Animal law protects the rights of all non-human animals. It is much the same as any other law and is designed to help the welfare of animals, particularly those used in research projects or in entertainment, which are two areas where for a long time many animals were harmed or abused. Pressure from animal rights activists has in a lot of cases led to these laws being in place today.


Approach to animal law

There are a number of ways in which animal law is approached. When it comes to what’s best for animals’ safety and rights it has to be decided by humans as, obviously, it’s impossible to get feedback from animals about it. Animal experts and legal experts have discussed factors, both known and hypothetical, that could be considered to violate an animal’s rights to determine what legally can be considered cruelty and what steps needed to be taken to combat it.

Animal law has an impact on our lives without us even being aware. It comes into play if a couple divorce and there is a custody battle over a pet; in cases of veterinary malpractice; discrimination cases by landlords who do not allow pets in their buildings; and wrongful death or injury caused to a pet.


Animal law organisations

In America the Animal Legal Defense Fund was established in 1979 as the first body to promote animal law which led to a lot of states forming animal law committees and has since given animals more rights.

In Europe there are animal lawyers such as Antoine Goetschel in Switzerland who notably campaigned to ensure strict Swiss animal protection laws were upheld and enforced.


Animal law in education

Animal law is becoming as important as any other kind of law and has been taught in over 120 law schools across the United States, including the prestigious Harvard and Georgetown. Seven Canadian law schools also teach animal law.

Animal law is also taught in Australia, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Many papers and books have been penned by prominent figures within the world of animal law and it is a fast growing branch of the legal system.


Activism and animal law

For many years animal activists were dismissed by a lot of people as “hippy do-gooders who should get real jobs”, but they were always fighting for a legitimate cause. Perhaps their methodology was a little skewed years ago, though. Breaking into laboratories and causing criminal damage before allowing animals to escape, often condemning them to a worse fate was a very gung-ho approach. In more recent times animal activism involved peaceful protest and dialogue which has helped to advance the law.

So successful have animal activists been , in fact, that animals are no longer recognised as property and are legally recognised as beings in many countries.

In Switzerland the constitution was changed to this effect in 1992 and Germany became the first European Union country to adopt the same change ten years later. Canada also soon followed suit.

Five different species of ape in New Zealand are now protected by law and cannot be used in any kind of research or testing following a legal change in 1999. The United Kingdom was something of a trailblazer here and had already enforced the same ban as early as 1986.

In the US attempts are being made by the Great Ape Project to see gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and bonobos granted a status of being in a “community of equals” with humans. This would give apes the same rights as humans such as protecting their liberty and prohibiting any form of torture to be used against them.

Animal rights activism has also led to the punishment and closure of some unethical zoos and it’s no coincidence that nowadays there are fewer circuses with performing animals either.


Other areas protected by animal law

There are many aspects of law regarding pets, mostly cats and dogs. There are strict rules for keeping an animal as a pet, including ensuring it is disease free and kept away from anything which is potentially harmful. There are rules about transportation of pets too, including the important rule that if they are left in a car on a hot day that the windows must be partially open to ensure circulation of cooler air. Many people have been successfully prosecuted for mistreating animals in this way or leaving dogs outside during the winter.

Stables and riding schools are properly regulated to ensure animals are well looked after and aren’t abused or exploited in any way.

Any animal boarding establishments such as kennels or catteries are subject to inspection and must have the appropriate authority approved licence in order to be able to operate.

Performing animals are still allowed, but the conditions in which they are kept much reach a high standard and absolutely no cruelty of any kind is tolerated. Thankfully the days of bears being chained up in  confined space and beaten with sticks are now long gone.

There are laws governing the breeding and sale of animals which helps to prevent so-called puppy farms and people who are exploiting animals for financial gain.


There are of course people who will try and exploit animals in some way still, but the law makes it difficult for them to hide nowadays. Dog fighting and hare coursing are still rife in certain areas, but heavy fines and prison terms for animal cruelty have captured many culprits and scared countless more from doing it.

Animal law is definitely a good thing as no individual has or ever really had the right to enslave animals, mistreat them, abuse them, use them for sport or test cosmetic products in their eyes. Mankind has long taken everything the planet has to offer for their own use and entertainment and animal law is one obstacle put in place that will hopefully halt the eradication of many species of animal.

If animals could talk, I’m sure they’d be very grateful for having their own law.