Orly Degani

The animals have lost a great friend and champion. Orly Degani, who used her considerable legal skills to fight for the rights of animals, died Monday, Feb. 4. Yesterday, as the rain fell gently, her family and friends gathered in the Hollywood Hills and said goodbye.

Her many victories for animals include a California Supreme Court decision that upheld the ban on the sale of shoes made from kangaroos as she beat back a challenge by Adidas; successfully defending the City of West Hollywood in its ban on the declawing of cats, beating the California Veterinary Medical Association which tried to put profits before animal welfare; and, bringing the first Sec. 1983 lawsuit to protect the first amendment rights of rescuers and volunteers, forcing the L.A. County pound to reinstate a rescuer who was banned for criticizing inhumane practices. She was also an avid rescuer and ethical vegan. But more than that, she was my friend.

Orly and I met in law school and co-founded an animal rights group called the Stanford Animal Protection & Education Society, the Stanford APES. She was so smart and so determined, that whenever I needed advice on an animal protection issue, she’d be the first person I’d call. My kids who are now in college heard the phrase, “I need to call Orly” for the entirety of their lives. In fact, “call Orly” became a catchphrase in our family for seeking the counsel of someone who is smart and capable and can help you solve problems. I suspect many of her friends had similar experiences.

But there was one side of Orly that most people did not know — a side that constitutes some of my most cherished memories of her. Orly and I took ballroom dance classes together at Stanford. She was my partner in the Foxtrot, the Waltz, the Rumba, and Swing.

As is fitting of someone who meant so much to so many people, all of us picture Orly a little bit differently.

I picture her on a clear night, cool with a slight breeze, the lights of Green library behind us, and the courtyard and iconic arches of Stanford Law School in front of us. The campus would be mostly empty, all the overachieving students in their dorm rooms studying.

Orly and I would sneak into the building, break into the moot court room, move the tables and chairs reserved for the aspiring lawyers in the well of the room, and pop a CD into the portable player we brought with us.

In the darkness so as not to arouse suspicion, we’d stand facing each other. We held hands. And we danced.

In lieu of flowers, her family has asked that memorial donations be made to the No Kill Advocacy Center.


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