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Lawyer focuses his legal efforts on protecting pets' rights

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Brandie, an 11-year-old husky, was facing a death sentence. In early 2010, one of Brandie’s owners was walking her near their home in Broward County, Florida, which includes Fort Lauderdale. Brandie was on a leash, but the toy poodle mix that ran up to Brandie was not. Brandie bit the smaller dog, killing him.

At the time, Broward County had an unforgiving “dangerous dog” ordinance. Under the law, a dog found to have “killed or caused the death of a domestic animal in one incident” was to be impounded by animal control and then euthanized.

For six months, Brandie’s owners—Lon Lipsky and his wife, Beth—tried to get Brandie’s death sentence lifted, “losing at every turn,” Lipsky says. Then the couple read a story about another Florida dog, Ulu, from Marion County near Ocala in the northern part of the state, who had been saved with the help of Fred M. Kray, a lawyer in Gainesville. Kray got the court to scrap Ulu’s dangerous-dog designation, and in the course of litigation, attorneys for the county admitted their own harsh dangerous-dog ordinance was at odds with Florida law and was unconstitutional. Ulu went home, and the law was changed.

The Lipskys reached out to Kray, who said he would help Brandie on a pro bono basis. “Everything changed once Fred got involved,” Lipsky says.

Brandie isn’t the only dog who can thank Kray for her freedom—and life. A practitioner for about 40 years, Kray has built an extensive practice in the animal law field that includes cases about the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, pet lemon-law claims, pet store litigation over puppy mills, replevin actions for companion animals and veterinary malpractice.

In August, Kray was recognized for his work in animal law when the ABA’s Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section presented him with its Excellence in the Advancement of Animal Law Award for 2016. The award recognizes a member of the section’s animal law committee who, in the words of the award citation, “through commitment and leadership, has advanced the humane treatment of animals through the law.”

relentless work ethic

Chris Green, the executive director of Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Program, says Kray earned the award through his untiring efforts to protect dogs from unfair and unjust laws.


Photo Courtesy of Fred Kray

“His life’s work has been to ensure that each individual has access to due process, allowing them to be judged solely on the basis of their own conduct, rather than irrational fears or scapegoating,” says Green, a past chair and current member of the TIPS Animal Law Committee. “It often has been a thankless and controversial task, but one that Fred always believed to be just.”

Kray didn’t begin his career representing dogs and other animals. After graduating from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 1977, Kray moved to Florida, where he maintained a fairly traditional civil litigation practice in Miami and, starting in 2008, in Gainesville.

That changed more or less by accident in 1999, when Kray received a letter from the local animal control office. The letter alleged that Kray’s dog was unlicensed, and that he would need to pay a fine. There was only one problem: Kray’s dog had died weeks before he received the letter. Kray faxed the animal control office, advising officers of the dog’s demise. In response, he was given a trial date.

Kray describes what came next in his acceptance speech for the TIPS award: “The case was called. The animal control officer was sitting behind his computer and rattled off that I had a dog, it was not licensed as required on the due date, and I was therefore guilty. The judge looked at me and said, ‘What do you have to say about that?’ I said, ‘Well, first I’d like to ask the animal control officer some questions.’ The judge looked as if this was something that was happening for the first time. The animal control officer looked the same way.”

Kray followed up a tough examination by producing a box with his dog’s ashes. The judge, Kray says, looked at the animal control officer and said, “I think he’s got you there.”

This prompted Kray to wonder about the experiences of other pet owners. He was a seasoned trial attorney who could navigate the legal system and protect his rights. What about folks with fewer resources and less familiarity with the system?

So Kray began to take on animal-related cases. Since then, he has helped shape dangerous-dog laws through litigation, scholarship and blog posts that document his cases, so lawyers in other parts of the country can apply similar strategies.


In the past five years, Kray also has helped lead the charge against breed-specific legislation—city and county ordinances that ban or otherwise restrict dogs by breed. These laws most often target pit bulls, and Kray maintains a website on the subject, Pit Bulletin Legal News. He also co-authored a book, Defending Against Dangerous Dog Classifications, published in 2012. His co-author is Adam P. Karp, who practices animal law in Bellingham, Washington.

Suing in federal court, Kray has so far been involved in getting two breed-specific ordinances struck down—in Moses Lake, Washington, and New Llano, Louisiana. Meanwhile, 20 states have passed pre-emption laws that prohibit local jurisdictions from passing or enforcing breed-based dog laws—most recently Arizona, where the statute took effect in the spring.

Other lawyers in the animal law field emphasize the importance of these efforts. “Much like criminal attorneys who defend some of society’s most maligned individuals—very often those that most need effective representation—Fred Kray has spent his career fighting to protect certain breeds of dogs from categorical prejudice,” Green says.

In the areas of breed-discriminatory legislation and dangerous-dog defense, Karp says, Kray has worked diligently in and outside of Florida to educate, inspire and challenge.

“Though nominally retired, he still labors for what captivates his heart—dogs of all kinds,” Karp says.

Kray supposedly retired—or at least drastically reduced his practice—about 15 years ago. But he’s also a lawyer who can’t say no. “I don’t know what you would call me,” he says. “If I see an animal law case that interests me, I will take it.”

There appear to be a lot of those still going around, raising important, fascinating and emerging areas of animal law that he continues to pursue. And besides, people keep asking him to save their dogs.

Sandra Shaw, Ulu’s owner, is grateful that Kray got her dog back home. She’s also grateful that his work might mean other people’s dogs are never even taken away. “He gave them a second chance without having to fight for it like I did,” she says. “Fred just never gave up, and I have a lot to thank him for.”

Kray won Brandie’s freedom in December 2010. The county’s ordinance was changed shortly after that, in response to a separate lawsuit. Broward County now is in line with Florida law, so dogs are deemed to be dangerous if they have killed or injured a pet “more than once.”

The Lipskys got five more years with Brandie after Kray won their case. She died last December, having “lived out the rest of her life peacefully” with her owners in Georgia, where they’d moved for work reasons after Kray won the dog’s freedom. Kray got to see the Lipskys a few months before Brandie’s death, while he was in Georgia for a conference. “She was a special dog,” he says.

“Fred’s become part of our family,” Lipsky says. “He saw something that was wrong. He felt like he had the power to right it. And he did.”

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Dog’s Best Friend: Fred Kray focuses his legal efforts on protecting domestic animals’ rights after being inspired by his own experience with a pet.”


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