Having won the battle for our hearts, is it time for animals to have a day in court?

Chattel, in case you haven’t suffered through a property class in law school, is a word that simply means “movable property.”  The chair I’m sitting on is chattel, the incredibly loud vacuum cleaner I’m attempting to ignore in my neighbor’s apartment is chattel, and the one-eyed cocker spaniel lying on my foot is chattel.  My dog, by traditional legal definition, is a thing with the same inherent rights as my chair.

Humans and non-humans are separated by what Steven Wise calls “a high, thick wall” on one side of which humans are legal persons and on the other nonhuman animals are legal things. 

Now, a recent article highlights the work of a group of experts in philosophy, conservation and animal behavior who want to bring down that wall through support for a Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans. 

A number of recent studies show that whales and dolphins are capable of a breathtaking array of behaviors that were once thought to be exclusively human including problem solving, “language” and complex social behavior. 

Yet dolphins and whales suffer greatly at the hands of humans. The International Fund for Animal Welfare has shown you all of those terrible abuses – commercial whaling, killing dolphins and using and abusing live animals for human amusement and financial gain. 

To counter these abuses we need the law to catch up to our sense of morality. As Wise eloquently puts it in an article published in 2011; the goal is to get a court to determine that a nonhuman animal has the capacity to possess at least one legal right - to declare that he or she is a legal person.  From the legal perspective, this argument would be  precedent setting– and it’s never been successfully done.

However we approach the battle over legal personhood for nonhuman animals, we must remember what we are all fighting for: The prevention of terrible cruelties imposed on animals.

So long as animals have won this battle in our hearts, with your support concerned organizations will continue to save animals in crisis around the world – on the ground and in court. 


For more information about IFAW’s work to save whales and dolphins, visit our defending whales section.

Post a comment


Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Sonja Van Tichelen, Vice President of International Operations
Vice President of International Operations
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime