Animals deserve better protection under the law

Will Coggin’s recent article, “Animal lawyers dog the legal system,” in The Garden Island, paints a picture of a legal system in shambles due to the increasing number of lawyers willing to fight for animals’ place in the law. To the contrary, the meteoric rise of the animal law movement shows that the legal system is finally beginning to recognize what science and society have long known: that animals are complex and intelligent beings with interests of their own.

Mr. Coggin’s denigration of legal advocacy for animals should come as no surprise. After all, he is an employee of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a front group for industries that profit from animal suffering. Mr. Coggin’s employer and the industries it lobbies for have a strong financial interest in ignoring the interests of animals.

For almost four decades, groups like the Animal Legal Defense Fund have taken legal action to rescue animals from abuse while simultaneously pushing for legal recognition of the fact that animals are intelligent and sentient. Despite animals’ ability to feel pain and pleasure, their rich emotional lives, their sense of community and family, and their inherent right to flourish in natural habitats, our law still consider them “property” akin to a chair or a toaster.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund has fought to enforce animal protection laws and to advance laws that recognize that animals are more than mere property. (In America, even corporations are legal persons. But you won’t hear Mr. Coggin mocking that concept.)

This push for the legal rights of animals is already significantly improving the lives of animals. Just this week, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, in partnership with The Wild Animal Sanctuary, rescued endangered lions from death’s door at a horrific roadside zoo in Iowa. Another lawsuit against the same zoo also established that lemurs, who are social primates, have a right to their natural behavior, including the companionship of other lemurs. We’re fighting similar battles for endangered chimpanzees, elephants, and orcas in courthouses across the country.

And contrary to Mr. Coggin’s absurd claim that the animal law movement is coming to take your pets, the Animal Legal Defense Fund has fought for groundbreaking precedent recognizing the significance of the bond between humans and their companion animals and the need for the legal system to value that bond, inspiring the California Court of Appeal to observe that “animals are special, sentient beings, because unlike other forms of property, animals feel pain, suffer and die.” Such judicial recognition of the significance of animals is hardly controversial to most Americans.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund has also pushed for aggressive enforcement of animal cruelty laws, including a case in Oregon that established that every animal subjected to illegal cruelty should be considered an individual “victim” when it comes to sentencing. In that case, the Oregon Supreme Court recognized the significance of animals as individuals with interests apart from humans.

Although Mr. Coggin and the industries he represents might see these clear signs of moral and legal progress as threats, those who recognize animals’ inherent value and sentience are heartened by the rapid growth of the field of animal law.

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Stephen Wells is the executive director of the Animal Legal Defense

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