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Animals Shouldn't be 'Property' -- Changing the Law

By Lisa Franzetta

I’ve got Australia on my mind lately, probably because it is summer there. While many of us are digging out from piles of snow and surviving on what feels like about four hours of sunlight, they are down there frolicking around on Bondi Beach, right now, not a care in the world except avoiding death by a man-eating shark.

Earlier this year, ALDF attorney Bruce Wagman did a speaking tour in the land down under with the excellent Australia-based animal rights organization Voiceless. Among the many interviews he did while on his Australian tour, he spoke with “The Law Report” at ABC Radio National, which just posted his interview on their site as “one of the best programs of 2009.”

It’s a terrific primer on the challenges, and the progress already made, in working to protect animals through the legal system. Bruce explains how, according to law, animals are property—and that, while our ultimate goal is to change the property status of animals, there is much incremental progress we can make until that day comes. For example, some courts are now recognizing that companion animals are a special kind of property, and therefore have a special value—making the critical recognition that animals are sentient, and that they provide their guardians with emotional and therapeutic value.

He also discusses that in some pet custody disputes, judges are actually now considering the best interests of the animals in awarding custody. In a legal context where animals are by definition mere property, it’s a truly remarkable step forward when a judge asserts that an animal not only has special value to his human companions, but in fact has interests of his very own.

And of course, you might be ready to put down your eggnog for good when you hear Bruce talk about the permissible amount of pus in the milk that comes from California’s supposedly “Happy Cows.”

Joining the interview are Voiceless’s Katrina Sharman and Steven White, who provide perspectives on animal law issues in Australia and the European Union (I hadn’t known that the EU has mandatory labeling of eggs based on whether the hens are kept in battery cages or not).

It’s an especially great interview for anyone new to the field of animal law, and a very clear explanation of how the proceedings in courtrooms and parliaments around the world have significant, real-world consequences in the lives of animals. Put off shoveling your driveway just a little bit longer, and check it out now!


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