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The “Rights” Stuff

The Rights Stuff
Published on: June 20, 2019

We hope you’re seated and strapped in, because this one is going to be non-stop action: law.  Well, specifically: “animal law.”  We know you love your “pets” as companions, and keep them close to your family (sharing-the-bed close!).  And, it’s this view of our companions that has helped drive some thoughtful, caring progress of animal rights and laws.

Had to Start Somewhere

European colonists who settled in New England established the first known legal animal rights around 1641 within the “Massachusetts Body of Liberties.”*  It says specifically that no one shall “exercise any Tirranny or Crueltie” toward an animal.  They were also looking out for livestock, saying “it shall be lawful to rest or refresh them” as they travel.  These ideals went fairly unchanged (legally speaking) until about the mid-1800s.  New York and Massachusetts both passed the nation’s first state-level animal cruelty laws within a few years of each other.  This would help set the stage for further laws, and the founding of the ASPCA in 1866.  By 1907, every state in the nation had established anti-cruelty laws or statutes.  And by 1922, twenty states legally required humane education in schools.

Leaps, Bounds, and Baby Steps

Seems like we’ve made some steady strides, right?  Definitely!  Unfortunately, there’s a “but” here as “necessity” is the mother of invention.  So, when factory farming started taking off in the 1920s and booming into the ’40s, we needed new laws.  It wasn’t until 1958 though that the first federal-level animal welfare law – the “Humane Slaughter Act” – passed.  This, of course, extended to the treatment of livestock.  Then, in 1966, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) passed, which set federal standards for the treatment of many types of animals.  The AWA was amended in 1970 to provide further legal considerations to more animals and how they are transported.  And in 1990, the AWA was amended to require that all found and “shelter” dogs and cats be held for at least five days before being re-homed or sold.  These may look like some minimal protections, but (another “but!”) there’s more, thankfully.

Intersections and the Present

Laws enacted strictly for animals aren’t the only ones that have helped establish their rights though!  The Animal Legal Defense Fund gives a few examples, such as how “Women’s Law” and domestic violence laws have extended to impact animal cruelty laws.  Also “Tort Law” which extends to veterinary malpractice, and injury to a companion animal.  “Consumer Protection Law” even helps, through food safety practices and proper product labelling.  And, although some states have better legal protections for animals than others, “companion animals” generally have the highest level of protection.  “Hot car laws” and anti-tethering laws are some examples.  And recently, in 2018, the “PAWS Act” passed, which extends the definition of stalking to include “reasonable fear” for your companion’s safety.  This also set up a $3 million federal program to help the companions of domestic violence survivors.  If recent history is any indication, our companions will only continue to enjoy better and better lives.

And, although Wag N’ Wash may not be able to enact new laws ourselves, we’ll be there as you help your companion live that better life!




*Belden C. Lane (2011-04-21). Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality