Part One: Animal Rights Law
Careers working with animals have expanded in the 30 years since I became involved. In the old days we fostered dogs in our backyards because shelters were few, pet/horse training was forceful not positive-based, and there were no animal related college courses other than veterinarian degrees. Wild animals were captured and incarcerated in zoos, birds were smuggled to exploitative markets, exotics were packed together in hidden transports, and thousands of creatures lost their lives for a single body part—superstitiously thought to enhance some bizarre human desire.
Today, careers with animals have exploded. One of the new and upcoming professions is “animal attorney.” Representing animals and/or human caretakers in courts of law has become a subset of the standard law degree (“Juris Doctor” or “JD”) studies. Even the animal law branch has its own subsets of specialties. The two most common are: Animal Welfare and Animal Rights.
Animal Welfare law oversees the enhancement of current living situations for animals, e.g.: cage or enclosure size, feeding/nutritional requirements, physical wellbeing, medical attention, species-specific needs, and amenities like toys and mental stimulation. Simply put: what does the animal need to make it happier? We will explore this category in Part Two.
Animal Rights law revolves around the legal classification of an animal under the law. In Colorado and throughout the U.S., animals are classified as property. AR activists are currently fighting to obtain “personhood” status for animals, as opposed to their current “thinghood” status. Sentiency proves that most animals have species-specific needs, are cognitively astute, possess self-awareness, and thus require a higher legal classification than the one they currently share with an automobile or a piece of furniture.
Two animal attorneys interviewed for this article enlightened me to the distinct nature of their practices, although both are committed to the development of a better, more humane world for all animals. The first attorney is Jake Davis, an animal rights attorney.
- Jake works with the Nonhuman Rights Project (https://www.nonhumanrights.org) here in Colorado. The NhRP has both a national and international presence. He says, “Broadly speaking, an animal attorney is any licensed lawyer whose work seeks to assist animals. This can take many forms; for example, an animal attorney may work in animal welfare, animal rights (like me), or assist in criminal or civil litigation on behalf of animals directly, animal products, and/or disputes over animal ownership.”
- Jake quotes Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being : ‘“Humanity’s true moral test, its fundamental test, (which is deeply buried from view) consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect humankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.’
- “I hope to assist in resolving humanity’s continued missteps in its relationship with animals.” Jake sees these missteps as “not recognizing animals as having sentience, needs of their own, and that they should be allowed to live the way nature intended.”
- Jake adds, “Animals should be free from confinement, free to pursue happiness, and free from human exploitation, as a means to a human end.
- “I focus on animal rights-related litigation and my team’s and my overall mission is to gain legal recognition and protection for the fundamental rights of certain species of animals.” The animals his firm currently focuses on are individual primates (e.g.: research subjects to benefit human science), elephants (e.g., those in zoos and in traveling circuses) who have no ability to determine their own lifestyles, and cetaceans (e.g., whales & dolphins) who are imprisoned and forced to perform for human entertainment (think, SeaWorld)..
- Jake’s passion is “to advocate for the truly voiceless. True and lasting change can only take place when the laws that constrict the cause-in-question are changed. My hope is that the work I do will create a kinder and less exploitive world for animals across the board.”
Connect with attorney Jake Davis at: https://www.nonhumanrights.org/ or firstname.lastname@example.org
Author, Speaker, Behaviorist