Vesilind in a “support” role seems to have revived the controversy.

Vermont newspapers (including The Herald) and radios have been calling her, and so have the national media, including a television network and the New York Times, she disclosed last week. She expects some major coverage.

Law School Supportive

Vesilind left an earlier career in computer software in North Carolina four years and came to the South Royalton school because she was interested in animal law. After graduation, she won a staff position at VLS, where she is Instructor in Law and Assistant Director of the Academic Success Program.

The law school has been supportive of her involvement with the moose issue, she said. In fact, she said, she was first pointed in the direction of the moose dispute by Academic Dean Gil Kujovich. She had approached him about getting more courses in animal law at the school.

The dean saw the issue as a good avenue for pro bono (donated) time for her, and the opportunity also for a project that would attract the interest of students, she said. She noted that several students are already helping her with her moose research.

Still, there is the issue of who or what Vesilind is representing as an attorney—or would represent if it came to legal action.

“I don’t represent anybody right now, but I’m interested in David Lawrence’s rights,” she noted.

She’s spent a couple of hours meeting the moose with David Lawrence, who deeply impressed her as “a gentle soul.” She’s talked with Fish & Wildlife personnel about their position.

She sees a possible legal issue regarding the law that forbids wild animals being kept as a pet. Since the moose was “adopted” as an infant, perhaps it’s not really wild, and the law should provide for such an “exception,” she speculates.

Legal issues aside, though, Vesilind does see a value to the public interest in the moose and hopes it will spark activism on other animal issues.

She is particularly incensed about the elk-hunting preserve, and a similar preserve in east-central Vermont and looks for a legislative movement to ban game farms—which are unpopular already, even with much of the hunting community.

“There is nothing that is right about them,” she declared. “They are Vermont’s dirty little secret.”

Even though she doesn’t have a specific legal role right now, it’s still important that she’s a lawyer, she noted. It gets her noticed, and her concerns heard. It opens doors.

And though she is NOT Pete’s lawyer, it doesn’t hurt that some people think so, she admits.

After all, it’s not every day that the New York Times comes calling.

Return to top