From Property to Sentient Beings: Animals Legal Status to Change in France

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The legal status of animals is similar to that of a table, but in France it seems that this is about to change.

Lawmakers on the French National Assembly legal committee voted to change animals status from “personal property” to “sentient living being”. While the bill still needs to be passed by the full Assembly and Senate, it would bring about a change to France’s 210 year old civil code.

Many animal activists applaud the vote as a positive step in improving animal laws, including The Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis (30 Million Friends Foundation). 30 Million Friends Foundation was instrumental in attracting the attention of lawmakers to the issue by starting a petition that accumulated 678,000 signatures. President Reha Hutin of 30 Million Friends Foundation said,

“The civil code, which is the foundation of the law in France considers animals are no different to a chair or a table. They are seen as just things. But in the EU treaty of Lisbon animals are considered as “sensitive creatures” yet France is saying they are just pieces of furniture that ‘can walk by themselves’. You can see how ridiculous it is. How can we teach children that a dog is no different to a table?”

However, not everyone shares the enthusiasm of other animal rights activists over this vote. “It’s no revolution for animals,” stated Christophe Marie, foundation spokesman of The Brigitte Bardot Foundation. “It basically standardizes legal texts, but in no way does it challenge the exploitation of animals.”

France is not the only country to have a conversation about changing the legal status of animals. In the United States most state and federal laws consider animals as property, having little or no rights of their own. The problem with this status is that the best interest of the animal is not taken into account over the owners control. This is why an owner is legally able to euthanize a pet simply for being too burdensome.

While many proponents of animal rights are in favor of changing the legal status of animals to something above property, the conversation has turned at times to allowing pets the same status as humans. David Grimm, author of the book, Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs explained in an interview with National Geographic, “As pets have become family in our homes, they’ve also become family in the eyes of the law.”

The United States law has not changed animals legal status from being above property like France, however, there is an increasing revolution in the court system that treats animals as thinking, feeling beings. David Grimm continued, “In custody cases, judges have started talking about the best interests of the cat and which home it would be better in, which you would never do for a couch or a lamp. If a cat or a dog is killed, owners are starting to be able to sue for mental suffering and loss of companionship, which traditionally have applied only to spouses and children.”

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