Magazine Feature / People

Alumna dogged in her pursuit of pet justice

lawyer in office

Jennifer Thomaidis and "office dog" Mercedes. PHOTO BY: Wayne Armstrong.

Attorney Jennifer Thomaidis made her debut in the field of pet litigation as a child more than 20 years ago, but it took those two decades to help her realize she was already on the path her life would follow.

Thomaidis, 29, grew up surrounded by animals on a Maryland farm. Any kind of animal she could adopt or rescue or convince her parents to buy became a pet.

And at 8 years old, when she made a pragmatic pitch to keep her father from putting down a sickly calf, she had no idea it would lead to her career as an attorney focused on the emerging area of pet law.

Yes, pet law.

“I’ve always loved animals. I’ve always wanted to work with animals … I was going to become a vet,” says Thomaidis, who has a cat, dog and fish as pets. 

“But after college, it came down to ‘Do I want to go to school to learn how to work on animals, or do I want to fight for animals?’ I decided I wanted to fight for animals.”

DU professor urges her on

In law school at the University of Baltimore, she said she was still unsure of how to pursue her passion. She wrapped up her final semester as a visiting student at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law to be closer to her new husband, a DU law student. 

It was at DU last spring that law Adjunct Professor Byron Hammond introduced her to developments in animal law and law clinic Lecturer Jay Tutchton encouraged her to make a difference.

When she became keen on pet law, pet trusts, pet custody and the legal areas attached to the emotional bonds people develop with their pets, she says Hammond urged her on.

“I told him where my heart is: in pet law. He said, ‘You can’t join a firm. You’ve got to take the chance.’”

Hammond says he remembers the conversation well.

“When we came around to pet trusts, I saw her light up,” says Hammond, who has set up trusts for his own pets in his estate planning. “She came to me after class and said, ‘How do I make a career out of this,’ and I said, ‘I’m not sure I know of a soul in the country making a practice out of this. Do it.’

“If anybody can do it, she can. She’s got the drive,” Hammond adds. “I fully expect her to be the national expert in this.”

High-profile cases could set precedents

In the year since she passed the bar last July, Hammond’s encouragement has led Thomaidis into a string of high-profile cases pushing the envelope of animal law.

She represents more than 200 people in a class-action lawsuit against Menu Foods, the Canadian-based pet food producer tied to allegations of tainted food blamed for sickening and killing pets across the country. But she’s also locked in a battle over breed-specific dog bans in Colorado cities that bar such breeds as pit bulls from city limits. 

And she’s pressing for laws to make it easier for pet owners to win damages in cases of pet malpractice and loss, even while many courts still view pets as property and rule that damages can only reflect the actual cost of the lost pet, not emotional loss.

“My goal is to be a leading force in changing these laws,” she says. “There’s this gray area with pets, and I think judges are reluctant to go there.”

Tutchton says Thomaidis has found an area where the law has fallen behind. The path she has chosen will be difficult, but she can make a difference.

“There’s a huge gap in this kind of law in Colorado,” he says. “It’s generally an area where the law doesn’t recognize people’s lives and how we feel about our pets.”

Because she grew up on a farm, Thomaidis says she understands that there is a difference between animals and people, and that animals don’t have the rights that people do. Farm animals are raised as food, she says, so she eats meat without guilt.

But pets, she says, are different. Courts need to understand there is a value people place on pets that extends beyond current personal property law.

“This is something I’m getting in front of,” she says.

Then, referring to a mythical Dr. Seuss character who spoke for the trees when they couldn’t speak themselves, she adds, “I feel like the Lorax.”

Find pet food recall information online at Thomaidis’ Web site,

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