February 25, 2023

CALS Alum is Giving Animal Crime Victims a Voice

CALS Ambassador, Tara Cooley (LLM, ’20), is fostering the creation of Courtroom Animal Advocate Programs across the U.S.

When a non-human animal is a victim of a crime, our criminal justice system has historically lacked a mechanism to adequately ensure their voice is heard in court. Our alumni, Tara Cooley (‘LLM, ’20, US) is on a mission to change that. As one of our CALS Global Ambassadors, Tara has worked to expand implementation of Courtroom Animal Advocate Programs (CAAPs) throughout the country.

Connecticut passed the nation’s first CAAP law—Desmond’s Law—named in honor of a dog named Desmond who was starved, beaten and strangled to death in 2012. Desmond’s owner ultimately served no jail time despite admitting to the abuse. The injustice of Desmond’s case led to the creation of a law, enacted in 2016, which allows courts to appoint legal advocates in animal cruelty cases involving dogs or cats to advocate for the interests of justice. Those appointed as advocates can be, supervised law students or pro bono lawyers.

As a CALS Ambassador, Tara, who is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Connecticut School of Law, partnered with Dean Jessica Rubin to work on two projects in connection with UConn’s CAAP work. The first project is to develop specialized programs to provide and care education and counseling services to nonviolent Connecticut animal cruelty offenders. The second project is to develop, in partnership with Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), CAAP guides to assist other states in successful CAAP implementation. Tara also spoke to law schools, bar associations, and nonprofit organizations to provide guidance related to the implementation of CAAPs in their communities. She was recently honored by ALDF as a 2023 Top Defender during National Justice for Animal’s Week, including for her work on behalf of a dog named Leo.

Tara also handled animal cruelty cases in courts throughout the state to solidify Connecticut’s CAAP and to teach students how to use their developing legal skills to help animals. She mentored students through their first court appearances, taught a successful summer Animal Law seminar and advised UConn’s SALDF chapter, all to support students and cultivate their interest in and dedication to animal law. Finally, Tara co-authored an important article reporting research on Connecticut’s CAAP: An Empirical Study of the Nation’s First Courtroom Animal Advocate Law.

CAAPs are gaining national steam and several states have already followed Connecticut’s lead. Maine passed its own version of Desmond’s law (Franky’s Law) in 2020. New York, New Jersey, and Illinois currently have pending CAAP bills. However, there is still significant progress to be made before CAAPs are found in every state and Tara is committed to creating and supporting more CAAPs to help animals.

Tara’s advocacy work was inspired by her beloved dog, Dona, who she adopted during her third year as a high school teacher. She says: “Dona was one of the most confident, independent, intelligent, and caring individuals I ever met. I was blessed to have her in my life for twelve years. During that time Dona inspired me to adopt a vegan lifestyle, attend law school, and transition to a career of animal advocacy. I hope that everyone has a Dona in their life, even if for a short time, to inspire them to create positive change.” Dona has since passed away, but Tara continues to advocate in court for animal victims—in memory of Dona.

“Implementing a CAAP in any state requires collaboration with various organizations and individuals. CALS’ Global Ambassador Program provided me with the resources necessary to connect with communities across the country, including D.C., Maine, Nevada, New York, and Utah, through in-person tours and discussions, to better understand the needs of their communities and the tools that will be necessary to successfully implement a CAAP.”

Our Global Ambassador Program at CALS aims to empower and support our students after they graduate to continue their animal law education and advocacy in the U.S. and abroad through their own innovative, individual projects. To check out the impactful work that our CALS Ambassadors are doing to improve the lives and legal protections for animals, visit here.


The Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) was founded in 2008 with a mission to educate the next generation of animal law advocates and advance animal protection through the law. With vision and bold risk-taking, CALS has since developed into a world-renowned animal law epicenter. CALS’ Alumni-in-Action from over 20 countries are making a difference for animals around the world. CALS is a nonprofit organization funded through donations and grants.