Animals: What are they?

13 Apr 2017

There is a need for necessary changes to the concept of animals in the eyes of the law to ensure their protection.


Why is it happening ?

All around the globe social awareness regarding animal welfare has been rising. Scientific progress gradually revealed more specific details of their lives, and the more we find out about them, the more surprised we get on how similar some of them are to humans.The importance of protecting animals reached such a level that even political parties feel the need to somehow show their supporters that they not only recognize the topic as an issue, but actually have something planned to address it.


Why does it matter?

When you think of animals as part of the ecosystem, under the argument that disturbing it might directly or indirectly impact human lives, you find their protection associated with environmental laws or regulations. It’s not in vain that some countries have a hunting season or do not allow fishing a specific species during their reproductive season. Domestic animals, on the other hand, need specific laws for protection, and because they can’t have personhood, they are forced to be objects. The intuitive solution would be to consider them a special type of object, and that is what most countries did. But it’s not enough to simply created a law stating that harming pets is a crime, because a crime necessarily needs to protect a legal good - and this is the source of the problem. There are ways to dispose of objects that cause no harm, which means that there are ways to harm pets that simply can’t be qualified as a crime. Academics worldwide have struggled to justify how can a person suffer legal consequences for destroying an object he/she owned. Arresting someone for killing a pet means taking away someone's freedom because he destroyed an object.


There are various ways to justify domestic animals need for protection, such as their lack of skills to survive by themselves, which means they depend exclusively on humans, or their capacity to feel emotions and pain the same way we do. What needs to be (legally) justified is that harming pets can impact humans, and therefore meeting all the legal criteria required to fully ensure their protection - but this is no easy task: there is no direct impact on a human if a domestic animal is harmed. In other words, there isn’t any type of damage to humans.

So what can possibly justify all this? Perhaps this issue should not just be considered in a legal perspective - scientific and social evolution have always shaped the law, and this needs to happen yet again. Scientific studies have successfully proven that despite theirs inferior cognitive abilities, domestic animals are very much like humans and through the years we have manipulated or forced domestic animals to change—for instance, that is why there are so many different breeds of hunting dogs. From a social perspective, domestic animals are no longer considered simple tools we required for labor, rather true companions on our everyday life. This absence of direct damage to humans should not be a pro nor a con, rather clear evidence of something different. The facts are that animals are not humans, but they are not objects—or special objects. They are something different that science and society have considered worthy of protection and, therefore, must be legally protected.


What can you do about it?

The two classifications legally available (person or object) are simply not enough: a third one is required to legitimize a worthy protection for animals, and justify the implications in human rights—a new legal concept or animal status combined with the already existent justifications to animal cruelty crimes would allow the creation of a specific and detailed legal regime.Until such time as a measure like this is considered by legislators (and eventually approved), the best that can be done to ensure domestic animals protection are reporting abuses, if they are already a crime in your country, and help non-profit organizations that focus on the issue at stand, either by volunteering or donating. Millennials already take this into consideration and surely, wherever you live, you can spot them at local shelters helping out or spreading the word at colleges, subway stations or simply in the streets - it’s not about the organization you support, but the cause.



Image Credit: Pinterest

Tiago Tavares briefs from Lisbon, Portugal. He is a candidate for a Bachelors of Arts in Law. 


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