The word “person” does not apply to just humans. Animals can be considered persons too. In court, there are two classifications: “persons” and “things.” Animals are typically classified as “things” but the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) wants to change this. The terms “human” and “person” do not mean the same thing, where “human” refers to “a member of a particular species, Homo sapiens” which is a “biological concept” (Sebo, “Are Chimpanzees”).
The idea of animals as mere “things” is the basis of why they are mistreated, tested on, and neglected with often no consequences to the abuser. Although some may think that animals do not deserve rights, once one has analyzed the cognitive abilities of animals, successful steps taken toward animal law, and the cruel realities of animal testing, they will see that animal lives are valid, and they do not deserve to be taken advantage of. Animals are sentient beings just like humans, and some animals have even more advanced abilities. The fact that animals possess cognitive abilities makes them deserving of rights. The NhRP argues that “chimps have a “sense of self” similar to ours,” which is one main reason they should classify as “persons” (Brown, “Should Chimps”). In some cases, certain humans have less “human-like” abilities than animals, but still automatically receive rights as a person. Scientists argue that the “ability to memorize a large vocabulary and organize it into a language” classifies humans as persons (Brown, “Should Chimps”), but not all humans have the capacity to do this, such as those with severe disabilities or human fetuses. Most animals have more human-like qualities than a fetus, which can be illegal to terminate in some states, but an innocent house pet can be abused on a daily basis, or even killed, with no legal consequences.
Although some may not realize, animals do feel pain, and can be aware of their current situation just like humans are. In fact, “an ABC News poll in 2001 found that 43% of respondents” believe that animals have souls, and “17% were undecided” (Motavalli, “Rights From”). It is a popular opinion that animals deserve to be treated kindly and fairly, and in some cases, deserve to be represented in court. Animal law has been making progress over the years, and more attention is being given to animal court cases. A well-known example involves Tommy, the chimpanzee. NhRP president and founder Steven Wise came across Tommy being held in what Wise called a “dungeon” (Siebert, “The Rights”).
Wise wanted to take action, so he took this issue to court, making Tommy the NhRP’s first client. The NhRP states that the current situation of Tommy is as follows: “Determining next steps after denial of motion for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeals and concurring opinion by Judge Eugene Fahey, seen as an historic mark of progress in the fight for nonhuman rights” (Nonhuman Rights Project, “Client: Tommy”). Another example involves chimps Hercules and Leo, who were being held for research at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette. This issue was taken to court, and Justice Jaffe ordered “the university to release the primates,” and this could open up door for more animals in the same situation (Mendoza, “NY Judge”). Animal rights recognition has been a battle since the 70s, and has “evolved into its own field in law, legal education, and activism” (Mendoza, “NY Judge”). Animal rights activism at a court level is gaining popularity, “particularly at America’s law schools, 25 of which now offer courses in animal rights law” (Motavalli, “Rights From”).
Bounds of progress is being made toward animal rights but there is still much more progress to go. One of the most common and most frequent types of animal abuse and neglect is the animal testing that occurs on countless innocent animals every day. Unfortunately, these operations are done by large corporations that are only seeking the easiest testing solution. Most will argue that animal testing is very beneficial, but this is not the case as “nine out of ten experimental drugs that pass animal studies fail in humans, and the few that are approved often need to be relabeled or pulled from the market after they sicken or kill human patients” (Moore, “As the Netherlands”). It is surprising how many companies test on animals, but this does not mean that is impossible to find products that are cruelty free. It is a common excuse to not do research on brands to find cruelty free alternatives, and most will admit that they do not have time to research this. There are really no excuses, especially with apps like “Cruelty Cutter” which “scan[s] product barcodes, and the app tells…whether or not that product is tested on animals” (Moore, “Stop Animal”). Modern technologies give us the capability to study animals, if necessary, in a natural environment. University scientist Garet Lahvis states that “we can use wireless technologies, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, to study freely roaming animals” (“Let’s Move”).
There are so many alternatives to animal testing, such as scientists’ ability to “replicate human organs on microchips to test the impact of potential drugs” and access to “advanced brain-imaging techniques—which allow the human brain to be safely studied down to the level of a single neuron” (Moore, “As the Netherlands”). With all of the safer alternatives to animal testing, there is no reason that innocent animals should continue to be harmed. The trauma that lab animals face is extremely cruel, and often irreversible, if they even survive after the testing sessions. In some cases, “animals are intentionally brain-damaged” for brain tissue research, when there are clearly other brain research methods available, as mentioned above. (Moore “As the Netherlands”). Most would agree that “it is morally wrong to poison, infect, burn and cut up animals in a laboratory,” as this damage is not recoverable for most animals (Moore, “As the Netherlands”).
Ryan Moore has adopted many animals from the Rescue + Freedom Project, which gives home to previous lab animals. He shares the story of his cat who, when adopted, was “4 to 7 months old and…had a big incision on his back” and “hides for hours whenever [he has] a visitor” and “hates to be restrained in any way” (“Stop Animal”). It is evident that Moore’s cat still suffers from lab torture even after settling into a suitable home. Many animals do not survive even months after they have been tested on. It is evident that these innocent beings do not deserves the traumatic torture that is animal testing, just for results to fail on humans 90% of the time. “The FDA does not require the use of animals in cosmetic testing,” so there is no reason for this torture to continue (Moore ‘Stop Animal’). Humans are more similar to our familiar four-legged friends than often thought. Non-human persons are more than just “things” or “property” of humans to be used for testing or holding captive for no apparent reason. Ultimately, “animals have the same capacity to feel fear and pain that we humans have” (Moore, “As the Netherlands”).
Luckily there are people, such as members of the NhRP, that are willing to stand up for these helpless animals and be their voice when they are unable to speak to the close-minded. Animals posses surprising cognitive abilities, which makes them deserving of fair treatment by all humans, whether for scientific research or not. Hopefully in the future the fair treatment for all animals will become a more mainstream idea, and animal law will be even more widely practiced. For now, the best thing one can do is stand up against animal cruelty in communities, purchase cruelty free products, and stay updated on current court cases involving animal rights. There is a strong possibility for the future of animals to change for the better with the efforts of the good-hearted.