Montana May Implement Crackdown On Fake Service Animals

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Now it’s Montana’s turn.

According to a recent account, the Treasure State may soon join a growing list of states that have cracked down on the use of fake service animals.

With an 85-15 vote earlier this week, Montana’s House of Representatives endorsed a bill establishing punishments for people who pass their pets off as service animals. As it now stands, HB 439 would make  the misrepresentation of service animals a misdemeanor offense. Anyone convicted would face:

  • A $50 fine for a first offense
  • A fine ranging from $75 to $200 for a second offense
  • A fine ranging from $100 to $1,000 for a third/subsequent offense

HB 439 also stipulates that anyone convicted of the offense may be required to perform community service for an organization that advocates on the behalf of persons with disabilities.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

Within this context, it is important to note that these punishments could only be imposed if:

  • the offender had previously received a written warning regarding the misrepresentation of his or her pet as a service animal; and
  • continued to represent the pet as a service animal
  • in order to gain any rights or privileges afforded to a service animal.

Misrepresentation of a service animal

HB 439 defines misrepresentation of a service animal as activity in which someone:

  • equips the animal with a leash, collar, cape, harness, backpack, or sign identifying it as a service animal; or
  • says or provides written material claiming that the animal is a service animal;
  • in order to access certain places with the animal; and
  • it is determined that the animal is not properly trained to perform a service animal’s functions.

Legally, a determination regarding lack of sufficient training necessary for a service animal could be based on: whether or not the dog is housebroken; whether it is under the handler’s control; and the handler’s ability or inability to bring the dog under control.

Additional provisions

If the bill becomes law, establishments that don’t provide access to pets would have to post signs indicating that:

  1. They do allow service animals.
  2.  They are legally allowed to ask the owner if the animal is a service animal required because of a disability and what work or task the animal is trained to perform.

Furthermore, establishments may not be able to make complaints against suspected offenders unless they have posted a public notice indicating that they reserve the right to do so regarding the misrepresentation of service animals.

Finally, animals that are not under their handler’s control or are not housebroken may be asked to leave in accordance with the bill, which is similar to language in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Pros and cons

People in favor of and opposed to the measure voiced their opinions at a House Judiciary Committee Meeting on March 11.

William Austin, a disabled veteran who has a service dog, spoke first. Because people misrepresent their pets as service animals in order to take them into certain establishments, people who have legitimate need of service dogs are challenged, he said. In large part this is because the “fake” service animals are disruptive and don’t behave well, he added.

But Austin said an even greater concern is the safety of real service dogs and their handlers. Specifically, he shared a story about a “fake” service dog that attacked a real service dog belonging to a friend.

“There needs to be something done to stop folks who deliberately falsify their animals as service animals,” Austin concluded.

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Cat Fanatic Proves You Can Fight City Hall

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Here’s a question for you. Do you think the government (town, city, county or state) should be allowed to regulate how many pets you have?

Personally I have mixed feelings on the topic. On one hand I think it’s a great way to prevent hoarding — as long as the laws are actually enforced before things get out of hand. I also think it’s a good way to encourage responsible pet ownership — even if it can’t guarantee that people will treat their pets properly.

And then there’s the rebellious part of me. This is the part that says, “Wait just a minute. How dare you tell me how many pets I can have?”

Fighting city hall — and winning

Apparently a Utah man feels the same way. As recently reported in The Salt Lake Tribune, a West Valley City resident has two black cats and wanted to get another one. But when he went to the local animal shelter to get one, he learned that he couldn’t because of a city regulation limiting the number of cats and dogs residents could have to two per household.

Furr-911 rescues Hurricane Harvey kittens.
Hurricane Harvey kittens make an appearance at Puttin’ on the Dog festival, courtesy of FURR-911. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

When he learned the only way to change that was to convince the city to change the rules, he took the challenge seriously. And after six months of lobbying, his persistence finally paid off.

Earlier this month, the City Council unanimously passed an amended ordinance that “would allow for pet owners to apply for a permit to have up to four cats or dogs.” However, the restriction pertaining to the total number of pets is unchanged, meaning that residents still can’t have four cats and four dogs. An exception to the limit for kittens and puppies up to 4-months old is also unchanged.

A matter of personal preference

As it stands, I have had cats since I was 10. But the only time I had more than one was when my ex and I were married. And I’ll be honest. Having two cats in a small apartment was an adventure, especially since my cat was the alpha.

After I got divorced, Heals came home with me. She also moved to Virginia with me, and live there for three years before she died of cancer in 2007. I was still living in Virginia when I got Eli in 2008 and I’ve had him ever since. Sometimes I think about getting another one — but it wouldn’t be fair to him — or to me, for that matter.

Eli the cat.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot, Eli the cat.

For one thing, Eli is a “pit bull in a cat costume.” He is loyal, affectionate, and super-smart. But because he was abused before I adopted him, he is very easily triggered and acts accordingly. You’d think that he would mellow out as he gets older, especially since he’s been in a stable, loving environment for so long. As it turns out, that’s wishful thinking. Finding ways to address his redirected aggression is an ongoing process.

Secondly, having a cat is expensive. Or should I say, having this cat is expensive. There’s food, and cat litter, and vet bills. Oh, the vet bills. And because Eli is such a handful, I have to take him to the vet to have his claws clipped every three months. At $23 and change for each trimming, even that adds up.

Not to mention that I’m busy and I travel. So the bottom line for me is that — as much as I love cats — I don’t think I’ll ever have more than one at a time again.

How about you? Do you have pets? How many? How many is “too many?” I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to comment.

Fake Service Animal Use Prompts Community Concerns

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Apparently, some people in a Pennsylvania community are passing their pets off as service dogs — and the business owners there aren’t happy about it.

According to a recent media account, the concerns about alleged activity prompted a community meeting at the Kennett Public Library in Kennett Square. The chief concern addressed there was that laws designed to protect people who really need service dogs also make it difficult to take any action against people who clearly don’t.

Use of service animals under the ADA

For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as, “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.”

guide dog demo
Fidelco Guide Dog Demonstration. Puttin’ On The Dog, 2018. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

In this context, a dog that is taught to detect the onset of a medical emergency such as an epileptic seizure, or hyper/hypoglycemia in a diabetic, and take a specific action to help the person based on that is legally classified as a service animal. A dog that facilitates routine tasks or its handler’s mobility can also be classified as a service animal.

The ADA differentiates service dogs/service animals from emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals, which “provide comfort just by being with a person,” and have not been trained to perform specific tasks.

However, the ADA also stipulates that:

  1. There are no breed restrictions when it comes to service animals.
  2. Exclusion of a service animal based solely on “assumptions or stereotypes about the animal’s breed or how the animal might behave” is not permitted. The only exception to this is if  “a particular service animal behaves in a way that poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, has a history of such behavior, or is not under the control of the handler.”
  3. Communities that ban certain breeds “must make an exception for a service animal of a prohibited breed, unless the dog poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.”
  4. There are no requirements pertaining to the use of vests, ID tags, or specific harnesses to identify service animals.
  5. Service animals must be under the control of the handler at all times.

Exclusion of service animals under the ADA

In accordance with the ADA, a handler may be asked to remove the service animal from the premises if it is “out of control” and the handler fails to “take effective action to control it.”

Businesses are also allowed to prevent service animals from entering the premises of admitting them would “fundamentally alter the nature of the service” provided there.

In this context, it is also important to note that proprietors and staff can only ask for limited information in situations where it is not clear whether the dog is really a service animal. Specifically, they can ask: a) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and; b) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

They cannot ask for any documentation for the dog, demand that the dog demonstrate its task, or ask about the nature of the person’s disability.

In many cases, the Department of Justice says, it would be pointless to ask for documentation even if businesses and proprietors were allowed to do so.

“There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online,” the agency explains. “These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.”

What about housing?

The ADA applies to any housing program overseen by a state or local government, such as a public housing authority, and by places of public accommodation, including public and private universities.

Then there’s the Fair Housing Act, which covers nearly every type of housing, regardless of whether it is public or privately owned; including housing covered by the ADA. Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers must permit, “as a reasonable accommodation,” the use of animals that “work, provide assistance, or perform tasks that benefit persons with a disabilities, or provide emotional support to alleviate a symptom or effect of a disability.”

You can learn more here.

The bottom line

As stories about  “fake” service dogs and emotional support animals continue to make headlines, lawmakers across the country are taking notice. To date, 21 states have taken steps to deter people from wrongfully presenting their pets as service and support animals.

Recently, I wrote about Connecticut’s efforts to thwart the activity. You can find that post here.

 

Helping California’s Homeless Humans And Their Pets

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Pets are family, the human animal bond is not diminished whether living on the streets or living in a home. — Front Street Animal Shelter Manager Gina Knepp

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

In the interest of full disclosure and at considerable risk of alienating some of you, there’s something I must confess. I am an East Coast girl, born and bred (sort of). So I love New York… and by New York, I mean New York City. I also hate California. Passionately.

Yes, I’ve been there. In fact I’ve been there several times. And as far as I’m concerned, its only redeeming feature is (some of) its residential architecture. Apart from that, the less said the better…

Bill addresses Golden State homelessness

Putting my personal feelings aside, I was intrigued when I recently came across an article about proposed legislation that takes an interesting approach to addressing homelessness in California.

As reported on time.com, state Sen. Robert Hertzberg introduced the bill that would allow shelters throughout the Golden State more inviting to the homeless by accommodating their pets, too.

The details are also available on Hertzberg’s website, where he explains that only six out of 46 shelters serving the Los Angeles area allow homeless people to bring their pets. Hertzberg hopes his measure will help to change that by allocating $5,000,000 in grants to homeless shelters that provide shelter, food, and basic veterinary services to the pets of people experiencing homelessness.

“The act of opening up shelters to pets may seem simple, but it will have a huge impact on the goal of reducing the number of individuals who are sleeping on the streets,” Hertzberg said. “Providing these resources for shelters is just one small way we can make a dent in this incredible issue facing our state, while also improving the lives of our most vulnerable.”

California: a state in crisis

Last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development once again issued its Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. In it, the agency’s Office Of Community Planning And Development shared data detailing the extent of homelessness throughout the country.

In this context, the agency also revealed the true scope of California’s homeless crisis in 2018. Specifically, it indicated that there approximately 130,000 homeless people could be found there on any given night. Perhaps even more alarmingly, the report noted that 69 percent of people experiencing homelessness in the Golden State were found in “unsheltered locations.”

Given that, Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, president and CEO of LA Family Housing said Hertzberg’s proposal makes sense.

“As a service provider, we often find that people experiencing homelessness will refuse Bridge Housing if it means leaving their support animal behind,” she said. “Allowing support animals onsite eliminates that barrier, allowing us to keep the unit together, and move more people off of the streets.”

Front Street Animal Shelter — bridging the gap

Given the debate over whether homeless people should even be allowed or encouraged to have pets, there’s no guarantee that Hertzberg’s colleagues will support the measure. And there’s no guarantee that the governor will ink it if they do.

So for now, some people are taking the matter into their own hands. Take the situation in Sacramento, where there is a lack of consistency regarding pet policies at the county’s shelters. In the capital, Front Street Animal Shelter has intervened and uses its own funds to  provide “everything from kenneling and microchipping to food and leash donations for the pets of individuals in shelters.”

As far as Front Street Animal Shelter Manager Gina Knepp is concerned, if the shelter can do its part, state lawmakers follow suit.

“It is imperative that funding be included for the animal component if we are ever to solve the homeless crisis,” she said. “Pets are family, the human animal bond is not diminished whether living on the streets or living in a home. Failure to appropriately give consideration to this aspect of the crisis would be a travesty. The positive impact on the lives of pet owners experiencing homelessness would exponentially rise should we do what is most humane and humanitarian for both ends of the leash.”

What do you think? Is this a good idea? Why or why not? Let’s talk about it. Leave your thoughts in the comments below, or cast your vote here.

Federal Lawmakers Seek Animal Cruelty Ban

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“a bipartisan pair of congressional lawmakers from Florida is trying to close a gaping loophole in federal law.”

If there’s one thing I won’t discuss in this forum, it’s politics. For one thing, I hate politics. For another, it’s too risky to discuss politics in the context of work — and since this is my business website — well, the less said, the better.

Having said that, of course there are exceptions to every rule. And the only exception I’ll make to the one I just mentioned is that I’ll continue to write about local, state and federal legislation when our duly elected representatives actually do something constructive. Believe it or not, that actually happens every once in a while.

A case in point

Take a recent New York Times article about federal efforts to crack down on animal abusers by creating a new bill called the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act. In it, the author, Niraj Chokshi explains that a “a bipartisan pair of congressional lawmakers from Florida is trying to close a gaping loophole in federal law.”

As it now stands, anyone who documents (records) themselves abusing an animal can be charged under federal law. However, they will not face federal charges for the actual commission of the abuse.

If the new legislation passes, however, offenders convicted of “intentionally crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impaling or otherwise seriously harming an animal” would face federal felony charges, fines and up to seven years in prison. Within this context it is important to note that he bill “includes exceptions for, among other things, hunting, killing animals for food, scientific research, euthanizing animals, husbandry and veterinary care.”

The back story

In addition to providing a detailed explanation of the proposed legislation, Chokshi also explains why it was created.

As Chokshi tells it, the Humane Society of the United States became aware of and started looking into “crush videos,” approximately 20 years ago. In these videos, “animals are tortured or killed, often under a woman’s foot, in the service of a sexual fetish.” Objects or insects are sometimes used instead of animals in some cases, Chokshi adds.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

At any rate, the Humane Society contacted authorities after buying this type of video from someone in California, only to find that there were no adequate remedies under existing laws. Meanwhile, the documentation of animal abuse was increasing because of the Internet.

In search of answers, the then-county district attorney approached former Representative Elton Gallegly. He  in turn introduced a bill banning the production or sale of such videos. With little opposition, it was signed into law in late 1999.

“In 2010, however, the Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds,” Chokshi reports.

In response, Gallegly created a new version of the bill, the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, which became the law that the recently introduced bipartisan legislation is designed to supplement.

Is this really necessary?

Currently, there are felony provisions in animal cruelty laws in all 50 states. So while the creation of a federal animal cruelty law may seem unnecessary, proponents say it’s an important step in the right direction.

First, as Sara Amundson, the president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the legislative and political arm of the Humane Society told the Times, it would address cases in which abused animals are taken across state lines. Secondly, it would help in cases where there are limited resources.

“It’s oftentimes the scenario where states don’t have the resources or they don’t have the knowledge in a situation to be able to carry these animal cruelty cases to prosecution,” Amundson said.

Finally, proponents hope it will serve as an effective deterrent because it is a known fact that animal abuse can often be a precursor to the commission of violent acts against people.

What do you think? Is this a good idea? Is it necessary? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Well This Is Certainly Long Overdue

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Hello, everyone! Yes, it is me. Really. I am alive.

It’s hard to believe it’s already the end of January and I haven’t done a post since last year. In fact, you haven’t heard from me since last April!

The good news is, everything is OK. As a matter of fact, it has been great. Business has been booming here at In Brief Legal Writing Services… and that means I’ve been busy. Very busy. And that keeps me out of trouble… allegedly.

The bad news is that I have been so busy doing legal content writing (and other assignments) for my clients that I haven’t had time to keep up with my own website. I know, I know. It’s not good at all.

New year, new personal and professional goals

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

But, it’s a new year, so of course I’ve set new goals — for myself and for my business. That means a lot of exciting things will be happening here at In Brief Legal Writing Services. Hopefully! No. Make that, definitely! In no specific order, here’s what I’ve got planned for 2019 and beyond:

  1. Greater engagement with clients and prospective clients;
  2. New and better website (upgrades);
  3. Regular blog posts and more interaction with you guys (I promise);
  4. Growth, growth and more growth;
  5. Having plenty of fun along the way.

In terms of content, I still plan on writing about my passions — namely animal and criminal law. In other words, I will continue to keep you apprised of all of the latest developments that may be of interest to all of the “pet parents” out there. As things stand right now, I plan on doing at least a couple of posts per week, and I expect you guys to hold me accountable if I don’t.

Having said all of that, I’m also counting on you guys to let me know what you think about these posts. If you like them, please let me know. If you don’t like them, that’s okay, too. Be honest about what you want to see, what you don’t want to see, and why. I am open to suggestions.

New year, same mascot!

Eli the cat.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot, Eli the cat.

One thing that hasn’t changed — and I’m hoping that it won’t change anytime soon — is that my best buddy, Eli the cat, is still the mascot here at In Brief Legal Writing Services. I’m happy to say he is still his happy, relatively healthy and feisty self. Of course, he is also a year older, having turned 13 on January 1 (his official unofficial birthday), but he is also as handsome as ever, so I’m sure I’ll be using lots of cute pictures with these posts.

And on that note, I’d better run. Until next time…

 

Rhode Island might follow Alaska’s lead on pet custody

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A few months back, Alaska became the first state where courts are instructed to consider the pet’s well-being in divorce cases in which custody is an issue.

The question then became, which state or states, would follow suit.  And the answer is… Rhode Island.

Of course, it’s not a done deal, yet. But if everything goes according to plan, it will be.

Rhode Island’s pet custody bill

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

As proposed, an Act Relating to Domestic Relations — Pets — Custody, would amend existing state laws by adding a new section pertaining to the custody of pets. It specifically directs courts to “consider the best interests of the animal” when “awarding possession of a domestic animal in a divorce or separation proceeding.”

The bill’s co-sponsor, Rhode Island State Rep. Charlene Lima, recently told The New York Times that she planned to “introduce specific guidelines to be considered, such as which spouse most cared for the animal and took it to the vet, and whose lifestyle was best suited to pet ownership.”

Lima added that she hopes the measure, if passed, will help protect innocent animals from human vindictiveness.

“A lot of time I think it’s used as retribution,” Ms. Lima told The New York Times. “People can get really vicious in divorces, and using emotional attachment to a pet is something they can use to gain leverage.”

When people are at their worst, pets lose

If the findings of a 2014 survey cited in The New York Times article are any indication, Lima’s assessment is right on target.

More than a quarter of the participants in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) survey acknowledged “an increase in the number of couples who have fought over the custody of a pet during the past five years.”

More than 20 percent of the participants “said that courts are more frequently allowing pet custody cases,” and 20 percent acknowledged “an increase in courts deeming pets to be an asset during a divorce.”

As Maria Cognetti, president of the AAML at the time, noted, “far too many spouses attempt to initiate these disputes as a negotiating strategy, often believing that they can use the animal as a kind of bargaining chip.  This tactic is usually not effective and can come back to ‘bite’ the antagonist throughout the divorce process.”

In other words, don’t try to make your dog, cat or any other pet a pawn in your divorce. Because there’s no law in Rhode Island… yet. And if you don’t live in Alaska, the court doesn’t have to take your pet’s best interests into account. Legally, it can just treat your pet like any other piece of personal property. And if that’s the case, you won’t like the outcome. And your pet will pay the price.

Federal appeals court sides with New York City on pet law

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By siding with New York City regarding a 2015 law that restricts pet sales, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals took a big step towards protecting dogs, cats and their owners.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

According to recent reports, the law opposed by the New York Pet Welfare Association “said pet shops could only obtain dogs and cats from federally licensed breeders with clean recent animal welfare records, and could not sell dogs and cats at least eight weeks old and weighing two pounds unless they were sterilized.”

Proponents say the law promotes the sale of healthy dogs and cats. By stipulating that pets are spayed or neutered before they are sold, it helps ensure that they don’t add to the number of unwanted dogs and cats in the city by having puppies and kittens.

Two for two

The New York Pet Welfare Association (NYPWA) — which represents those most affected by the measure — has voiced strenuous objections, however. Specifically, it claims the 2015 law “unconstitutionally burdened commerce by favoring in-state animal rescuers and shelters over out-of-state breeders, and was pre-empted by state veterinary medicine laws.”

At the end of a 29-page document in which he summarized and analyzed the arguments made by both parties, Judge Edward Korman found the New York Pet Welfare Association’s claims lack merit.

“The Sourcing and Spay/Neuter Laws address problems of significant
importance to the City and its residents. It appears that the City has enforced them for more than a year, with no apparent ill effects,” Korman wrote. “Because the challenged laws are not preempted by either state or federal law, and do not offend the Commerce Clause, we Affirm the district court’s order dismissing NYPWA’s complaint.”

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York also sided with the city in a ruling issued two years ago.

Undaunted, the NYPWA is now considering another appeal. In the meantime, as a spokesman for New York City’s Law Department told the New York media, proponents are savoring their second victory.

“We are pleased that the court upheld this common sense legislation, which helps ensure that cats and dogs are humanely sourced and that consumers can make informed choices when bringing pets into their homes,” Nick Paolucci told Reuters.

Courts beginning to view pets as more than property

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When it comes to an animal’s status under U.S. law, there seems to be little, if any room for debate. Legally, an animal is property… and that’s that. Or is it?

According to recent reports, a recent change to Alaskan divorce laws may herald a significant shift in the way courts treat our pets — or more accurately, how they decide who gets custody of the pet(s) when a marriage ends.

Alaskan divorce courts are now the first in the country where courts must consider “the well-being of the animal” while determining custody. The amendment to the state’s divorce laws also permit judges to order joint custody of the pet(s).

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

“It is significant,” David Favre, a Michigan State University law professor who specializes in animal law, told The Washington Post. “For the first time, a state has specifically said that a companion animal has visibility in a divorce proceeding beyond that of property — that the court may award custody on the basis of what is best for the dog, not the human owners.”

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), a staunch advocate of such measures, concurs.

“Even though judges throughout the US can already choose, in their discretion, to consider an animal’s best interests, no other state legislature has required judges to do so when adjudicating property distribution upon the dissolution of a marriage,” the organization said in a recent blog.

And to the lawmaker who sponsored the bill, it’s simply common sense. As long as people think of their pets as family, the courts should treat them accordingly, she says.

“Pets are truly members of our families,” Rep. Liz Vasquez says. We care for them as more than just property. As such, the courts should grant them more consideration. It’s only natural.”

Additional changes to Alaska laws that just took effect “allow companion animals to be included in domestic violence protective orders, and permits a court to order that the abuser pay financial support for a pet in the care of the human victim, if that abuser has a legal obligation to care for the pet.”

Bad news for ‘professional’ bloggers

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As a blogger, I’m one in a million. Or perhaps a billion.

Back in 2013, I started a personal blog in order to promote my memoir, Truth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey. Two years later, I launched my business, In Brief Legal Writing Services, and created this site in order to establish a digital (virtual presence). I also started this blog in order to promote it.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

As it stands, I’m glad I did. I happen to enjoy writing about the law, animal advocacy and related issues.

Having said that, I never harbored any illusions about getting thousands of hits or attracting tons of readers. Writing a blog that generates that sort of interest requires expertise that I simply don’t have, money I don’t want to spend (for SEO classes and so forth) and time that I can’t afford to waste. After all, I am busy working for a living…

Which brings me to my point. Finally.

Not too long ago, a New York court dealt a big blow to “professional bloggers.” Specifically, Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department of the State of New York ruled that a freelance writer and blogger is not eligible for unemployment benefits.

As forbes.com reports, “the case involved Gregory Mitchell, a freelance writer, who entered into a contract in 2010 with The Nation to author regular blog posts for the company’s website.”

Everything was fine for a few years. But as we all know, nothing lasts forever. And in 2014, management at The Nation decided not to renew Mitchell’s contract. That’s when he applied for unemployment benefits.

At first, state officials tasked with determining who is eligible for said benefits sided with Mitchell, saying that he was actually an employee. Representatives for The Nation disagreed and pursued an appeal.

Needless to say, a legal battle ensued with the outcome hinging on a key issue. Was Mitchell an employee in the legal sense, or an independent contractor?

With the shift in the economy since the Great Recession, making the distinction has become even more difficult. As a result, the government and courts have established specific criteria to differentiate between traditional and “gig economy” workers.

These are include varying forms of control and the relationship between the “employer” and “employee.”

Based on its assessment using these criteria, the court determined that Mitchell is actually an independent contractor. In New York, independent contractors “are not covered under the Unemployment Insurance (UI) Law.” In other words, they cannot claim unemployment benefits.

As the attorney that represented The Nation in the case told forbes.com, “This case takes a major step in clarifying how rules developed to deal with traditional employment relationships apply to the rapidly changing world of modern journalism and its reliance on bloggers and other more casual employment relationships.”

For now, that seems to be the end of the story… at least in this case. But as the “gig economy” continues to grow, the question remains whether other courts will follow New York’s lead… or not.