“Man’s Best Friend” Has No Rights

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Belgian Shepherd Malinois (Wikimedia Commons)

By Genevieve Cottraux

Recently, CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen reported on the story of Jeb, a service dog in Michigan accused of killing a neighbor’s dog, and the use of DNA testing to prove his innocence.  Without the DNA testing, Jeb would have been destroyed (i.e, killed) as a legally “dangerous animal.”  As explained in The Washington Post report on Jeb, state law in Michigan requires that dogs who cause “serious injury or death to people or other dogs” be put to death.  Jeb, a 2-year old, 90-pound Belgian Malinois, was eventually freed, but spent 9 weeks in a 6 x 3-1/2 foot kennel at local animal control.  The DNA testing was not performed automatically as it would have been with a human defendant; Jeb’s human family requested and paid for the procedure after being given a 30-day stay of execution.

According to Professor of Property and Animal Law David Favre at Michigan State University, dogs are considered property and have no rights under the law.  Favre is a founding officer of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and editor-in-chief of the animal legal web resource, the Animal Legal and Historical Center.  He has written on the subject of pets as “living property,” a proposal for a new category in property law that acknowledges the interests of animals and that accords subsets of animals limited rights.  Property has traditionally been thought of as being in 3 categories: real property, personal property, and intellectual property.  As Favre writes in Living Property: A New Status for Animals Within the Legal System (pdf), “Property laws are written to deal with conflicting claims of the individual human against other individuals or society, generally regarding possession and use of things or land.”  Favre operates from the stance that it is ethically acceptable to accord domestic animals property status but that such animals have individual interests to be considered morally, ethically, and legally.

In contrast, noted animal abolitionist and Rutgers law professor Gary Francione, in “Essay on Domestication and Pet Ownership,” writes, “We oppose domestication and pet ownership because these violate the fundamental rights of animals. . . . Non-human animals have a moral right not to be used exclusively as human resources, irrespective of whether the treatment is ‘humane’, and even if humans would enjoy desirable consequences if they treated non-humans exclusively as replaceable resources.”  He considers the 6 rescued dogs who share his home as “non-human refugees” and concludes, “The most important thing is that we recognise the negative right of animals not to be used as property.  That would commit us to the abolition of all institutionalised exploitation that results in the commodification and control of them by humans.”

The Humane Party, the first political party in the United States committed to rights for all animals, has proposed the Abolition Amendment to the United States Constitution with the aim to “abolish slavery with respect to all animals, thereby putting an immediate end to the meat, dairy, egg, and other exploitation and killing-based industries.”  The Abolition Amendment provides for the appointment of guardians to protect the rights of animals.  Jeb’s human family essentially acted as his guardians in hiring an attorney and requesting the DNA test to prove his innocence.  The spectrum in our society runs from animals as property with no rights to animals as living property to animals being freed from involuntary servitude.  The dependence of domesticated animals on humans for survival has taken place over thousands of years and won’t be solved overnight.  Since nonhuman animals like Jeb can’t speak for themselves, it is up to us to speak for them in the meantime.

Volunteers for the Humane Party use their compassionate voice on behalf of humans and animals alike.

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