A recent Gallup Poll revealed that nearly one-third of Americans believe that animals should have the same rights as people. This is tremendously good news for animals, although growing public opinion is a far cry from actually changing laws to grant rights or legal personhood to animals. But think about the implications . . .
Currently in the US, animals are regarded as property or objects, not people. That means that if someone harms an animal, the punishment for doing so is a bit more severe than say, breaking a clock or a chair, but nowhere near as severe as the punishment for harming a person. If someone injures your beloved pet, you may be compensated as if someone injured a piece of your property, but you will not be treated as if a family-member was injured or killed.
For me, and for a growing number of others, this is a wrong. My dog is more important to me than many of the humans I know – she is my baby. She is not “just an animal” and I certainly don’t regard her as an object, a thing, or property. She is my family.
Currently, the Nonhuman Rights Project is fighting a case in New York to seek legal personhood for two chimpanzees named Leo and Hercules. Leo and Hercules are currently being held and used for experiments at Stony Brook University. Animal rights advocates argue that Leo and Hercules are being held in inadequate facilities, without proper physical or mental care and socialization. They’ve been at Stony Brook for years, essentially held in solitary confinement, which for a highly social and aware species like chimps, is torturous. And we know that – in human prisons, we only use solitary confinement for the worst criminals. These chimps are not criminals and yet are being held in barren cages, experimented upon and suffering. If the law does not protect them as chimps, then maybe it’s time to change the laws and re-evaluate how we define “person.”
Obviously, the implications of legal rights for animals are enormous, and would mean that people would be forced to treat animals exponentially better than we treat them now. But as our awareness of animal sentience grows, so do the long-held beliefs that humans are profoundly and fundamentally separate from (or superior to) other animals. Now more than ever before, humans are starting to show greater awareness and concern for how we treat our fellow Earthlings. Perhaps it’s time that our laws catch up to science and public opinion, to start providing greater protection and equality.