Animal Law: Companions or Property?

  • August 26th, 2014
  • Katherine Becker
Animal Law: Companions or Property?

Pursuant to current property law, animals are chattel, the personal property of their owners. Statutes and cases refer to animals as “property,” therefore giving animals little to no value or legal rights. But we are witnessing a shift. In San Jose Charter of Hells Angels Motorcycle Club v. City of San Jose, the District Court stated that “We have recognized that dogs are more than just a personal effect. The emotional attachment to a family’s dog is not comparable to a possessory interest in furniture.” See (2005) 402 F. 3d 962, 975. This statement by the court illustrates the slowly changing perception of animals under the law, from pieces of property to something more. In 2005, the ALDF was granted a permanent injunction against Barbara and Robert Woodley in the largest civil animal cruelty case in history and given custody of the 325 dogs found on the property. In 2007, Michael Vick was arrested and pled guilty for being involved in illegal dog fighting activities. Many campaigns against dog fighting rings since the Vick case have been successful. In 2008, California passed Proposition 2, which will ban some of farming’s cruelest practices, including keeping baby calves in veal crates, pregnant sows in gestation crates, and egg-laying hens in battery cages. In 2010, the City of West Hollywood passed an ordinance effectively banning the sale of animals bred at “puppy mills.” Later, in 2011, West Hollywood also banned the sale of fur apparel products within its city limits. In February, 2012, for the first time in U.S. history, a federal judge heard arguments in a case that could determine whether animals enjoy the same constitutional protection against slavery as human beings in the PETA v. Sea World case. Recently, nationwide media attention has been drawn to the process of factory farming, meat processing, and the infamous “pink slime.” The animal law movement is working diligently for animals on many fronts, not only for companion animals, but to achieve basic rights for animals raised for food, used for entertainment, utilized in scientific experiments, and bred for our use, among others. We as lawyers have a unique opportunity to practice in this emerging area of law and help determine the rights that animals may or may not have. Numerous studies and documentaries (Goodall, Darwin, Disney) show that many animals are remarkably similar to us – they have social groups, they love and care for family members, they take care of their young, and have clear hierarchies and communication. We have also heard stories of animals who will risk their own lives for the lives of their “owners” or human companions. When all is said and done, we have to ask ourselves, why shouldn’t animals have the right to live a comfortable life? Why shouldn’t animals be considered more valuable than a piece of furniture?

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