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When Will The Law Catch Up?

Animals evolving place in our hearts and courtrooms

What is the difference between your car, your favorite chair and your beloved pet? In the eyes of the law, not much. That’s because (for the most part) animals are considered property, chattel to be owned by people. This may have been the way people thought two hundred years ago, but times have changed and this type of classification for animals is grossly out of step with society. With ninety percent of companion animal guardians saying they consider their pets ‘part of their family’ the law needs to reconsider how animals are viewed.

Legal progress, like most other social change, can take time, but there are some promising signs. In 2014, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that companion animals must be afforded basic protections, the same as their human counterparts. As this article points out, this shift in legal status affords law enforcement the freedom to step in when animal abuse and neglected is suspected.

The article goes on to highlight another fantastic development in human rights. The NonHuman Rights Project has been working diligently these past few years to make the argument that animals, particularly chimpanzees, should be afforded basic rights under the law. Right here in New York, the pioneering civil rights organization has advocated in court on behalf of a number of chimps living in confinement and captivity. Unfortunately, no court has yet to rule in the chimpanzees’ favor, but this has not deterred Steven Wise the head of the NonHuman Rights Project, as quoted in this article "We are still in the early stages of a long-term multi-state strategic litigation campaign to change the legal status of appropriate nonhuman animals like Tommy and Kiko from mere 'things' to 'persons' possessing such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty. We already are discussing whether, where, and how to refile Tommy's and Kiko's cases in the appropriate courts."

An evolving legal status for animals is important for a wide variety of reasons, for the animals in the Oregon cases and the chimpanzees in New York, their issue centers around their treatment, or to be more specific, the freedom to be treated without harm. Almost all Americans believe that animals should be treated kindly, humanely and without harm, but there is also another less obvious reason why animals should be seen as more that mere property in the eyes of the law.

Securing your beloved companion animal’s future, would in fact change, and in essence become an easier process if your pet was viewed differently by the courts. In fact, as a society we’ve made great change in this area, with a number of states passing Pet Trust laws that help people protect the future of their pets when the guardian is no longer around. New York happens to be one of those states that has carved out a place in the legislative books to help companion animal guardians ensure a proper life for a deceased person’s pets. But there is more that can be done, and the journey to animal rights is far from over.
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