Establishing the Rights of Animals in Law and Human Consciousness

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Establishing the Rights of Animals in Law and Human Consciousness

Comments by David Cantor - 19 Jun 2006

Dear Frank & Mary,

Many people who have no intention whatsoever of promoting animal rights already believe incorrectly that animals are not property because of how they feel about them. A school principal I met with almost a year ago found it hard to believe me when I told him his cat is his property regardless of how he treats or feels about the animal. He thought his feeling the cat was part of his family meant the cat wasn't property. Nothing I could explain to him about the animals' plight, the basis of animal rights, or the breadth and depth of ignorance in the community about nonhuman animals could persuade him to let me speak to any group of students at the high school. I do believe he loves his cat, though.

If we could convince these organizations to begin expanding their vision by promoting something like this:

You are not buying a pet that you will own, you are adopting a member of your family, in the same way you would adopt a human child and lovingly care and protect him or her.

Many of these people actually feel this way in the hearts, but never expressed it in these terms.

Without even mentioning the “rights” word, this would introduce the paradigm, and hopefully change people’s thinking about their relationship to these animals. We might even get the large welfare organizations to sign on to something like this, because it’s non-threatening. >>

First, I don't believe we can promote animal rights without talking explicitly about animal rights. And very large numbers of people have radar on to detect stealth methods of promoting new ideas. The brochure I gave out in Albany emphasizes restoring natural boundaries and at the end explains that legal rights are the most likely method to accomplish that.

It isn't only a matter of being honest and straightforward about the agenda, as important as I think that is. It's that adopting rather than purchasing, making an animal a member of the family rather than owning, and so on simply have to do with what we call things, not with what they really are. If I adopt a dog, I own the dog -- pure and simple. There isn't another legal term to describe the relationship, just rhetoric. Not only are animal owners free to use their animal property as they see fit; they're responsible for any possible harm done by their animal property -- as with their car or their gun.

Nothing we might call the relationship can change that. The only thing that can change it is legal rights and an end to the animal' property status -- the two necessitating each other. The degree of caring or loving treatment people extend toward other animals has nothing to do with whether or not the animals have rights. Rights are a legal matter. Rights come from respect and in turn promote respect. When we respect another, we agree that other should have legal rights. When the other obtains legal rights, we respect that other all the more for their having legal rights. Legal rights demonstrate societal and governmental intentions of enforcing respect and protecting against violations of boundaries rights establish. One needn't care about another person at all to respect that person and his or her legal rights.

That is what we intend for the animals when we promote animal rights: Respect for their natural boundaries. Not caring about them or loving them. Rights are necessary because humans evolved to care about the members of their extended family groups in which they lived for hundreds of millennia before civilization created new social structures, not about every human being. That's why teachings like the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, "love thy neighbor as thyself," "love thine enemy," and others were needed -- very extensive caring is unnatural. Rights are needed for the same reason. The rattlesnake a friend of mine killed to protect the dogs he owns deserves equal consideration for equal interests, and the snake has more claim to a natural place in the landscape than the dogs, who were bred by humans and are not a natural part in any ecosystem.

Nor do I wish to encourage ownership of dogs, cats, or farm animals just because some people will treat them well. Human domination of those animals starting thousands of years ago enslaved them, and animal rights will put an end to their slavery: They will be managed humanely to extinction. Not only are they not ours to eat, wear, experiment on or use for entertainment; they're not ours to love, to study, or to care for. I believe have an obligation to respond, as individual human beings, to a nonhuman animal in need as to a human being in need. That is a far cry from basing societal and governmental policy on that. Such policies need to be based on legal rights so that the animals reach a point where they don't need kind treatment from humans because they're not subject to ill treatment.

I don't claim to love or care about all venomous snakes or all sentient beings whose species I've never even heard of, but I dedicate my work to the proposition that they all deserve respect and should all have meaningful, enforceable legal rights. Rights are because of the limits to caring; they're not an extension of caring; they're an extension of respect.


David Cantor

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