A modest proposal for advancing animal rights.

Author:Sullivan, Diane M.

    Animal rights activists are often called nut jobs, wackos, and extremists--and that is by our friends and family members. Too often our cause is splintered by polarizing views. Instead of focusing on the positions that divide us, we must pursue matters on which we agree. Few would object to the fact that animals feel pain. It may not be to the same extent as we do, but they feel it. As each new year dawns, the promise of the next year suggests the time may have come to recognize that sentience and finally abolish the continued legal classification of animals as property. The law must change to recognize that companion animals and other animals are sentient creatures deserving of greater protection.

    In any discussion concerning animal rights, the question often arises as to the need to distinguish companion animals, like dogs and cats, from other animals. Clearly, it is an easier argument to limit animal rights to our companion animals who occupy our homes and are near and dear to us. However, such a distinction is too great a strain on science and compassion for us to promote without exploring the issue a bit deeper. Although it would be easy to give into the distinction between companion animals and other animals, to do so ignores the fact that noncompanion animals, like chimpanzees, have a genetic make-up very similar to ours. (1) They also have the capacity to experience great pain. (2) So to suggest that Rover or Kitty have rights and value beyond property, but a chimp does not, leads to an absurd conclusion: chimps can be seen as mere objects.

    Chimps can experience a broad array of emotions like joy, grief, and sadness. (3) They are extremely intelligent and often serve as helpers to the disabled. (4) Their genetic make-up is nearly identical to ours. (5) So why should this living, breathing, and thinking being--sometimes thinking even more than we do according to Japanese researchers (6)--be relegated to the equivalent of the chair we sit on? Cruelty and humane treatment of animals aside, tort law, contract law, wills and trusts law, and family law all deal with issues regarding companion animals (with the exception of actions for damages to livestock where the law actually grants more protection to the animals so long as it is part of one's livelihood). (7)

    While some environmental and constitutional laws (such as the Endangered Species Act (8) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act) (9) do address the rights of noncompanion animals, the continued property classification of animals affects--and hurts-companion animals more than it does our nondomesticated friends. Therefore, while some animal welfare groups have done a good job raising the awareness of the plight of the giant panda and the previously endangered bald eagle, the greatest strides yet to be made involve companion animals and their often horrid treatment in our United States.

    There are three issues in animal law of which there should be little debate: (1) banning animal fighting as a spectator sport by increasing the penalties for those that attend; (2) providing for bequests for the care of our pets after our death; and (3) prohibiting the hunting of domesticated animals on private game preserves or over the Internet.


    Michael Vick was indicted on some of the most egregious, wanton acts of inhumanity toward animals ever reported. (10) The evidence and his resulting plea left most with little doubt about the horrific nature of their offenses. All of us condemn issues that shock us, but actions must follow our words. More often those opposed to animal cruelty and who are in support of animal rights need to speak with a unified voice to reform this country's...

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