Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Animal Rights Definition:

A legal philosophy that seeks to establish that animals have rights of their own.

Related Terms: Animal Welfare, Animal Law, Animal

The more radical cousin of proponents of animal law. A form of law reform that would recognize the rights of animals as inherent in the animal, and likely ending the raising of animals for the purposes of human food.

This no-holds-barred approach to animal law is well-captured by Ontario lawyer, Leslie Bisgould in her 2011 book Animals and the Law:

"Animal rights ... a term embodying the idea that animals, as sentient beings, are entitled to not be considered things people own and use for their own purposes, or as means to human ends; the movement to liberate animals from human exploitation....

"Animal rights legal theory is addressed to a being’s fundamental concerns, like physical and psychological integrity, as opposed to rights understood in more prosaic legal terms, such as contract and property rights. It does not seek human rights for animals, such as the right to vote or get married."

David Favre, Professor of Law at Michigan State University College of Law, wrote of animal rights as follows, immediately distinguishing it from animal welfare:

"Animal welfare has as an initial premise that humans have an ethical, moral or religious based obligation to treat animals well, to not inflict unnecessary pain or suffering on animals. It is fairly clear that this premise is not reflected in present laws and that considerable change would be required to fulfill that standard.

"Animal rights has a different premise: that animals are beings with a moral, ethical status just like human beings, and that as a result they should have not just protection of the law (welfare) but be a part of the legal system with rights of their own.

"This focus on obtaining rights for animals has caused considerable problems for those seeking change in the legal system and confusion in the minds of the broader public who are less willing to accept the brash new ideas of animal rights, but are fairly accepting of the promotion of animal welfare."


  • Bisgould, Leslie, Animals and the Law (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2011) pages 53 and 287
  • Favre, David, Gathering Momentum, 1 J. Animal L. 1-6 (2005). Excerpt re-ordered slightly incorporating a footnote and text from the law report article.

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