Getting to know leading (and 2011 Top Dog Award-winning) animal law attorney Geordie Duckler brings many surprises. And the more that is revealed the clearer it becomes that this is a man of many interests, and one more likely than most to pursue them to expert levels.
I knew Geordie Duckler by reputation long before our first phone conversation. That contact brought the first surprise: Duckler was gracious, no-nonsense and warm.
Waiting in the lobby to personally meet the man who so far had impressed me as a heavy hitter in his field with a big voice and big personality (his telephone persona evoked images of Mark Twain — extreme intelligence, humor, wisdom), the next surprise came when a slight, casually-attired, youthful man approached, with palpable energy, extended hand and a smile.
Duckler’s credentials are well known: he established The Animal Law Practice in Portland in 1999; ten years and some 800 cases later, he had become the go-to guy for animal-related legal matters across the nation. Today he typically manages 65-70 active cases, involving everything from claims by elk farmers to “pet custody” conflicts, and more.
Duckler loves his work, he says, in large part because it provides him “endless opportunities to be creative” through unique challenges every day. Also, he says, it has allowed him a good living. While he confesses to working 8am to 6:30 or 7pm most weekdays and “all day every weekend,” he also enjoys his family, which includes his wife, son Ulysses (17) and daughter Ilia (13).
If the kids’ names don’t tip you that this is one bookish family — Ulysses’s name came from Homer’s Odyssey, Ilia’s from The Iliad — their pastimes will. Duckler says they’re all crazy readers for whom books are a big deal. “The four of us are bookophiles,” he says. “Our house is filled with them, and our idea of a good time is going to a book sale or the library.”
While he clocks many hours at work, Duckler says his family “have lives of their own too,” that they “know the deal,” and are comfortable with his routines. He notes that it may seem surprising, but he really doesn’t spend that much time in the courtroom — “jury trials four to five times a year, little hearings in between” — and that in fact, most days are spent at his desk, on the phone and the computer handling “this dog, that horse, this alligator” — much of it with fellow attorneys.
This is in large part where the creativity on which Duckler thrives comes in. “Just when I think I know how something will go, there’s some new twist,” he says.
He cites for example a case in which a client rented to a boarder who — with the landlord’s approval — moved in with her dog. During her tenancy the renter met someone and began spending more time away from home, eventually being away for three to four months. The landlady fed and sought veterinary care for the dog, and finally contacted a shelter to rehome the abandoned animal. A rescue obtained the dog and transported it to Pennsylvania, where it was adopted. Later the tenant returned, accused the landlady of stealing the dog, and the fight was on.
No sooner had this case (requiring local counsel in Pennsylvania) resolved than one seemingly identical found its way to Duckler “the very next day.” Thinking he knew exactly how the matter would unfold having closed one just like it the day before, he says with a pointed gaze: “Nope. Even when they look like they’re going to be the same, they’re all different,” which clearly pleases this lover of creative thinking. “Every day is a new day for me,” he says. “Which is part of why I’m here and why I stay.”
Asked about pets at home, Duckler says they have a cat, a dog, and a 10-year old turtle. Of the latter, Duckler muses, “I don’t know how it’s still living; I don’t think anyone’s fed it in all these 10 years.” This hints at classic Duckler: little out-loud musings that leave the listener unsure whether he’s joking.
Such a moment arose while discussing a photo shoot. Duckler said he enjoyed being on camera and in the public eye, sounding facetious. It took a bit of probing to ascertain that he really does like the attention and being on camera. In fact, his history bears this out: Duckler has been featured in National Geographic programs, has written for a national pet magazine, has led major animal law conferences, and has been working with HBO on a reality show since 2005 (“there’s a lot of footage,” he says).
The professional and personal facets that make up Geordie Duckler are numerous and fascinating — only more so as you dig. And so far this story really only highlights what might be called the “middle” of Duckler’s story. If asked what he wanted to be when he grew up as he started college, he would have answered “doctor.” And originally, that’s where he was headed. But after not being accepted to medical school he pursued a degree in science, ultimately becoming a scientist, studying the anatomy and physiology of animals, and even teaching courses on Animal Science and Zoology.
While pursuing his degree in science Duckler spent a year studying gross anatomy, which fascinates him. Also a practicing artist (surprise), he finds anatomical illustration “super duper fun,” he says. Also of great interest: the brain and how it works.
Today, as an attorney, he says, “I want to stay connected to the science of what people should or shouldn’t do with animals.” He says that many practitioners in the field have a moral or political agenda, but not him. He says the idea that all animals should be protected at all costs is often not science-based, but rather political or emotional.
“We are animals,” he says, adding that “we’ve evolved in ways all animals have evolved — which includes the roles in which human beings have placed animals, including eating, riding, performing, even exploiting them.”
“As an attorney I want to stay grounded in science,” says Duckler. “The fact that humans have raised animals for performers, companions, meat . . . has been true for thousands of years,” he says, adding, “that all adds value to our ownership experience, playing a role in the owner’s perception about his or her own life experience.” His interest, he says, has a lot to do with learning about animals, which includes learning about human nature.
In 1999 Duckler combined his fascination with science, the law and animals into his law practice in Portland. Today he says, “The law thing is fine; it’s intellectually stimulating.” It also seems to have the requisite nourishment to feed Duckler’s many interests. The stories, he says, run the gamut from hilarious to horrific, and are never ending. The challenges are perpetually changing and unique. And the clients? “Aesthetically interesting, colorful, even odd,” he says.
Duckler is also a public speaker, a board member of two Portland-area animal welfare nonprofits, and a working artist who participates in a variety of art festivals and projects throughout the year, donating works to the Oregon Community Warehouse. He is also currently working as co-author on a book about the value of companion animals with a Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago.
When asked today what he wants to be when he grows up?
A doctor, he says.
“I want to go to med school for my MD,” he says. “My father was a surgeon at Bess Kaiser . . . I ’m only 51 and I’ve had two careers. I don’t mind a third career.”
One thing wouldn’t be a surprise: that he’ll go on to do that, and much more. For now, in his current incarnation as an attorney, one thing seems certain: for anyone with a legal matter involving animals, Geordie Duckler is the man.
Kristan Dael is a freelance writer and the alter ego of Jennifer Mccammon. She lives in Portland with her 3-pack, and strives to produce articles that inform, edify, engage and entertain.
David Childs is a professional photographer, photo journalist, instructor, and animal advocate. You can see his work or contact him at DavidChildsPhotography.com.