How a Thing Can Legally Become a Person

I AM NOT A THINGHow a Thing Can Legally Become a Person. Can a Canine, now legally considered to be only a “Thing” under current law transition legally to “Personhood”?

Late in 2013, the lawyer Steven Wise showed the world how, with a little legal Karate, that an animal can transition from a thing without rights to a person with legal protections. Mr. Wise filed the first-ever lawsuits in the United States demanding limited “personhood” rights, on behalf of four captive chimpanzees in New York State.

Mr. Wise has spent more than 30 years developing his strategy for attaining animal personhood rights. After he started his career as a criminal defense lawyer, he was inspired by Peter Singer’s book “Animal Liberation” to dedicate himself to justice for animals. He helped pioneer the study of animal rights law in the 1980s. In 2000, he became the first person to teach the subject at Harvard Law School, as a visiting lecturer. Mr. Wise began developing his animal personhood strategy after struggling with ineffective welfare laws and regulations that fail to keep animals out of abusive environments. Unlike welfare statutes, legal personhood would give some animals irrevocable protections that recognize their critical needs to live and to not be owned, abused or killed.

The current focus of Mr. Wise’s legal campaign includes chimpanzees, elephants, whales and dolphins — animals whose unusually high level of intelligence has been recognized by scientific research. The body of scientific work on chimpanzee cognition, in particular, is enormous, and scientific testimony is crucial to Mr. Wise’s legal arguments. His team, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), selected as its first plaintiffs four chimps living in New York: Tommy, Kiko, Hercules and Leo. He chose these animals in large part because New York’s common laws are favorable to habeas corpus lawsuits, and because there are great ape sanctuaries that could accommodate them.

If Mr. Wise wins, he will have successfully broken down the legal wall that separates animals from humans. His plaintiffs, the four chimps, will be deemed legal persons and relocated to outdoor sanctuaries around the United States. In many ways, the lawsuits have already won: They have brought animal personhood to the forefront of the conversation surrounding our society’s relationship with animals.

Mr. Wise’s work the past years inspired our strategy to seek legal status for Canines as cognitive and sentient beings for personhood. It will as Mr. Wise is experiencing but it will be the only way we can end the killing of Canines, based on their present legal status as “things” with no rights or protection under Federal and State Laws.

To learn more and support our legal efforts please visit

And purchase our upcoming book due out in April, “I AM NOT A THING”, outlining our arguments and strategy to save the OVER TWO MILLION Canines legally euthanized in America each year.

Canines are not things, they possess sentient feelings and cognizant thinking just as we do. Join I AM NOT A as we argue for legal “personhood” for Canines, versus the present legal status of Canines as unintelligent, non feeling, non alive “things”.  Changing the law is the only way to end the legal killing of canines in our animal shelters.

We hope our work will inspire you to think differently about canines’ right to life.



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