“…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.