Without probably realising it we are all influenced by the stance of the law towards animals because there are three major drawbacks with all animal law. The first is that animals always lose out as they are considered as chattels or things or the property of people. The second is that they are viewed more as ‘subjects’ of protection rather than having legal rights themselves and the third is that prosecutions are not taken seriously which is reflected in the paltry fines and punishments given. These factors demean the status of animals and conveys a message to us that it is not so bad to ill-treat or abuse them because we have the confidence that human interests will always be put above theirs.
Basically, property cannot have rights over humans and so whenever there is any conflict the outcome is predetermined.
Historically, livestock was kept for food production and wild animals protected for hunting, but the common theme was that they all belonged or were owned by someone and therefore animals became enshrined in law as property. Basically, property cannot have rights over humans and so whenever there is any conflict the outcome is predetermined. This mind-set is deeply rooted within us, so much so that we are now unable to contemplate viewing them in any other way.
Many people feel that they should possess the basic right not to be treated as a ‘thing’ and there has been a lot of comparison to the slave trade when slaves were not thought to have interests and were looked upon as things or commodities and even to feminism whereby historically women were oppressed. The situation is basically the same worldwide and animals are secondary to their ‘natural predators’ humans, possessing little legal protection from being caused harm and suffering by us as long as it is beneficial to us. This is one of the main factors why the animal rights movement came into being.
Animals will always come second to humans whatever the situation or circumstances as we could never bring ourselves to perhaps save an animal at the expense of a member of our own species.
Under the new UK Animal Welfare Act 2006 this premise continues and older UK laws like the Criminal Damages Act 1971 and the Sale of Goods Act 1979 declares them property or as goods and chattels, but at least these differentiate them apart from inanimate objects and treat them as living entities. This status under animal law has been the main factor in keeping them subjugated and allowing us to do basically want we want with them. If their property status was abolished it would be a great step towards their rights as it would make it almost impossible for us to exploit them and for that sole reason it will never happen because of the considerable detrimental impact it would have on the way we live.
Animals will always come second to humans whatever the situation or circumstances as we could never bring ourselves to perhaps save an animal at the expense of a member of our own species, but we could do more to protect animals from our mistakes. This very important fact probably passes most people by and is what, quite rightly, upsets so many animal rights advocates.