June 14, 2024

CALS Alumni Team Up to Bring Animal Law to Nepalese Law Schools

In this blog, Julie Palais (’23, MSL, USA) and Varnika Singh (’23, LLM, India) share their deep passion and collaboration to advance animal protection in Nepal.

Pictured from Left to Right: Prakash Mani Sharma Bhusal (Lewis and Clark ’99 Environmental Law, Forum for Protection of Public Interest (ProPublic); Ram Krishna Timalsena (Executive Director, National Law College), Varnika Singh, Lewis & Clark, Animal Law LLM, 2024); Julie Palais, Lewis & Clark Animal Law MSL, 2024).

Two recent animal law advanced degree graduates from different continents who share a common interest in “free-roaming” street dogs and related animal welfare issues in Asia, have teamed up to bring the field of animal law to law schools in Nepal. The curriculum they plan to develop could also be used in India, and elsewhere in Asia in the future.

Meet Julie and Varnika

Julie Palais (MSL) is a former U.S. government science administrator who began what she calls her “encore career” in animal welfare, after retiring at the end of 2016 from her position as a Program Director in the Office of Polar Programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF).

After her retirement in 2016, Julie decided to switch fields from Antarctic Glaciology, to focus more on her passion for animal welfare. In the Fall of 2022, Julie became a member of the first cohort of students to pursue the new Animal Law Master of Studies in Law (MSL ) degree at the Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) at Lewis & Clark Law School.

Varnika Singh (LLM) is a lawyer specializing in animal laws from India and is the head of the legal department of the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations (FIAPO). Varnika, who is actively engaged in advocating for animal rights in India, decided to pursue an Animal Law LLM to broaden her understanding of global perspectives on animal legislation. Her aim was to delve into the wide array of legal frameworks surrounding animals and apply this knowledge within her home country. Additionally, Varnika provides training sessions covering various aspects of animal law to volunteers, activists, and legal professionals.

Julie and Varnika met virtually while taking the same courses online in the advanced degree animal law program, alongside other U.S.-based and international students. The two started discussing their common interests on the discussion boards, as part of their course work. The two hit it off and found that they had many similar interests. Eventually, they discussed the possibility of working together after finishing the program.

Bringing Animal Law to Nepal

Julie and Varnika share a deep passion for animal protection in Nepal.

Beginning in 2019, Julie started visiting Nepal, both to go trekking and to observe and photograph the annual Hindu festival called Kukur Tihar, a day on which dogs are worshipped and given delicious meals and honored with marigold garlands and a tilaka on the forehead. After her first visit to Nepal, Julie developed an interest in the plight of street dogs and became involved in a variety of activities to help improve their welfare. After hearing about, and observing, many incidents of animal cruelty toward street dogs throughout Nepal, Julie wrote and published a book entitled Sathi The Street Dog from Kathmandu, Nepal under the pen name “Julu.” The book is based on a true story about a street dog who was badly injured after a woman threw boiling water on the dog’s back. Once her book was published, Julie began traveling throughout Nepal to donate copies of her book and to conduct “meet the author” outreach programs at schools and libraries to speak to children and their teachers about kindness to animals.

Julie learned first-hand how much work was necessary to address the cruelty and neglect being perpetrated against animals, especially toward street dogs, in Nepal. While there are many organizations devoted to helping to care for injured and sick dogs living on the streets as strays and what are called “Community Dogs”, few proactively addressed the lack of a strong legal framework to protect animals in the country. Julie envisioned a strategic approach to amending the laws or creating new laws to protect animals.

The field of animal law is not currently being taught in Nepal law schools, which sparked an idea: Julie started an initiative called SAVE Nepal. SAVE is an acronym for Save Animals and Value the Environment (SAVE). The goal of the initiative is to improve protections for animals and the environment, and to train the next generation of lawyers in the field of animal law. During her studies at CALS, Julie developed a website for SAVE Nepal as part of one of her course projects working with Professor Russ Mead in “Emerging Topics in Animal Law.” She also started working with local people in Nepal to begin planning for a variety of activities that the initiative could develop to start raising awareness about the field of animal law.

When Varnika learned about Julie’s work with free-roaming dogs in Nepal, she immediately felt a connection due to the similar issues faced by street dogs in both Nepal and India, her home country. Given her experience working on the issue of street dogs in India and fighting cases in court to improve their conditions, Varnika recognized the potential to make a difference in Nepal. Given the cultural similarities between the two countries, she was particularly inclined to get involved, as it would be easier for her to work in a familiar environment and with people who share similar cultural backgrounds.

It was disheartening for Varnika to learn that Nepal lacks dedicated animal protection laws. She realized that introducing a course on animal laws in Nepalese law colleges could greatly benefit the future of animal welfare in the country. Given the cultural similarities between Nepal and India, Varnika thought it would be a brilliant idea to use India’s animal laws as examples for Nepalese law students. This inspired her to collaborate with Julie on this initiative.

After graduating from the online program in January of 2024, Julie and Varnika met for the first time in person in Kathmandu, Nepal. Julie was planning to be in Nepal for her book outreach programs, and other SAVE Nepal-related events. Julie arranged for Varnika to visit Kathmandu for 5 days in mid-January, and fellow Lewis & Clark Law School alum, Prakash Mani Sharma (Environmental Law LLM ’99, Nepal), extended the formal invitation. This gave Julie and Varnika the opportunity to meet to discuss their ideas and visit several of the law schools in Kathmandu, to start the conversation about bringing animal law into the curriculum. The pair visited two law schools in Kathmandu. Varnika gave a talk at each school about the field of animal law and its history in India and some of the major global cases of interest on animal rights.

While at the law schools, they met with faculty and administrators and learned that the curriculum was in the process of being updated and there seemed to be interest in the idea of incorporating animal law. Varnika and Julie also spent part of a day meeting with the founders of Lawcater, which is Nepal’s first law-related media outlet that covers stories related to how the law impacts the public in Nepal. They were featured in an interview about animal law that is available online. Finally, after Varnika left to go back to India, Julie had the opportunity to meet with faculty from another law school in Nepal, to raise the idea of bringing animal law into the curriculum at that school as well. The meeting was very successful and there seemed to be great interest on the part of those with whom she met.

Julie and Varnika are excited about the future of animal law in Nepal, and, together, they are committed to improve conditions not only for street dogs, but for all animals.

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 25 countries are making a difference for animals around the world. CALS is a nonprofit organization funded through donations and grants.