Animals Have Rights

The Past and Future of the Animal Rights Movement

Background of the Animal Rights Movement
The Future of the Animal Rights Movement

The animal rights movement is often considered to have been an outgrowth of the environmental movement, but it actually preceded the environmental movement by about 100 years. It was part of a movement that began just after the Civil War, both in England and in the United States, for the protection of children and animals.

The children's rights movement kept growing. Laws were passed in every state criminalizing cruelty against children, prohibiting child labor, and requiring that children attend school. Social agencies were created and funded to enforce these new laws protecting children.

But an odd thing happened to the animal protection movement: it stopped abruptly after the passage of anti-cruelty laws, which all 50 states have in place. Those laws read pretty much the same today as they did in the 1880s and 1890s when most of them were passed.

Why did protection for animals stop there? Because animals were considered property. Children were not property, but animals were and the movement could never get over this barrier.

The movement to improve the lives of animals began again in the 1970s. It is usually called the "modern animal right movement" to distinguish it from what occurred in the 1870s. It has elements of both animal welfare and animal rights but a new element has been added, that of animal law.

When I went to law school in the mid 60s, there was no such thing as animal law. Issues relating to animals were taught, piecemeal, in property law, criminal law, and administrative law classes.

But in the 1970s a few people (notably Joyce Tischler of the Animal Legal Defense Fund) began to conceive of animal law as a unity, a field with a center and interrelated parts that could be taught as such. Due to this new unified conception the various parts began to interweave with one another and to be taught as a single unit. As a result of this, cross-referencing between laws in different codes became more common. For example, changes in the cruelty laws were incorporated into the agricultural codes so that animals raised for food would be treated more humanely.

An important distinction needs to be made between animal law and animal rights. Animal law concerns any legal issues relating to animals, for example the writing of a contract for the transport of cows or pigs to a slaughterhouse. But that is not the type of law I practiced. I would not take a case if it did not help the condition of animals. My goal then and now is to reach a place where animals are not regarded as property but rather as feeling beings, such as ourselves, deserving of rights and protection. I am striving for a legal system that protects animals by a system of guardianship similar to that applicable to children. I believe that when we are considered as their guardians, not their owners, the world will be a better place for us all. That is animal rights. - Larry