Animal Welfare Project (AWP)

Project Leadership

Joan Schaffner

About the Project


The GW Law Animal Welfare Project (AWP) was established in 2003 by Professors Mary Cheh and Joan Schaffner. It is an independent pro bono effort between faculty and students at The George Washington University Law School. AWP seeks to raise awareness of animal welfare issues and promote legislative changes to advance animal welfare and improve the lives of animals in the District of Columbia (DC) and beyond. Students participate in the project by researching various aspects of animal protection, including existing and proposed laws and regulations around the nation, enforcement issues, and possibilities for legal reform – and by drafting responsive legislation or supporting documents for legislation. AWP is a resource for the DC government, local humane organizations, and community groups interested in strengthening the protection of animals. It also works with other law schools, non-profit organizations, and the bar on joint animal law projects.

The first work of AWP culminated in the enactment of DC Law 17-281, Animal Protection Amendment Act of 2008, introduced by Councilmember Mary Cheh. Over the years, AWP has been involved in many different projects, including drafting State Cruelty Law Summaries for the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, commenting on proposed federal rulemaking and permits, and drafting proposed legislation for introduction to the DC Council.

AWP’s most recent work resulted in the enactment in April 2023 of DC Act 24-732 (PDF), Animal Care and Control Omnibus Amendment Act of 2022. Specifically, AWP was instrumental in helping research and draft the provisions related to pet store sales of live animals, cat declawing, and pet ownership in divorce. AWP students testified on behalf of the bill and persuaded the Committee (PDF) to expand the pet store sale ban of non-shelter sourced live animals to include all “mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids.”

AWP is currently working on proposed DC legislation on a number of topics, including a bill to ban the sale of products resulting from force-feeding, including foie gras, in the District.

For more information, contact Professor Joan Schaffner.

Current Projects

Note: Updates for this section are coming soon!

DC Beagle Freedom Law: This project involves drafting a new law for DC—Beagle Freedom Law—designed to give adoptable dogs and cats a chance at finding a home once their time in the laboratory has ended.

Criminalizing Bestiality in DC (Proposed): This project involves drafting a new law for DC—criminalizing sexual assault of animals. Students will have the opportunity to engage in legislative research, drafting of the bill’s language, and compiling a report in support of the proposed legislation.

Criminal Law Summaries: Students research and summarize the criminal law, both statutory and case law, dealing with animal cruelty regulation and prosecution. These summaries are being prepared in coordination with the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys developing training materials for prosecutors on prosecuting animal cruelty and fighting cases. View the state cruelty summaries.

Accomplishments to Date

State Pet Protection Order Manuals: Students research and prepare manuals for attorneys and advocates working with Domestic Violence victims with pets to help them understand the laws governing pets in protection orders and how they can best protect their pets. These manuals are being prepared in coordination with the Animal Welfare Institute. View the State Pet Protection Order manuals.

Legislative and Regulatory Comments: Students and faculty work in teams to research and analyze proposed federal, state and local laws, draft extensive comments designed to improve the proposal’s effectiveness for animals, and submit to the relevant authority. 

DC Animal Rescuer Law FAQ: After Katrina, AWP students drafted answers to frequently asked questions regarding the laws governing animal rescuers during a disaster.

DC Board of Veterinary Medicine Professor Joan Schaffner is the public member of the DC Board of Veterinary Examiners. Students worked to help review and update the laws and policies that govern veterinarians and animal facilities in the District of Columbia.

GW Animal Law Summit I March 2004, the Project hosted "Animal Law Summit: Reforming Animal Welfare Laws in the District of Columbia," a panel discussion on the District's animal welfare laws and proposals for reform. Panelists were local leaders in animal welfare and protection. Representatives from several animal welfare organizations in the DC area attended.

Animal Welfare Report February 2005, the Project hosted a press conference tom release a comprehensive report on the status of animal welfare in the District, including a description of current District laws, their enforcement, and recommendations for reforms. The report was presented to DC Councilmember David Catania and Department of Health Director Gregg Pane.

GW Animal Law Summit II February 2007, the Project hosted "Animal Law Summit II." Dean Lawrence announced the creation of the Samantha Scholarship in Animal Law; the Executive Director of WHS discussed the status of companion animals in the District's Shelter; Councilwoman Mary Cheh presented the Animal Protection Amendment Act of 2007; and Joan Schaffner announced and celebrated the first recipient of the Samantha Scholarship. Julius Fleischman, the benefactor of the Samantha Scholarship was so moved that he announced the establishment of a second scholarship in honor and memory of HoJo!

Animal Protection Legislation Representatives of the AWP worked with Councilmember Cheh and her legislative aide, Jeremy Faust, to prepare final legislation introduced to the DC Council as the Animal Protection Amendment Act This legislation addressed several animal welfare issues, including regulation of services affecting animals (boarding facilities, guard dogs), guidelines for care of animals used in public schools, humane education, spay/neuter, penalties for animal abusers, cross-reporting among agencies handling domestic violence and animal abuse, and more. June 2007 Professor Schaffner and representatives of the AWP testified before the DC Council on behalf of the Animal Protection Amendment Act. The Act (Bill 17-89) was ultimately enacted by the DC Council in June 2008.

DC Animal Law Pamphlet: The AWP published a pamphlet summarizing the law related to animals in the District for the Animal Law Committee of the DC Bar.

Animal Welfare Project banner