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Is animal law about to change the world for animals?

February 24, 2016 4 comments

Low Section View of a Man with His BulldogAs an advocate for animal welfare, I’ve mostly been active in activities geared towards regulating or closing down puppy mills. On occasion, I’ve been involved in local issues related to a specific animal abuse cases, but not often, and only in cases that are so horrific I cannot help but get involved.

I’ve also attended animal humane day for several years in a row and lobbied my legislators to pass the Minnesota commercial breeder law, the Beagle Freedom law, and body-grip trap legislation.

Through each of these experiences, there was one thing I knew to be true, our laws are woefully inadequate when it comes to protecting animals. Animals are still defined as property. They are not individuals with rights and thus, the law usually addresses them under the headers of “protection” or “welfare.” not as beings with their own individual rights.

Even if you do pass a law meant to protect an animal or improve its overall welfare, you are likely to face roadblocks. You can pass a law to regulate puppy mills and require commercial breeders to provide enrichment and social interaction for their dogs, but if the agency charged with enforcing the law refuses to do so (ahem, that would be you Minnesota Animal Board of Health), then animals continue to suffer. And, if you have an animal felony cruelty law, and the prosecutor charged with prosecuting the law as it is written or the judge charged with following the law, refuses to mete out the punishment required, the animal that was killed, maimed or tortured receives no justice. After all, they are just property.

But maybe that is about to change. More and more we are starting to hear about a specialty within the world of law called “animal law,” and the work that is being done in this area is amazing.

 

  • In April 2015, a judge recognized two chimps as legal persons and granted their Writ of Habeas Corpus, something not granted by any judge previous to this.

Under the law of New York State, only a “legal person” may have an order to show cause and writ of habeas corpus issued in his or her behalf. The Court has therefore implicitly determined that Hercules and Leo are “persons.” (Judge Recognizes Two Chimpanzees as Legal Persons, Grants them Writ of Habeas Corpus, Nonhuman Rights Project, April 20, 2015)

 

In the March-April 2016 issue of Harvard Magazine, animal law received a special spotlight. Whether a social-justice movement or a sign that how much our pets have become members of the family, interest in animal law is growing. Both law students and practicing attorneys are seeking to learn more. More than 150 law schools in the United States now offer classes on this topic. Harvard has offered a class on the topic since 2000 and recently expanded its curriculum to include a new Animal Law & Policy Program.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and other animal welfare groups are joining forces to change how we see and treat animals and they are using the law to do it. They also have a Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) and a Animal Law Program.

Then there is the Nonhuman Rights Project, which is active in challenging the law around animal rights, and the Animal Law Resource Center, which provides resources on animal case law for lawyers and the general public.

IMG_8244Whether we know it or not, the world is changing and animals may soon be the better for it. As consumers and pet owners, we are demanding it. Cases related to animal law are showing up in civil courts, federal courts, criminal courts and even divorce courts. Legislation on the treatment of animals is becoming more common, As new legislation is passed and new court cases are decided, precedent is being set. The new is encouraging. Animal law is about to change the world for animals.  Are you ready?

Dean Martha Minow thinks the climate for animal-law growth is ideal. “Though treatment of animals has always been an issue, only recently has law begun to take it seriously,” she says. “For anyone thinking about the purpose of law, the legal treatment of animals forces a confrontation with what law is actually about—‘What are its purposes? What are its limits? Is law only about human beings?’” One way to understand legal history, she explains, is to trace “the ever-expanding circle of law—who’s in and who isn’t.” Animal law is part of the newest expansion of that circle, and “there’s an opportunity now to contribute to the development of law reform in a way that hasn’t always been the case.” (Are Animals Things?, Cara Feinberg, Harvard Magazine, March-April 2016)

 

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