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Providing Bite for our Friends who Bark

Photo credit Chelsea Kelso

Vancouver animal lawyer and CapU alum returns to impart her passion to a new wave of animal activists.

Victoria Shroff illustration with animals

Canada outlawed the death penalty on July 14, 1976, but there are still inmates on “death row.” Punky, a four-year-old Australian cattle dog, has been a dead man walking for more than two years after biting a woman at an off-leash area at Spanish Banks.

He was declared a dangerous dog by three different courts and ordered to be destroyed. Animal lawyer Victoria Shroff took up the pup’s case and, in the summer of 2019, was granted an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, the first animal-related case to be heard in Canada’s highest court.

Unfortunately, Punky lost his bid for clemency Jan. 16, 2020, and was euthanized a week later. Shroff was inspired to fight for the rights of animals because, unlike other western nations, Canada has no animal welfare protection act.

Shroff was inspired to fight for the rights of animals because, unlike other western nations, Canada has no animal welfare protection act.

“They have sports law, women’s law and environmental law, so why not animal law?” she said.

“Marrying my law degree with my love for animals was something that was going to happen, and it did. I’m so grateful for that.”

Her love for animals was clear early on — she started a cat club at her elementary school at age six. As a pre-teen, she canvassed her North Shore neighbourhood with a petition to ban gruesome leg-hold traps, which are still legal today.

Animals are beloved members of the family in their homes. Still, under Canadian law, they are property, carrying a negligible cash value and treated no differently than a stolen bicycle or barbecue.

Along with being Vancouver’s preeminent animal lawyer, Shroff is a second-generation CapU alum, and the instructor of a groundbreaking new class in the Legal Studies department focusing on animal law.

She challenges her students to advocate for protections for animals under the law and think about the solutions they can offer, however small.

“The class really started a great dialogue between the students, especially about products being tested on animals,” said Isaac St. Cyr, who took Shroff’s class at CapU.

“It was a fascinating and gruesome take on the emotional disconnect between pork and pig and why we differentiate between the two societally as a coping mechanism.”

Born in Kenya into “a family of lawyers,” Shroff has always taken her own path but knew it would involve law and activism.

“My job continues to be to work toward access to justice for all animals,” she said. “Maybe one day, there will be a Punky’s law where we have done away with the death penalty for dogs.”