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Elinor Molbegott’s devotion to animals began in high school, when she swore off eating meat. That devotion only increased with time, prompting Molbegott, now a Long Island, N.Y., sole practitioner, to devote her legal career to advocating for animal rights. Since 1977, Molbegott, who represents various animal rights organizations and shelters, has been battling to convince her colleagues and the public that animals deserve rights, and to get laws passed that protect those rights. In that time, she has been involved in some of the most public legal triumphs for animal rights. “I always knew that I had this feeling for animals,” said Molbegott, 47. “They are living creatures that have feelings and should be respected,” she said. During the 1980s, in her position as the first general counsel to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), she succeeded in winning passage of two New York City laws crucial to animal rights. Molbegott was the initial drafter of the Pet Law, which took effect in 1983 and expanded the rights of tenants with pets to fight evictions. She also worked on the Horse Licensing and Protection Law, passed in 1982, which provided standards for the health and maintenance of carriage and riding horses, as well as more humane working conditions. After disagreeing with the direction of the ASPCA and parting ways in 1992, Molbegott started her own practice, representing groups such as the Humane Society of New York, Animal Rights International and the North Shore Animal League. STATE LEGISLATION Since that time, she played a key role in drafting New York State’s Felony Animal Cruelty Law, which elevated intentional and extreme cruelty toward non-farm domesticated animals to a felony. Also known as “Buster’s Law,” named for an 18-month-old tabby cat that was doused with kerosene and burned to death, the law was signed by Governor George Pataki on June 28, 1999, and took effect last November. Molbegott has been equally as successful in the courtroom. In 1998 New York’s Court of Appeals ruled in her client’s favor that the State University of New York had illegally denied a state Freedom of Information Law request for research animal data. The case stemmed from information received by her client, Citizens for Alternatives to Animal Labs Inc., that pets had mysteriously disappeared around a Brooklyn research center. The group filed suit to force the facility to release information about the source of its dogs and cats, and won. “She is very intelligent and well-versed in what we work in,” said Sandra DeFeo, co-executive director of the Humane Society of New York. “Of everyone I work with, I love working with Elinor the most. She’s simply the best in the business,” she added. According to Molbegott, eight billion animals are killed every year for food. At the same time, millions of animals are harmed in research laboratories, she said. “We need to be there to protect them.” “Our society exploits animals in every way possible,” said Peter Singer, who is widely recognized as the father of the modern animal rights movement. “Elinor is committed not only emotionally, but she also understands that this is an ethical issue,” said Singer, a bioethics professor at Princeton University and the President of Animal Rights International. “She is a great source of advice,” he said. JOINING THE FIGHT Molbegott’s calling came at Albany Law School in the mid-1970′s. Upon graduation in 1977, she approached the ASPCA about becoming the organization’s first in-house lawyer. In the early days, the animal rights movement was less organized, less influential and did not have as many laws on its side, according to Molbegott. And the ASPCA did not yet have much of a national presence or a legislative program, she said. Most of its legal work was farmed out to private practitioners. During her 15 years as general counsel, Molbegott not only started the legal department, but took on many cases herself, formulated a lobbying plan, and ran the ASPCA’s Washington, D.C, legislative office. Since her departure from the ASPCA, she has also worked on legislation to prohibit selling shelter animals to research laboratories, and she was the legal advisor to the campaign to stop cosmetic companies from testing on animals. Currently, Molbegott has turned her energies to preventing the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the largest high school science contest in the country, from allowing high school students to run experiments on animals that cause pain and suffering. She represents several animal rights groups on this issue, arguing on their behalf that the students’ projects are cruel and have no educational or scientific value. “When I started, animal rights were seen as a joke in the legal community. But I don’t think they are anymore,” said Molbegott. “I think we’ve come a long way,” she said, pausing, “but we still have a long way to go.”

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