Rising 3L Tonya Harris is the winner of the 2021-2022 American Kennel Club (AKC) Companion Animal Law Writing Contest, a legal writing competition that invites submissions from law students around the United States. Harris receives a $2,500 cash prize for her winning entry. 

Harris said she was “delighted to win a national legal writing scholarship on animal law. As a neophyte to animal law, I researched the applicable law and tried to write as persuasively as possible, using the legal research skills I learned from [former UDC Law] Professor Sara Gras and enhanced persuasive writing skills developed from Professor Janet Fiorentino.”  

The contest seeks submissions about cutting-edge legal and public policy topics that affect companion animals – such as cats, dogs and other domesticated animals whose needs can be met in a close relationship with humans. The AKC provides scenarios for participants to address in their submissions, with this year’s contest offering options to write about Desmond’s Law or mandatory spay and neuter ordinances. Harris wrote about the constitutionality of spay/neuter ordinances in a hypothetical scenario involving a woman who had received multiple citations from her city for using her two intact, AKC Grand Champion female German Shepherds for hobby breeding. The task was to determine whether the town ordinance violated the Fourteenth Amendment if it required all pet owners to have their pets spayed or neutered at four months unless deemed too medically fragile to endure the procedure.  

AKC Director of Policy Analysis and contest director Phil Guidry described Harris’s analysis as “substantial, well-reasoned and appropriately supported.” 

When asked what prompted her to submit an entry to the contest, Harris said, “I enjoy writing on unfamiliar legal topics as preparation for legal practice. One does not get to decide the clients who walk through the door or their precise legal issues. Thus, writing on unfamiliar areas of law enables me to strengthen my legal research and writing skills so I can both ensure I am able to get to the appropriate legal answer and zealously advocate for clients’ legal position.”  

Harris began her legal education in UDC Law’s evening program but moved to the day program in her second year so she can graduate in 2023. Harris has also taught sixth grade geography in D.C. and serves as the Board President of Be That G.I.R.L., Inc., a nonprofit that assists young women who exhibit risky behaviors. 

With an interest in education law and labor and employment law, she has interned with the Office of General Counsel for the District of Columbia Public Schools and will extern this summer in the Washington Field Office for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She also frequently works as an Intake Volunteer with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, which provides legal assistance in cases pertaining to discrimination. 

One does not get to decide the clients who walk through the door or their precise legal issues.

Tonya harris
on why she chose to write about animal law, an unfamiliar topic for her

Harris is an avid writer. In addition to the AKC contest, she won third place in the Washington Bar Association Regional Scholarship Competition, which required her to ascertain if the federal government could require all students who attend federally funded schools and universities to become vaccinated against COVID-19. Additionally, she is co-author of a children’s book titled I Am Who I Am.   

Harris plans to use her legal skills after graduation to support underserved individuals and communities. Prior to attending law school, she completed her undergraduate and master’s degrees at Virginia State University and a Ph.D. at Capella University. 

“The American Kennel Club contest was not only an opportunity to write on an unfamiliar topic,” she added, “but it was an opportunity – even if I did not win – to both positively spotlight UDC Law and myself.” 

Guidry added, “We are happy to recognize Toya’s achievement and look forward to all she will achieve in her legal career.” 

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