A lifelong love of animals is leading third-year UMass Law student Abbey Barr, JD ’21 toward a career in criminal law prosecuting criminal and animal cruelty cases.
Her advocacy on campus has led to national recognition by the Animal Legal Defense Fund. She is one of three first-place national winners of the 2020 Advancement of Animal Scholarships for supporting the organization’s mission “to advance the interests and protect the lives of animals through the legal system.”
“I attended law school to make a positive impact on society. I want to protect and advocate for those who fall victim to crimes,” said Barr. “Specifically, I am determined to protect some of the most vulnerable populations: children and animals.”
Advocacy at UMass Law
The Student Animal Legal Defense Fund at UMass Law is dedicated to the advocacy, education, and protection of animal rights. The organization also strives to spread awareness about animal cruelty and various forms of abuse that animals experience on a regular basis.
As president of the group, Barr has been proactive in raising awareness of animal cruelty and how to advocate for animals. She organized a visit to a farm animal sanctuary during October’s Justice for Farmed Animals Week and she assembled a panel of animal rights experts for February's Justice for Animals Week. Barr also arranged for therapy dogs to visit the law school during exam weeks.
Barr shared information with her fellow students about Ag-Gag laws that prevent recording animal abuse in agricultural settings by silencing whistleblowers and preventing the public from learning about cruelty. “Our national organization is working on striking down these laws as being unconstitutional,” she said.
She hopes to plan more events in the upcoming academic year despite the implications of COVID-19. Barr plans to lead the chapter in continuing to spread awareness, even through virtual means.
Lifelong animal advocate
A Connecticut native who moved to Cape Cod, Barr’s interest in the protection of animals developed from her dedication to working with and helping animals - and as a lifelong dog owner.
While attending Nonnewaug High School, an agricultural high school, Barr was the barn manager and head volunteer for the Little Britches Therapeutic Riding Program in Woodbury, CT. “I completed more than 800 volunteer hours. I assisted with lessons and aided the child and adult riders who were either first-time riders or had physical and/or mental disabilities. Also, the barn hosted a day camp for inner-city children. The camp provided the opportunity to learn about the animals, have fun, and create new experiences.”
She recalls one child who came to the program in a wheelchair with very limited mobility. “Through exercises, she was able to ride a horse without assistance. Throughout her progress, she developed her communication skills to where she was able to vocalize with the horse and the instructor.”
While at Keene State College, Barr volunteered at the Monadnock Humane Society as a dog handler. She also organized several fundraisers to offset the cost of food and supplies for the animals there.
“I’ve always had a dog,” she said. “I’m drawn to the bond humans can have with animals. I want to prevent the destruction of that bond through cruelty.”
Current law, explains Barr, views animals as property. “A change in statute regarding how animals are viewed would lead to harsher sentences for neglect and cruelty.”
At UMass Law “you’re not a number”
UMass Law was the only MA law school Barr applied to. “I liked the small class sizes and the affordability of a law school of this caliber,” she said.
“UMass Law professors are truly one of a kind,” Barr added. “They are devoted to helping students develop the skills necessary to pursue justice. They are approachable, accessible, and they take the time to get to know the students.
“At UMass Law, you are not a number. You are a student, colleague, and member of the UMass Law community.”
In addition to animal advocacy, Barr is a member of the Criminal Law Society and the Larkin Senate of the Delta Theta Phi International Law Fraternity, where she served on the executive board for the UMass Law chapter. She also works at the circulation desk of the law library, helping fellow students and members of the public find the resources they need. This summer, Barr worked at a solo law practice in Fall River performing legal research, writing, and client consultations.
Committed to advocating for animals
“I was very surprised to receive this scholarship,” said Barr. “I was hoping to receive the second-place award, not expecting to be a first-place recipient. This award validated my efforts this year in advocating for animals.”
After graduation, Barr strives to work as a district attorney, prosecuting criminal cases especially cases of animal neglect and abuse. “I plan to advocate for animals no matter which path my career may take.”