In most countries, animals are legally classified as property and property cannot be the holder of legal rights.  Despite their classification, animals currently have very limited rights in our legal system.  The laws granting them certain rights arise out of the fact that they are living beings.  This is what separates them from other types of personal property.  Therefore, it is necessary to change their property status to make their  ranking consistent with their current rights.  It is time to codify the fact that a rabbit is not a radio.


The current animal laws are weak.  These laws are still limited in nature and subject to extensive exemptions.  These exemptions need to be re-examined.  Laws regarding the commercial use of animals, especially agricultural animals, need to be revised.  Profit and industry practices should not be exemptions to the brutal suffering by industrial agricultural animals, animals used for entertainment, and many others.

The legal reform would better reflect the relationship between humans and non-humans.  Under these new laws, a new category would be added to the property group.  All animals, at a minimum, would be reclassified as living property[1].

Our legal system has the capacity to accept animals as living property.  Laws change over time as the moral and ethical views of people change.  Legislatures can change who is a legal person.  The conversion of African-Americans from the property status of slaves to legal personhood serves as an example of changes in the definition of personhood.  Legislatures are also capable of implementing legal change within a category of persons or property.  For example, in 1918, women finally became eligible to vote in Canadian federal elections.  In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. constitution, granted American women the right to vote.  Prior to that, although they were legal persons, they did not possess the same tights as men.  If our legal system is capable of managing legal persons with different sets of rights, it can manage property with different sets of rights.  Our legislatures could legally classify animals as living property.emancipation

What is Living

Legal rights should not be limited only to those animals who are self-aware, use tools, or feel pain.  These characteristics, among others, are important in establishing what specific rights certain animals should have.  However, awareness, perception, reasoning and judgment, etc. are not necessary characteristics for the initial consideration of admission into the new category of living property.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines living as a :  having life b: active, functioning.  The only condition for qualifying as living should be that of being alive.

What is property

In this new legal category, except for chimpanzees, dolphins and elephants[2], animals would continue to have property status.  They would continue to be the property of specific human beings.  This excludes firms, labor organizations, partnerships, associations, corporations, and trusts.  Commercial farm animals would be exempt from this rule but profit and industry standards would no longer be exemptions to acts of cruelty – all pain and suffering would be deemed unnecessary.  All inflicted suffering, negligent as well as willful, would be in violation of the new laws.  A balancing of the interests of the non-human property with those of the humans would be repealed.dog custody

Although wild animals and domestic animals are living property and have similar interests, the concepts of rights are different for wild animals.  Wild beings within their natural ecosystems are not personal property.  For example, tigers and bears are living but cannot be the property of human persons.  Different species should have different sets of rights acknowledged within the legal system.

Use of Animals  

As the debate continues over the use of animals for food and other socially accepted purposes, there should be specific laws making certain uses illegal.  For example, canned hunting, the seal hunt, cock fighting, dog fighting, bullfighting, dog and horse  races, rodeos, circus animals, animal testing and furs would no longer be justifiable uses of living property.

Even if the use of an animal is not prohibited by law, there should be laws in place regarding the conditions under which an animal is being kept for use.  A chicken may not be able to object to her use, but should have the right to object to the manner in which she is used and her living conditions.  Specific laws and/or regulations would determine what conditions may or may not be acceptable with regard to use.  Consequently, the production of veal and foie gras, cruel practices per se, would be discontinued.


[1] David Favre, Living Property: A New Status for Animals Within the Legal System (Marquette Law Review 2010)

[2] There is compelling evidence for granting personhood to these animals.