A California lawmaker has introduced a proposed law which would be a Bill of Rights for dogs and cats. The terminology is confusing because when you introduce a statute into legislation it’s called a ‘bill’ but the word is used differently and in a specific way in the phrase “Bill of Rights”. That point needs to be got out of the way. A Bill of Rights is simply a statute in which in this instance animal rights are listed, which means they become enforceable in law throughout the state of California if and when it is passed by the state’s legislature. At the base of the page, I list those proposed rights under AB 1881, as introduced. It is called: Animal welfare: Dog and Cat Bill of Rights. You can see the entire bill by clicking on this link.
The law is being proposed by Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles). The legislation is sponsored by the Social Compassion in Legislation Animal Advocacy Group.
This Legislation recognises animals as sentient beings. It goes beyond the usual animal welfare and protection legislation.
Once you recognise cats and dogs and other animals are sentient beings and once you put that recognition into law through a Bill of Rights you entirely change the landscape in respect of the animal-human relationship.
It is a big step and if this passes and becomes law it would be a major advancement in animal welfare in California. That’s because such a statute on the Californian statute book would cut across all other statutes i.e. laws enacted by their legislature.
In any court case brought by a legal entity concerning companion animal welfare there would have to be a reference to the Dog and Cat Bill of Rights. And any laws enacted in the future would have to comply with the Dog and Cat Bill of Rights if they impinged on the rights of these species of animal. In fact, a Bill of Rights which is an umbrella law would impact all human activities potentially.
There will be unforeseen circumstances if it became law. They would be good unforeseen circumstances because they would be concerned with the protection of cats and dogs where before there would have been no protection.
A Bill of Rights for cats and dogs would be granting those animals a limited equality of status with that of humans. That’s why it’s a big step. But I have a negative thought about it. Only cats and dogs are included. I can see why because they are the two most popular companion animals. But they aren’t the only animals and therefore this proposed law seems to be based on speciesism i.e. a prejudice towards or against certain species. That itself would seem to undermine the notion of equality.
It is of itself making goats less equal than cats and dogs for instance. At its heart it would seem to be undermining its existence.
Rights enshrined in law – why and what?
PETA, the animal rights and advocacy charitable organisation, which I admire, usefully provide us with a little synopsis of what animal rights means. They quote the philosopher Jeremy Bentham and he states that animal rights are built upon the fact that animals can suffer. Because they have the capacity to suffer, morally they have a right to equal consideration from humans. This is not about intelligence or any other characteristic but about the ability to feel pain and have feelings of discomfort, pleasure, fear and loneliness for instance.
Perhaps this limited Bill of Rights for animals (limited in that it only applies to cats and dogs) might be regarded as the thin edge of the wedge which leads the way to the introduction of an expanded Bill of Rights for other animals in the future.
Competition between animal rights and making money
Commercial enterprises with object to it. This is because it will potentially and on occasions actually interfere with the ability of these enterprises to make money. The more rights you give animals the more you interfere with commerce because commerce has historically exploited animals to great financial advantage.
So, a Bill of Rights such as this is a competition between ethics and commercialism. Making money normally trumps ethics and morals or it has done so far. But there is a trend currently, perhaps engendered by global warming and a greater awareness of the need to protect the environment, towards better protecting animals. By and large it is the wild species which are massively abused in a multi-billion market in which they are unprotected by treaties that are meant to protect them (CITES).
I would wish the California legislature well in this attempt to introduce a Bill of Rights for cats and dogs into their state. If it works, they will be leaders with the UK and perhaps other countries of whom I am currently unaware.
In the UK there is a lot of discussion about introducing a Bill of Rights for animals based upon their sentience (Animal Sentience Bill). In the UK the proposed law would apply to all vertebrate animals, as I understand it. Britain was the first country to introduce animal welfare laws. The animal welfare laws of India are those that were written by the British during the British Raj i.e. the occupation of India by Britain.
The rights protected by the California bill
31801. (a) Dogs and cats have the right to be free from exploitation, cruelty, neglect, and abuse.
(b) Dogs and cats have the right to a life of comfort, free of fear and anxiety.
(c) Dogs and cats have the right to daily mental stimulation and appropriate exercise.
(d) Dogs and cats have the right to nutritious food, sanitary water, and shelter in an appropriate and safe environment.
(e) Dogs and cats have the right to preventive and therapeutic health care.
(f) Dogs and cats have the right to be properly identified through tags, microchips, or other humane means.
(g) Dogs and cats have the right to be spayed and neutered to prevent unwanted litters.
There are some more pages on animal rights below.