U.S. laws don’t do a very good job of protecting animals. Few laws provide real safeguards, but even those that do are difficult to enforce for two reasons: first, animals cannot bring cases to court on their own, and second, humans can’t do it for them because, with a few exceptions, we are allowed to sue only on our own behalf, not as stand-ins for others. (Courts have ruled that people can’t serve as attorneys to animals and, in most cases, don’t have an independent interest in an animal’s welfare that would allow them to sue on their own behalf to help the animal.)
The Rhode Island Senate is working to change that. It recently voted to permit the designation of an advocate who may speak for an animal whose welfare is at stake in court, according to boston.com.
The concept is similar to how courts currently protect children in custody cases. A court will appoint a guardian ad litem, or advocate, to look out for the children’s best interests, while each parent looks out for her- or himself.
Cheryl Hanna of The Examiner reports that if the Rhode Island bill becomes law, court advocates will be available for animals in “abuse, cruelty, or neglect cases.” Hanna also writes that state veterinarians and representatives from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals would be eligible to serve as advocates.
This bill would be a major step forward for animals in Rhode Island. Currently courts treat them as objects, with no more self-interest or value than a chair. Under this law, the court would take into account animals’ own, independent interests, such as their interest in being removed from people who abuse them.
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