Since 2017, The Animal Law Firm has been serving our furry friends as it continues to expand its footprint outside of Colorado.
The firm does everything from dog bite defense, pet custody disputes, service animal representation, veterinary malpractice and even breeder contract disputes.
After starting the practice in Colorado, founder Kristina Bergsten realized there was an unmet need for that type of practice elsewhere. The firm has expanded to New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Bergsten originally started practicing law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. When Bergsten was in Colorado, she still had her law license in those other states which made it easier to expand her practice to those locations. And she’s not done yet: she hopes to expand to New York and Texas in the near future.
When Bergsten gets calls no matter the state, she said people often say they’ve never heard of an animal attorney.
“When people call us needing help, they’re very grateful that we exist,” Bergsten said. “They’re like ‘I’ve called a million attorneys and nobody handles this kind of thing … nobody even returns my calls.’”
Bergsten noted personal injury attorneys would represent a person bitten by the dog, but The Animal Law Firm represents the dog who is accused of biting. She said a lot of factors go into why a dog bites, like feeling uncomfortable, which don’t have anything to do with the dog’s character.
“And then veterinary malpractice, nobody does that,” Bergsten said.
Bergsten noted the firm is seeing more veterinary malpractice cases. She thinks it is because insurance companies have been clamping down on paying out claims related to animals.
“In 2019, 2020 and a little bit into 2021, we would just send a letter to the insurance company and we would get our client reimbursed for the damage to their animal and then some,” Bergsten said. She added beginning in 2022, she started getting more pushback from insurance companies.
Lately, Bergsten said she has been dealing with more pet custody cases (dog bites and pet custody make up the majority of her practice). She said when someone thinks of pet custody, they might think about it like a child custody case, but that isn’t how it works in Colorado.
Bergsten added for a Colorado pet custody case, the firm has to file a replevin action and prove that someone is the owner of the animal based on title. Whoever is the title’s owner would usually get custody of the animal.
Bergsten said a title for a pet can be confirmed in different ways including if it’s purchased from a breeder, pet store or shelter, as they will usually have paperwork associated with it since they’re governed by the Colorado Pet Animal Care and Facilities Act.
“Whosoever’s name is on that paperwork is usually what the court considers to be the title’s owner,” Bergsten added.
Bergsten noted she’s also seen situations where people leave an abusive relationship and a pet is used as a pawn by the abuser. The state legislature has helped a bit in recent years, including passing bills to name a pet as a protected entity in civil and criminal protection orders.
“Animals are an integral part to domestic violence [cases],” Bergsten said. “Especially now as people are having kids less and less, they’re getting pets instead, so there’s no child to use as a pawn … so now abusers are turning to pets because they have the same emotional value to their humans as children do.”
According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund report from 2022, Colorado ranks fourth in the nation in its animal protection law rankings.