A cat should be considered a person in the eyes of the law

I am a person
I am a person
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

 “…At one point in history, black slaves were not considered legal people….”

New York’s Supreme Court could confer upon a 26-year-old chimpanzee called Tommy non-human rights akin to human rights.  The person making the application to the court on behalf of Tommy is a lawyer, Stephen Wise who is the president of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NRP).  Mr Wise says that Tommy should be considered a “person” in the eyes of the law.

A “person” in this context means a legal entity with attached rights as opposed to an object. As I understand it, the objective is to change the way the law relates to animals: from an object to a living being with basic rights.

Tommy lives in a cage in a warehouse at a facility owned by Circle L Trailers. Tommy is “owned” by Patrick Lavery, the proprietor of Circle L Trailers.

If Tommy is given genuine rights which at least, in part, mirror the rights of human beings then, it is said by some people, there will be a revolution in respect of our relationship with animals.  And of course that must include the domestic cat.

All animals are currently treated as “things”, the old-fashioned legal word is “chattels”. They are akin to inanimate objects that you buy in a shop.

Domestic cats and other animals do not have a Bill of Rights which protects them at a fundamental level.  There is a European convention called the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals.  As far as I’m aware, this European convention is the nearest that animals have got to genuine rights but the convention falls far short of human-like rights.

The only way animals are protected is through animal welfare laws.  There is an argument that there should be more; something which protects animals at a fundamental level and confers upon them rights which would be superior to animal welfare laws and which would provide an umbrella covering all laws and with which all laws must comply.

Some people would no doubt say that there is an impossible divide between discussing the rights of a chimpanzee and the rights of the cat but there is no doubt that if Tommy is given non-human rights which are somewhat equivalent to human rights and is recognized as a person in the eyes of the law then there would probably should be a knock-on effect which benefits all animals.

It seems to me that if we treat our companion animals, commonly called “pets”, as members of the family and if we relate to them as if they are family members then perhaps we are halfway to conferring human-like rights upon them.  It just needs judges and governments to reflect that state of affairs.

Tommy’s case is to be heard by five judges. They will decide whether the former circus chimp should be freed from his cage on a trailer park in New York state for a new life in a chimpanzee sanctuary.

Mr Wise says that Tommy is living a life that is equivalent to a human being kept in permanent solitary confinement.  The owner of the chimpanzee, through his spokesperson, says that Tommy likes cartoons and spends most of his days watching television.

Mr Wise says that chimpanzees are autonomous beings capable of self-determination.  A lot of evidence also indicates that animals such as elephants, dolphins and the African grey parrot could also be deemed to be autonomous.

I think if we can give a parrot human-like rights there could be a knock-on effect to bring at least companion animals within the ambit of those rights or a modification of them.

Think of the great benefits to animals that an animal version of human rights would bring to them.  What springs to my mind immediately is declawing. Declawing would obviously be in breach of those rights and would have to stop immediately.

The thought of nonhuman rights puts the fear of God into very many people because it would irreversibly alter the balance between people and animals; it would change our relationship with them at a fundamental level and nothing would be the same again for animals. It would be vastly better.

A lot of people are minded to accuse people who like cats of being animal-rights activists (AR activists).  They quote this phrase in a derogatory way. We are not. We just like to treat animals decently and we like cats. That is all it is. If people fight against the introduction of any form of rights for animals then, in my opinion, they are misguided because there is no question in my mind that there is a lot of work to do in respect of improving animal welfare.  Nonhuman rights would provide a great leap forward in making those much-needed improvements.

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17 thoughts on “A cat should be considered a person in the eyes of the law”

  1. I agree with one thing Animal Cruelty needs to be stronger instead of just a few Years. Animals Should have the same rights as someone with Disabilities with Respect and Care. Animals have feelings thought they might not act the same as Humans, thought sometimes they act better as humans.

  2. Anything that gives animals protection not only from those who kill and hurt them for pleasure or in the name of sport or for food but also from those who abuse them in the name of love (and I’m thinking of declawing here)can only be a good thing, that poor chimp locked in that cage must spend hours in frustration and yet legally he is the property of his jailer, that is awful. And yet how would such an act if it was ever passed be policed? How for instance would the terrible thing I read about yesterday be prevented when it happened behind closed doors, when a youth angry with his mother for taking away his xbox, for some reason, set fire to her beloved cat and killed it in this tragic way. There is so much cruelty to animals in every country of this world, how can it ever be stopped realistically? I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime.

  3. They basically should have the right to exist without anyone hurting them for pleasure *hunting for sport which is more for the sake of the kill than anything used for food & those who torture, abuse an animal because they think it’s fun*(hopefully putting a stop to or at least lessening any forms of sadistic cruelty at the hands of a HUMAN abuser). As for spaying & neutering (yes it’s in the best interest of the animals where de-clawing is NOT). Personally … some “people” should have THIS done to them. The sadistic offspring of unfit parents springs to mind (plenty of those types of cases abound now-a-days … perhaps there would be less future serial killers in the making). IF “LABS” want to test … test on the criminals of the world instead of some defenseless animal (maybe the facts would be more accurate because it IS a person after all). And it would cut down on crime too. The law can be made to fit specific wording so that should help. Animals I feel empathy, sympathy & compassion for. CRIMINALS … I DON’T!! They are a waste of money to keep them locked up and enjoying a life they have NO NEED to pay or work for (their meals, clothes, their shelter, and activities in prison (TV, library, medical facilities, gymn among other things, ETC are all paid with tax dollars)

    1. J. Martin what you are expressing is the sort of animal rights that should guide all people and protect all animals. It is just about fundamental rules. Both people and animals need them. This what I’d like to see. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Bruce in North Dakota

    Ahhh… “Non Human Personhood” in the eyes of the law. One of my favorite subjects, and I have even tested it before in an American (District) Court!

    Over twenty years ago, my dear wife Evelyn and myself were quite concerned for the safety, health and well-being of our beloved little Calico kat “Snert Snirt Snurt” (full name. Holler the “magic” name out the door, and she’d come running like a goofy puppy!)

    A transient neighbor (living in an apartment) had not one, but two HUGE un-nuertered, aggressive Rottweiler dogs that he had little interest in controlling or confining, and they presented GREAT danger to our lovely kitty.

    Evelyn, ever the thinker, decided we should petition the court for an “Emergency Order of Protection”. Paperwork for such an order is readily available in the U.S. from most any law-enforcement officer, police station, sheriff’s office or court clerk.

    We obtained the paperwork, and went so far as to have Snert’s “signature” on the documents duly notarized and sealed. (the Snerter didn’t think much of putting her paw on the ink-pad, or “signing” the papers)

    When orders of protection are sought, american judges tend to forgo a lot of formality, and will sign them in the middle of the night, on their front porch while wearing pajamas, for example.

    We did not turn it into “such” an emergency, but we did end up in a District Court (next levels, Superior Court and then [State] Supreme Court)

    The Judge came into the courtroom, we sat, he read the papers and then you could start to see a bit of steam come out of his ears. He looked between the bailiff and the clerk of the court and demanded “who let this get this far???”. There was a sheriff in the courtroom, and the judge looked at him through squinted, angry eyes and asked in a most accusatory manner “You? You???”

    (The sheriff said only “I wouldn’t let them bring the cat into the courtroom, Your Honor!”)

    The judge arose, put his hands on his bench and leaned forward, and spoke to us in a soft, yet precise and distinct voice: “Bruce, Evelyn: take your cat, and GO HOME!” before he stomped out of the courtroom.

    Later, I was told our paperwork might just get framed, and the Superior court judge my father used to golf with said something to the effect “too bad your kid doesn’t have any money to pursue that. That case might have turned into some kind of landmark decision”

    Fast forward over two decades, and the legal argument HAS become valid in a sense, as the question of “Animal Personhood” is being raised in many venues around the world.

    I used to support the idea, but have since rejected it: those damned Rottweilers would get the same protections, too; and I just HATE ’em all.

      1. I love nothing better than a Tortie Cat. Or any Cat for that Matter. Jasmine, my only tortie. Had a wee accident today. She tried jumping on the table but missed as she tried to hold on to table Cloth. There was a warm drink on the table. So she got abit wet. Shes wasn’t hurt badly, Don’t think she liked the taste as coffee she doesn’t like that much. So she was forever ticking off that smell to get rid of it.

    1. Very stylish and I may say

      “Det var ikke saa godt for en kat men USA kan hav som ideologies der. vidst ikke men det kan godt hver saadan.”

      It wrote in danish which means, “it was not so good for a cat but in the US can have some of their idiologies there. I don’t know but it can be just like that.”

      Great comments focusing of thoughts of people of the law 🙁 <3

  5. All nonhuman entities should have their own set of rights that are in line with their specific needs and in protection of their wellbeing.

    They should have the right to live their lives without fear from humans, be provided or have access to basic life necessities, have the maximunm freedom allowable without endangerment, and have repesentation when they have been wronged.

  6. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

    This is very complicated issue because a cat is not a person, no animal is a person so I don’t see how they could have human rights and as Harvey says, it would make neutering them unlawful. I do think though that they should have animal rights, all animals should have them in that we are allowed only to do what is best for them. Neutering is best for the health of cats, declawing is not, so that would be stopped! What about freedom? Freedom is a human right yet freedom is dangerous for cats in some places, they need the right to be protected.
    Then getting in deeper, what about the rights of ‘food’ animals, born only to be killed? Once an animal is born they should have the right to live the life fitting to their species, the right not to be killed to be eaten. Lab animals? Scientists have no right to torture them, but they do, in the name of science! It’s a whole minefield because humans have the power over animals to use, abuse and eat them and sadly I can’t see many humans wanting to give up that power, the human race is far too selfish.
    It’s a hard road for us animal welfare activists to follow, but something in us makes us keep on doing it!

    1. Good points Ruth. The word “person” in this context means a legal entity with legal rights attached as opposed to an object. That is not clear in the post and I’ll add something to clarify.

      The strength of animals having “rights” as laid down in a binding document is that it would prevent laws being created which were against the welfare of the cat. So in the USA for example where States make their own laws the umbrella animal rights would guide them and prevent them from screwing up.

      1. So in the USA for example where States make their own laws the umbrella animal rights would guide them and prevent them from screwing up. says Michael

        Yes Michael agreed with you, too. It should be like it. <3

    2. I AGREE same as RUTH 🙂 YES RUTH speaks from my heart and soul, Michael. You were very right. <3

      That makes Michael experienced person who can read minds 😉

  7. One thought comes to mind. Would human-like rights for animals including cats confer on them the right to reproduce? That would make population control by spaying and neutering unlawful. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

    1. For me human-like rights simply means the rights of a legal entity. In this context “person” means a legal entity which has certain rights. When I refer to “human-like” rights I mean the rights of a sentient being with emotions and intelligence as opposed to a dead object.

      The extent of the rights would entirely be in the hands of people and in the case of domestic cats would not protect the cat from spaying and neutering.

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