Animal Studies Bibliography

McCarthy, Vincent P. 1982. The changing concept of animals as property. International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems 3(4): 295-300.

African slaves were once considered property under our legal system. At a certain point, people began questioning this assumption, and the law evolved to reflect the new ideas and to treat African-Americans with legal status equal to whites'. Similarly, animals have historically been treated by the law as property, but recent court decisions suggest that an evolution away from such treatment may be taking place. These changes are being spurred by increasing scientific, sociological, and philosophical evidence refuting any notion of animal as inanimate items of property, and by people's (e.g. judges') experiences with animals making them unwilling to employ such a standard. Under the animal as property standard, the loss of an animal would only result in compensation for the animal's market value. Courts have been unwilling to add sentimental value into the determination of damages, but recently some cases have used ideas like loss of companionship, loss of use, and mental anguish to win such damages. These decisions grant pets a special place somewhere in between a person and a piece of personal property (297) which can, because animate, respond to its owner, and as such deserves special consideration in cases of loss. Similarly, while owners could in the past be compensated the animal's market value in the case of malicious wounding or killing of an animal, larger damages have recently been awarded due to taking into account the owner's pain and suffering. In addition, damages have recently been granted for mental and emotional distress over the loss of an animal, damages which cannot be collected over loss of other property. While all these changes focus on the feelings of the humans involved, they still reflect a growing appreciation for animals' value. There has been some discussion of ways in which animals could be given legal rights of their own, perhaps by appointing government or public groups to litigate on animals' behalf. This guardianship model is already in place for ships and corporations, and the interests of fetuses are considered, so it seems there is little justification for not granting these considerations to animals. It is likely that courts will continue to expand consideration for animals through the avenue of owner's damages and will then move on to considering the inherent rights of animals (such as humane treatment, food and shelter, some freedom of movement). These changes will produce a better understanding of the sentient, cognitive, and biological relationships between human and animal (299). Though the cases outlined here deal with companion animals, legal changes regarding other animals should follow a similar pattern.



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