Animal “Personhood”


Anti-hunting, animal-rights extremist groups such as the Humane Socieity of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have always posed a great threat to sportsmen and women, using their political capital to advance a fallacious agenda. Recently, these efforts have promoted the idea that nonhumans (animals) should have the same rights as humans. While this idea of animal “personhood” seems contradictory, legislation similar to this concept is continuously proposed.


Anti-hunting, animal-rights extremist groups such as the Human Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) regularly work to advance a fallacious agenda that seeks to undermine traditional fish and wildlife management and significantly alter how we interact with wildlife, including through hunting and fishing. Most recently this scheme has taken place in the form of advocating for “animal personhood,” the idea that nonhumans (animals) should have the same rights as humans. As contradictory as the idea sounds, legislation that is startlingly like the concept has already been passed in Connecticut, and most recently in Maine.

Connecticut’s Public Act No. 16-30, also known as Desmond’s Law, was enacted in 2016. It allows for neglected animals to be represented in court by humans, who act as “advocates”. These representatives serve pro-bono, providing the court with data pertinent to the case. This new statute sets a dangerous precedent, one where legal “personhood” of animals stands in the not-so-distant future.

Points of Interest

  • Granting legal “personhood” to animals would allow organizations like HSUS and PETA to sue zoos, aquariums, and even pet owners.
  • Permitting animal personhood may have “sweeping and disastrous effects” on agriculture, biomedical research, and pet ownership.
  • Personhood has historically been rooted in human dignity, something not applicable to animals.
  • In 2010, Germany passed the “Animal Welfare Act,” which banned catch and release fishing (with limited exceptions) in order to “protect the lives and well-being of animals.” As is often the case, animal personhood may be introduced under the guise of “animal welfare.”
  • A textbook legal battle that captivated the media involved a macaque named “Naruto” who took a “selfie” on a journalist’s unattended camera, leading to PETA filing a suit that Naruto legally owned the copyright to the photo. The Ninth Circuit ultimately held that animals do not, in fact, hold legal authority over copyrights.
  • In early 2020, LD 1442 was effectuated in Maine without the Governor’s signature, allowing courts to appoint law students or volunteer lawyers to advocate for animals that are involved in cruelty proceedings.
  • In 2020, the New York Supreme Court dismissed a case brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project, holding that Happy, the Asian elephant living in the Bronx Zoo, was not a person, and therefore is not entitled to the same rights and protections. Following a 2021 agreement by the New York Court of Appeals to hear a claim of habeas corpus on the matter, it held it 2022 that “Because the writ of habeas corpus is intended to protect the liberty right of human beings to be free of unlawful confinement, it has no applicability to Happy, a nonhuman animal who is not a “person” subjected to illegal detention.”


Recognizing the language utilized in Desmond’s Law is critical, as it is likely that pro-animal personhood legislators, at the behest of animal rights organizations, will use similar terminology in other states in the future.

  • “(a) In any prosecution under section 53-247 of the general statutes, or in any court proceeding pursuant to section 22-329a of the general statutes or in the criminal session of the Superior Court regarding the welfare or custody of a cat or dog, the court may order, upon its own initiative or upon request of a party or counsel for a party, that a separate advocate be appointed to represent the interests of justice. If a court orders that an advocate be appointed to represent the interests of justice, the court shall appoint such advocate from a list provided to the court by the Commissioner of Agriculture pursuant to subsection (c) of this section.”

Moving Forward

Legislators are encouraged to remain vigilant and to oppose animal personhood bills if they are introduced in their states. While not yet regularly debated on the legal front, animal personhood is a recurring topic that is gaining traction. The idea of animal personhood endangers the very foundation of hunting, angling, and trapping, and subsequently, the American System of Conservation Funding. It is necessary that sportsmen and women remain vigilant, opposing this type of “animal rights” legislation.

View All policy

Back TO All

In Season


Stay current with the latest news, policy activity and how to get involved.

Sign up for Newsletters

Tracking The Capitols

Receive latest legislation and regulation changes.

Sign up for Legislative Alerts