Animals and the Golden Rule: Do you love your pet?

There are many laws and court cases about animals. Core beliefs on the role and nature of animals differ. It's all a matter of respect. Photo: Service dog/ AP

WASHINGTON, October 21, 2013 — According to popular evolutionary belief, the world of living things began with animals, not humans. We evolved, became arguably smarter, and then we came to control and unfortunately abuse animals.

Animals have helped us, they have saved our lives, they have entertained us (sometimes knowingly and sometimes simply by the way they act), they have been companions, and they have unfortunately injured and killed us, more often than not when they are in protection mode.

SEE RELATED: Campaign finance and the Supreme Court’s next round: America for sale

From early existence, cavemen killed animals for survival. Later, someone trained an animal to dance and everyone laughed. Then, we “evolved” and the abuse we rained upon animals led to laws in all corners of the world to protect animals and to regulate how we treat and interact with them. 

As it goes, of course, differences of opinion about core beliefs and the laws have resulted in court cases.

Animals are not people. (Sorry pet owners). Core beliefs then: is it okay to own a pet? A pet is by definition a slave. Ever see a child’s face when he or she gets a puppy?  What is the value of a seeing-eye dog?

A thought might be, on a very simplistic level, that many laws would not be needed in any quarter of human endeavor if we followed two very basic principles: respect, and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This concept applies to human-animal interaction. 

SEE RELATED: Revenge porn now illegal in CA: Punish criminals who violate trust

Laws usually regard animals as property. Further, in most places laws assume that killing animals for survival is okay, and that using them for entertainment is also okay if the animal is not harmed. There are many other assumptions that relegate animals to humans, again, to the consternation of pet owners. Respect for animals, nonetheless, must prevail.

Despite the beliefs of many pet owners, animals are not people. In 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the world’s population of marine mammals did not have “standing” to sue. The lawsuit claimed that the U.S. Navy violated the Endangered Species Act because it damaged marine mammal tissue through the Navy’s use of long range, low-frequency sonar. The Court held that the reason animals could not sue was not merely because they were animals, but that they had not been granted the right to sue.

Consider some laws and court rulings that have involved animals and ask if respect or the “do unto” law, if followed, would have made the passage of the law or the court battle necessary.

The U.S. Animal Welfare Act was enacted in 1966 and it has been amended numerous times. It is the only Federal law that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transportation, and by dealers. Other laws pertaining to animal care refer to the Animal Welfare Act as the minimum accepted standard.

SEE RELATED: Egg carton labels and animal welfare: Are you being misled?

Here is some of the Act’s “definitions” text:

Animal means any live or dead dog, cat, nonhuman primate, guinea pig, hamster, rabbit, or any other warm-blooded animal, which is being used, or is intended for use for research, teaching, testing, experimentation, or exhibition purposes, or as a pet. This term excludes birds … horses not used for research purposes; and other farm animals… With respect to a dog, the term means all dogs, including those used for hunting, security, or breeding purposes.

There are no snakes on this list, but mice respect them.

The organization People For Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) could use the respect and “do unto” rules as their credo. Without agreeing or disagreeing about what their true agenda may have been at any particular time, PETA clearly has been an excellent advocate for animals since the organization was founded in 1980.

Their notoriety went international the following year when they brought a lawsuit to stop experiments on 17 macaque monkeys inside a Maryland lab. Now PETA focuses mainly on opposing factory farming, fur farming, animal testing and animals in entertainment. PETA campaigns as well against eating meat, and fishing, and opposes the alleged “sport” of animal fighting. 

As with all laws, however, the respect and “do unto” rules become fuzzy, depending upon who is defining them.

Thus, some of PETA’s efforts have raised eyebrows. In 2011, they filed suit asking a federal court to give constitutional rights to five killer whales who performed at marine parks in California. The argument was based on PETA’s analysis of the 13th Amendment, which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude. PETA’s contention was that the Act did not specify that only humans could be victims.

Respect and “do unto others.” So simple. Michael Vick’s dog fighting past clearly is not respectful, nor would he have wanted to be a fighting contestant. Hollywood actresses and others wearing animal furs were once commonplace. Many people today still wear fur believing that killing the animals that supply the fur is okay.

Is duck hunting a respectful sport or form of entertainment? Clearly it harms ducks, yet it continues in many places. Does donkey-basketball harm the donkeys?

Unquestionably, animal research saves lives. How much is the puppy in the window?

Respect and do unto others…

Volumes have been written and debates have consumed years of legal attention focusing on what should and what should not be considered First Amendment protected speech. The Supreme Court in 2010 ruled in United States v. Stevens (by an 8-1 vote) that the First Amendment protects the sale of videos and other depictions of animal cruelty. A Virginia man had made videos of pit bull dogs fighting each other and claimed he was trying to promote education. Of note is that only place you could find the ads for the videos was in an underground magazine.

Perhaps the Court made a correct legal decision (too much discussion and legal analysis to provide here), but if dog fighting is illegal, how can selling videos be protected speech?  Respectful behavior would have stopped this man from ever filming.

This past Friday, authorities in Chisinau, Moldova, caught a cat that was used to smuggle marijuana into a prison there. No respect.


Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website. He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics.  Paul is the featured legal analyst on the Washington Times Radio, in Washington, D.C., on the Andy Parks show and he is a columnist on the Washington Times Communities.

His book The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You is free to Maryland and Virginia residents and can be obtained by ordering it on his website; others can obtain it on Amazon.


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

More from Leading Edge Legal Advice for Everyday Matters
blog comments powered by Disqus
Paul Samakow

Attorney Paul Samakow brings his legal expertise to the headlines from life and real-life experience to The Washington Times Communties. A native Washingtonian, Samakow has been a Plaintiff’s trial lawyer since 1980, with offices in Maryland and Virginia. 

Contact Paul Samakow


Please enable pop-ups to use this feature, don't worry you can always turn them off later.

Question of the Day
Photo Galleries
Popular Threads
Powered by Disqus