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Legislative Action Center

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover, or Its Name: New Jersey’s “Lawyers for Dogs” Bill
December 13, 2021 by AKC Government Relations

Recently, in response to New Jersey Senate Bill 2868 and Assembly Bill 4533, which would create “animal advocates” in cases involving animals, AKC Government Relations (AKC GR) published the alert: “NJ: Let Speaker Coughlin Know that ‘Lawyers for Dogs’ Bills Are a Very Bad Idea”. 

For many, it may sound illogical to think that AKC, the dog’s champion – and protector of purebred and purpose-bred dogs, would oppose legislation seeking to add a volunteer to court cases involving animals to ensure that the animal’s interests are represented. 

But dig below the feel-good veneer, and there’s a lot more at play. 

First, some background. AKC promotes the adoption of animal welfare-based laws and policies.  Animal welfare is pro-animal ownership. It recognizes the human-animal bond, the value of quality animal care and purposeful breeding, and supports advancing science to ensure the health and wellbeing of all dogs.  To that end, AKC supports the continued traditional legal classification of animals as personal property. For centuries, classification as legal property has resulted in a stable legal system that clearly protects animals by defining the rights and responsibilities of owners and others in the animal care chain, including veterinarians and enforcement officials; and holds them accountable when they don’t care for or treat their animals appropriately. 

However, Animal rights-based proponents of the New Jersey’s lawyers for dogs bill do not share AKC’s view. Instead, they advocate for giving animals the same legal rights as people, and base their view on the radical philosophy that humans should not use or own animals in any way, even as companions.  For animal rights groups, the ultimate goal is not to improve the wellbeing of animals, but to stop breeding and human interaction with and use of animals altogether. The legislative track record of animal rights groups in the U.S. demonstrates a focus on reducing or eliminating the keeping of animals as pets.  But that’s just an incremental goal.  Their ultimate goals would also end the use of animals for work, for fiber, and as part of the food supply (regardless of the terrible impacts the philosophy would have on human populations across the world who rely on animal agriculture for survival). 

S.2868/A.4533 are purportedly based on a Connecticut law that was enacted in 2016.  While the New Jersey proposal is similar, there are some significant differences between the Connecticut law and the much more extreme New Jersey bill. 

First, when Connecticut passed its version of this bill, it already had an existing law stating that, “All dogs are deemed to be personal property.”  In contrast, New Jersey law does not feature a similar explicit declaration.  Without it, the New Jersey bill poses a very significant risk.  Appointing advocates similar to guardians ad litem for children or other individuals unable to manage their own affairs risks courts interpreting the legislative action as a radical means of implicitly classifying animals as something other than personal property.   

Second, Connecticut’s law allows advocates to be appointed in cases involving only two species: dogs and cats.  In contrast, the New Jersey legislation applies to all species of animals. Again, this clearly indicates an intention of proponents to exert influence and control over all species and all reasons and ways they may be kept. 

Third, the New Jersey legislation features “findings” that justify providing certain policy protections and considerations traditionally reserved for humans to animals.  This language is an explicit attempt to undermine the traditional legal classification of animals as property and to limit the rights of animal owners. 

The AKC and a broad coalition of groups with grave concerns about S.2868/A.4533 have asked its sponsors to amend them by removing the findings and adding a statement similar to the Connecticut version that declares animals as property.  If they accept these changes, the bill will more closely mirror the Connecticut law. So far, however, our concerns have fallen on deaf ears, which can be interpreted as reflecting radical intent. 

Bottom line: This bill hides some very radical concepts that are potentially harmful to the wellbeing of all animals. If it’s only intended to provide an advocates program, then the amendments requested will cure most concerns.  But if the intent is to open a larger debate about the legal classification of animals, it should be done in a transparent way, with the public’s informed input—not under the guise of a feel-good program that’s unlikely to do much to improve animal wellbeing. 

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