Should Pets Be Considered People?

We love our pets as if they were people, but does that mean they should be considered people in the eyes of the law? National Geographic interviewed David Grimm, author of the new book “Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs,” for a look at the recent development in the legal status of animals, and his take is enlightening.

Biologically, animals are not humans. Not many are likely to dispute that fact. Still, that doesn’t alter the debate pet owners have about whether pets can be considered “people” in the eyes of the law. After all, in a country where judges have declared corporations to be “people,” is it all that far-fetched for pets – actual breathing, affectionate creatures, to be granted the same status?

It comes down to an issue of what rights animals should be granted. While the wave of animal cruelty laws is probably the most prominent sign of change, it goes well beyond laws that protect their personal safety. You can tell that cats and dogs are gaining legal other rights just by looking at cases that have hit the courts in recent years. Not only have pets been the subject of intense divorce custody battles, some pets have even received their own legal counsel in order to represent their own best interests. Pet owners have also gained ground in being able to sue for large sums of money in the case of an accidental deaths (in the same way they might for a relative) to make amends for the mental and emotional suffering of the tragedy.

Grimm offers two strong reasons for why humans are more attached to their animals than they were years ago. First, humans see fewer animals today than they did generations ago. Whereas it used to be common to see horses and pigs in your community, society has developed in such a way where not everyone owns animals and encounters with wild animals are less frequent. As a result, people don’t think about the distinction between humans and animals as often. Second, people no longer live in large family units with grandparents, cousins and children all under one roof. Welcoming pets into our homes means we’re making them parts of our family and having them fill some of our emotional needs that humans used to.

Surprisingly, one of the leading organizations attempting to prevent pets from gaining personhood is the American Veterinary Medical Association. On the one hand, vets hope that pet owners consider their animals to be part of the family, as it means that they are willing to pay for expensive procedures. On the other hand, vets are not in favor of having this personhood status solidified legally. If animals were afforded this right, vets would suddenly be open to a variety of malpractice suits. “When we view our pets like children, we sue like they are children when things go wrong,” Grimm said.

Forget financial concerns, though; philosophical and ethical concerns make the prospect even more complicated. Should humans be allowed to spay and neuter their pets without having consent from the animals themselves? Forced sterilization is a definite no-no amongst humans. Moreover, should people be allowed to buy and own pets?  If animals are considered people, that scenario starts to seem more like some form of slavery.

One thing is for certain: as more American families become pet owners, this question will continue to be raised. How do you feel? Should animals gain “personhood” status or would that distinction raise more problems than the additional legal protections would be worth?


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe3 years ago

Our animals depend on us to take care of them!!
Making them "people" would make them equal to us, but yet, they still depend on us for everything!
No, they are our fur babies, and are loved immensely!!

Melania Padilla
Melania P3 years ago


Lisa Zarafonetis
Lisa Z3 years ago

I like animals much more than I like most people! Animals/pets dont stab u in the back or betray u!!!

Ann Razumovskaya
Ann Razumovskaya3 years ago

We, humans, are animals too.

Jennifer Pattini
Jennifer Pattini3 years ago

My pets to me are just as important to me as any of my family and friends. I am lucky enough to spend more than 95% of my time with them. But they are not people, that is what makes them so special. When we have them in our family we need to take care of them and make good decisions for their benefit. I can not ask my pets important questions or ask them their opinion, so we need to make good decision and feed them, not leave them to figure things out for themselves, they are not wolves or coyotes, and have been condition for hundred of years to be domesticated and our companions.
But I strongly believe that they should not be considered property and if someone or someone's animal does harm to our furry family member that they should be held accountable just as they would if they harmed a person. I love seeing my dogs acting and loving being a dog, and humans act like they have the same human emotions as they do. Understand that what makes are pets so special, is that they are not human.
The people who make the laws need to understand how important our beloved pets are just as much of the family as any person is. And they really need to move forward faster and protect them as they are not property

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

It is a slippery slope to consider thm as human. I do believe they should have many rights such as rights to have abusers tried and punished but I believe it would also put them in more cross hairs as Kamia suggested.

Kamia T.
Kamia T3 years ago

From a legal point of view, if we deem animals people, then theoretically they should be able to sue on their own behalf, be held strictly liable for their actions (such as biting, etc.) and I think it would result in a lot of messy, stupid litigation and more animals being put quickly down because of minor infractions. The reason animals need us is to shield them from this sort of pressure. It's just a shame that so many humans don't understand that's one of our callings.

Bethany Bekolay
Bethany Bekolay3 years ago

hmmm interesting