Carol Ryder of Fort Salonga had a successful career on Wall Street in the financial services industry specializing in software design and quality assurance. But even though she had a rewarding and demanding profession, Carol felt she had a more important job to do.
Carol is soft-spoken and exudes a calm demeanor, but beneath it, she is a fighter. Carol advocates for the underdog, both human and animal. She is known by many as a volunteer who has devoted countless hours assisting local animal rescue organizations, as a frequent visitor to nursing homes to provide pet therapy for senior citizens, and has been a familiar face at local schools helping volunteers teach pet care to students.
In 2004, Carol was only in her 30s, but felt that she might have waited too long to contemplate a career change. Many of her friends suggested that she go to law school, and one specifically suggested Touro Law School. Curious, Carol did some research and learned that the William Randolph Hearst Public Advocacy Center—the only one of its kind in the United States—is located at Touro. The Center provides furnished offices to local nonprofits, free of charge, in exchange for their promise to use Touro students for advocacy services, research work and client relations. The Center advocates students use the law to do good works and to help others, a perfect description of Carol’s dream job.
Carol left Wall Street to attend Touro and went on to pass the New York State bar examination on her first try.
Armed with her law degree, Carol now has the ability to advocate for humans and animals in very different and meaningful ways. She began working with local legislators, including Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), on animal law legislation. “This is what I was meant to do,” she says. “I can fight for things on a different level.”
Carol is admitted in both New York and federal courts, so she can handle disability discrimination cases that involve service animals, another cause close to her heart. “There are a lot of laws protecting service animals,” she says. “The American Disabilities Act trumps many other laws.”
Carol is urging passage on a few bills involving animals, both locally and nationally. She is actively lobbying for the Great Apes Protection & Cost Savings Act, which was recently re-introduced to the House and Senate. The legislation, which limits or prohibits research on chimpanzees, has already been passed in virtually every other country in the world, with the U.S. remaining as the only country with a large population of chimpanzees being held captive in laboratories. “Being a research animal is worse than death,” Carol says.
Locally, Carol is lobbying for a number of bills to be passed, including an animal abuse registry that would encompass all of New York State. “Animal abuse leads to violence,” Carol says firmly. Quoting several law enforcement officials, Carol adds, “Show me an animal abuser and I’ll show you someone with a long rap sheet.”
In addition to animal law and legislation, Carol handles cases including divorce, family law and foreclosures, zoning laws and disability discrimination, and helping eligible seniors apply for Medicaid. Carol also continues to be a big supporter of the animal community in her new role as an attorney. “I help existing animal-rescue groups and volunteer my services to the Suffolk County SPCA,” Carol says.
After setting up her law office, Carol immediately began performing pro bono work. She quickly became known for her semi-annual animal law seminars for pet owners interested in a variety of legal information. The next seminar, “Animal Law for Pet Lovers,” will be held on Oct. 31, 2011, at Touro in Central Islip. Seminar speakers include Congressman Israel, Carol and her colleague Anthony Ballato, also a sole-practitioner and Touro alumnus. The seminar will cover many topics of interest to pet owners including pet trusts, animal lemon laws, pending legislation regarding animals and advice on what you can do if you dislike the laws that currently exist.
“People need to realize they have to vote to [elect] the right person in office,” says Carol. “Look at your local politicians and see what their position is, and see if they have any pending bills.”
While Carol has been busy with her clients, animal rescue organizations and assisting the elderly, she still finds time to work on the unique connections that are so important to her. As a member of the Touro alumni council, she mentors students and sponsors those interested in satisfying their Public Interest Law Perspective pro bono work for graduation.
Carol’s decision to leave Wall Street and begin a new career was courageous and as a result, she has made a significant difference in the lives of many. “Now I can help two- and four-legged underdogs,” she says. “My philosophy is to take good care of my clients who come to me because they need a problem resolved, but the fangs have to come out if necessary. I consider myself a pit bull: smart, loyal and loving to those I care for.”