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A day in the life ... of a pet attorney

You thought Johnnie Cochran had his hands full. This guy's clients are animals, and he has a bone to pick with people who abuse them.

Name Jeffrey Delott
Occupation Pet attorney
Company Law Offices of Jeffrey Delott, in New York City
Salary from $175 per hour

Did your Rover get run over? Did the vet kill your snake by mistake, and now you don't have a leg to stand on? Though the law doesn't always recognize pets for what they're worth, Jeffrey Delott is fighting to make sure that every dog has his day -- in court.

The Manhattan lawyer has been a trailblazer in New York fighting for pets' rights.

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"Pets used to be work animals, but they are more domesticated and have become companions," Delott says. "It's a special relationship [between owner and pet.]"

Pet lemon law
So Delott dedicates the majority of his practice to disputing cases involving pet custody, evictions because of pet ownership, injuries by or to the animal, and malpractice by a pet's caregiver. He also fights for the "pet lemon law" to protect owners when the breeder or pet shop fails to disclose problems with the animal.

Delott spends the day making phone calls, researching laws and writing briefs in animals' favor. He also has speaking engagements and responds to the numerous e-mails and phone calls he gets for consultations. Ironically, though, his four-legged clients can't visit him. His landlord doesn't allow pets in his office building.

Though Delott insists his work is much like any other lawyer's practice, he recognizes that his clients need special recognition. Often pets are viewed legally as possessions or objects, but Delott insists they require different consideration under the law. "You can't tell me that breaking a dog's leg is the same as breaking the leg of a table," he says. "I am not telling you to equate a cat with a human being, but a dog is closer to a friend or relative than a chair on the floor."

The majority of his clients are not eccentric old biddies. In fact, most are under 50 and just keeping their pet's best interest at heart. "There is nothing really eccentric about that at all," Delott says.

Delott graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1984, and he enjoyed a prestigious legal career in a big firm. His career path slipped its leash when he married a woman whose Maltese "was her life." The newlyweds began to wonder what would happen to the dog if anything ever happened to them. With the help of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, they lobbied for the right to leave the dog an inheritance.

Now he wins five-figure settlements for a variety of cases, including one in which a lizard fell off its vet's table and died.

If it sounds funny, Delott points out that he is working to change the laws in his state to protect our favorite companions. "I am trying to do this as seriously as possible," he says.

-- Updated: April 2, 2003


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