The case for recognizing animals in the legal realm.
If corporations can be granted personhood, why not animals too? This question arose in Oregon where two cases of animal abuse reached the state’s Supreme Court. The first came to the conclusion that in incidents of mistreatment, animals are indeed victims, and like humans, separate counts can be filed for each animal (instead of multiple charges lumped together). This decision ensures individual animals will be legally recognized.
The second Oregon case, brought after a county deputy helped a starving horse, found that a warrant is not needed to protect animals in cases of “exigent circumstance.” In other words, law enforcement can intervene in situations where the life of an animal is in imminent danger without getting a warrant first.
Both of these examples are part of a movement to grant more rights to animals which is headed by the Nonhuman Rights Project. The organization is focusing its efforts in New York courts with the first suit brought in December of 2013. The case involves four chimpanzees who are living in captivity. The goal of the ongoing lawsuit is to get the judge to recognize the chimps’ right to bodily liberty and ultimately for them to be sent to a primate sanctuary.
The Nonhuman Rights Project has utilized a myriad of arguments to plead their case. The first is that the chimpanzees are self-aware and highly cognitive. They plan on focusing on animals that fit this description which include apes, elephants, dolphins, and whales. Additionally they have looked to other legal decisions, namely those involving slavery and how individuals who were seen only as property eventually gained full legal rights. Also being examined are ideas like dignity and equality and how they can be applied to animal rights.