GETTING TO KNOW: Donald Garlit


Detroit native Donald Garlit is a co-founder of Attorneys for Animals (AFA) where he is treasurer; and a co-founder of the Animal Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, where he was the Section Council chair, and is now a Section Council member and newsletter co–editor.

Garlit is on the Board of Directors for RedRover, a national organization that helps animals in need, running temporary shelters after disasters such as fires, tornadoes, and floods and provides humane education. He works at animal rescue groups including the Ann Arbor-based Leuk’s Landing shelter for feline leukemia cats, and The Bird Center of Washtenaw County, a rehabilitation center for injured wild birds.  

He has a degree in economics from Michigan State University, a law degree from Ohio State University, and an MBA from the University of Michigan; and spent more than 25 years in the automotive industry in both commercial and defense segments in finance, program management, sales, and contracts.

Garlit and his wife Bee Friedlander, who also co-founded AFA, live in Canton with three felines, Julia, Stella and Precious.

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News
Why did you become a lawyer?
I saw the movie “Paper Chase” and decided I could get through law school. This was common in the mid-1970s.

What would surprise people about your job?
I have been a Michigan attorney since 1977 but have never practiced law. That was unusual years ago although more people are taking different paths with their law degree now.

What advice do you have for someone considering law school?
Be sure your heart will be in it. Talk to attorneys before applying. It is painful to go on a lark. Give thought to an area of law that interests you.
What is Attorneys for Animals?
Wanda Nash started AFA in 1992 with the goal of forming an animal law section within the State Bar of Michigan. That happened in 1995, it is the first statewide section in the country. AFA was revitalized several years ago when we realized there was a place for a group that included animal activists and attorneys.  We are involved with legislative research and advocacy, an animal law referral service, and education, and have a book club that meets quarterly.
Who do you most admire?
Jane Goodall, who went to Africa to study chimps and changed the way we think about our “closest living relatives” and all animals.
What’s your favorite law-related movie?
“Inherit the Wind,” a fictionalized account of the 1920s Scopes Monkey Trial, about whether the teaching of evolution was legal in Tennessee. The trial testimony and cross-examination is outstanding, pitting the Clarence Darrow character (Spencer Tracy) against the William Jennings Bryant character (Frederic March). It is some lawyering to watch.
Who are your law role models?

Joyce Tischler of the Animal Legal Defense Fund (who practically invented animal law in the 1970s); and Attorneys for Animals founder, the late Wanda Nash, who went to law school in the early 1980s with the express goal of helping animals. Wanda was the “mother” of Animal Law in Michigan, and a founding member of the Animal Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan. Also the many animal law attorneys and animal advocates I have met and worked with on campaigns, advocacy, analysis, and testimony-selfless people who are part of an important social justice movement.

What is your favorite animal book?

I still have my childhood copy of “Black Beauty.” Anna Sewell completed the book in 1877 and it is told through the thoughts of a horse. Sewell was well ahead of her time and a pioneer in getting people to think of animals as sentient beings.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievements?
I wanted to retire early and begin the next phase. Always interested in animal issues, I planned to work on them after retirement. Animal issues and causes are what I do now. I believe one needs to keep active in retirement and animal issues present many opportunities. I often think I could do more although I really believe if everyone did something then great results will follow. I have met many caring, compassionate, and committed people in this work.
Also, while in the auto industry I headed finance for the team that brought the Hummer (replacement for the Jeep) to production – everyone in the industry wants to work on an iconic vehicle although few get the opportunity. I got the opportunity!

If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would that be?

Whoever is in charge of certain U.S. government historical records. I’d like to read the un-redacted Kennedy assassination papers. Withheld papers encourage conspiracy theories.
What do you do to relax?
I like to walk, get involved with animal issues, and read about history, economics and animals. I have a library of books about animals in the World Wars. One I recommend is “Sergeant Stubby – How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Won the Hearts of a Nation,” by Ann Bausom.  
What would you say to your 16-year-old self?
Take more risks and study harder.  I could have been more directed in high school.
Favorite hangouts?
Local parks, and restaurants with vegan offerings.
Favorite websites?
Merritt Clifton’s Animals 24-7 (; covers many topics including the history of the animal rights and welfare movements back to the 1800s.
Favorite music?
Electric Light Orchestra; classical composers such as Sibelius and Dvorak; and even disco music.
What is your happiest childhood memory?
The Christmas season.
What is your most treasured material possession?
My Dad’s U.S. Navy uniform from World War II, a great memory of the Greatest Generation.
What do you wish someone would invent?
A time machine since I like history.
What has been your favorite year?
I liked the late 1960s and 1968 in particular. The pace of cultural, political, and world change was incredible.
What’s the most awe-inspiring place you’ve ever been?
The Pyramids – incredible. I’m amazed Egyptian hieroglyphics are still not fully understood.
If you could have one super power, what would it be?
Flying. I could understand the world of the birds better.  My clothes might be a mess, though.
What’s one thing you would like to learn to do?
Speak a foreign language fluently.
What are some things most people don't know about you?
I’m distantly related to drag racing legend, Don “Big Daddy” Garlits. When I worked in the auto industry, my admin had been John DeLorean’s secretary. I once had lunch seated back-to-back with T. Boone Pickens—I listened in to see if I could get any investment ideas!
If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be?
Kaiser Wilhelm, Czar Nicolas, and Emperor Franz-Joseph; they plunged the world and their dynasties into destruction for inexplicable reasons during World War I.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
My mother would say: “If you don’t like it, don’t do it.”
What is the most unusual thing you have done?
I saw Richard Nixon at his first inaugural and I saw him going to his second-to-last public appearance as president (Phoenix, 1974) – I book-ended his presidency!