Animals: legal and other attachments

Camille Tokerud, Getty Images - Dogs held in a US shelter
Dogs held in a U.S. shelter (photograph by Camille Tokerud / Getty Images).

Looking forward to our upcoming discussion on 15 March about the political status of, inter alia, non-human animals, this article in the March-April 2016 edition of Harvard Magazine highlights the ways in which the law can be both a conservative and progressive instrument, at once crude and precise, for the recognition of animal rights.

While legal arguments in this domain are still largely dependent on the paradigm of property (as once women were owned by fathers and husbands) for damages (even to sentimental, when not market, value) to be demonstrated and compensation to be justified, some recent judicial activism in the U.S. Supreme Court has shifted jurisprudential attention to “the rich companionship” that domesticated animals provide…to their owners, still, and also phrased much like a service, but this kind of departure from the usual language of loss in litigation points to a willingness to exercise more nuanced thinking towards a more equal, interdependent relationship between human and non-human animals.

Despite the clear and clearly problematic limits of rights discourse, innovations in law school curricula have started to expose and question the paternalism and anthropocentrism underlying animal and environmental law.  Animal welfare and animal rights are two distinct goals which animate different approaches to not only how non-human animals can become legal subjects (or be subject to the law) but also whether and, if so, where non-human animals stand as members of society.  It is heartening to read that a new course on wildlife law at the Harvard Law School this academic year promises to move legal theory and practice towards increasing inclusiveness and interdisciplinarity.

All in all, Cara Feinberg’s “Are Animals ‘Things’?: The Law Evolves” supplements the themes discussed in our reading group and is worth the long-read.  Enjoy!

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