About the Project

Q&A About the Nonhuman Rights Project

Frequently asked questions: Are you talking about giving human rights to animals? What’s the scientific basis for your lawsuits? What happens to your plaintiffs if you win? What do you mean by “legal person”?   Many more …

What Is the Nonhuman Rights Project?

The Nonhuman Rights Project is unlike any other organization in the world. Why? Because we’re the only group fighting for actual LEGAL rights for members of species other than our own. More …

Are You a Legal Person or a Legal Thing?

If you are a nonhuman animal, you are simply a thing — property that is owned by a legal person. In legal terms, “things” are invisible to civil judges. They possess no legal rights and no hope of having them. Not so long as they remain legal things. More …

Why We Work Through the Common Law

The Nonhuman Rights Project argues that some nonhuman animals should have the capacity to possess common law rights. What is the common law and why do we take that approach as opposed to using federal laws, which only provide for minimal protection of certain animals? More …

How Common Law Judges Decide Cases

Every case is infinitely similar and infinitely different from every other case. Once we have some idea what the common law is about, we need to understand that the common law is made by human judges, and that they decide cases according to the legal values they hold. More …

The Capacity to Have a Legal Right

The passage from thing to person constitutes a legal transubstantiation. As a “person”, you have been brought to legal life. The Nonhuman Rights Project seeks to persuade judges that a nonhuman animal has the capacity to possess common law rights: what does capacity mean? More …

What Is a Legal Right?

To understand which legal rights the Nonhuman Rights Project is demanding for nonhuman animals, we need to understand what legal rights are. And we need to remember that only a legal person has the capacity to have a legal right. That’s why legal personhood is the bull’s-eye for the Nonhuman Rights Project. More …

Why the Nonhuman Rights Project is Unique

The great case in 1772 of James Somerset vs. Charles Steuart abolished human slavery in England and sparked a legal conflagration that within decades would consume human slavery everywhere in the Western world. Similarly, the Nonhuman Rights Project is preparing to litigate the most far-reaching and important legal question that has ever been litigated concerning nonhuman animals. More …

Exploring the Legal Case

Since 2007, dozens of lawyers, political scientists, law students, sociologists, psychologists, natural scientists, and computer modelers from across the country have been preparing the first cases. At the core of the Nonhuman Rights Project is the Legal Working Group, whose members are explore numerous legal questions related to obtaining legal personhood throughout all 50 states. More …

34 Responses to “About the Project”
  1. Shawn says:

    I was just wondering if there was anything the public can do besides donate and spread the word?

    • michaelm says:

      Thank you for asking. The Nonhuman Rights Project is looking for expert and professional volunteer assistance in several areas related to this work. At any given time we have several dozen legal experts donating time and expertise. When we begin filing cases, later this year, we’ll be looking for assistance in the areas of media and public relations. Every case we bring will involve significant costs, so fund-raising is a critical area. We’ll also be redesigning the website so we can bring much more information about each case, as well as the legal background, to more and more people. And we’ll be reaching out in new ways across the social media. If you have expertise in these or any other areas, we’d welcome learning details so we can see how you might be part of the project. Thanks again for asking.

      • Jessica says:

        I’ve been hearing about you guys for a while now and just saw a write up on your organization in Origin magazine this morning. I would love to get involved/volunteer my time to help spread the word. I’m a professional writer and I could definitely help you with your new website when the time comes. Thank you.

      • Paige Duprey says:


        I am the president of the New York Law School Student Animal Legal Defense Fund Chapter. We would love to be involved with your project if this would be possible from the New York City area. Also, I know an excellent Web Designer that might be able to help re-design your website. We also are working on collaborating with other law school SALDF chapters in the area. Please let me know if there is anyway we can be involved.

        Thank you,
        Paige Duprey

      • Thaisp says:

        I have been following this initiative ever since I first heard about it in Law School. I am now practicing in Puerto Rico and would love to be more involved and help out. Please let me know if I can help. I attempted to write in the Contact section but it’s bugging.

  2. Tricia shirey says:

    This is amazing! Finally my whole family sees our pets as part of the family. I would take care of them protect them and protect them as I would any family member. When I hear people [advocating] for shooting dogs or any other animal that it is so wrong! That to be would be like shooting a person for cutting across their land to get home faster.

  3. Karin Hendrickson says:

    This project has been a long time coming and I’m absolutely thrilled to have heard about it this morning on Wisc.Public Radio. Allow me to begin by extending my thanks to you and your team for taking on this most important issue. I am the caretaker here at Richland County Friends of Animals Inc. and I hear from people each day concerning their need to ‘get rid of ‘ their dog or cat. They usually refer to the animal as ‘it’. I believe that as long as species other than humans are referred to as things and not beings, the respect necessary to protect them will not be forthcoming.
    I am hoping to see an end to vivisection in my lifetime and I’m wondering how this work of yours will impact that particular area as well as the lives of farm animals. One other question…Are you and your team members vegetarian?

    • michaelm says:

      We don’t know, or ask about, the personal lifestyles of all team members and volunteers, but as far as we know, everyone is vegan.

  4. Ero Barnett says:

    Wow! I am so glad this is finally happening! It is so nice to know that there is a group working to create rights for animals! My family, friends and I have waited so long for something like this to happen. Thank you so much!

  5. Jamie says:

    What about medical reasons to find a cure for a human being.

    • EthicalOne says:

      Animal testing is a total scam.
      Animals are not humans.

      Six Reasons why Animal Testing Doesn’t Work

      Human and animal testing agree only 5-25% of the time, according to Huntingdon Life Sciences
      88% of stillbirths are due to drugs posed to be safe in animal testing
      According to World Health Organization out of 200,000 released mediations only 240 are labeled as essential
      Corneal transplants were delayed for 90 years and blood transfusions were delayed 200 years due to animal studies
      Animal experiments can be replaced by at least 450 methods known at this time
      Less then 2% of human illnesses or 1.16% are ever seen in animals

      Animal testing – Dangerous to human health
      Overwhelming evidence demonstrates that animal tests are dangerous to human health, and may be the reason that so many ‘safety tested’ drugs cause so many side effects.

      Animal testing doesn’t work.

      Its results are often inconclusive and cannot be accurately extrapolated to humans. As a result, relying on the results of animal testing can be dangerous to human health. It is a system which is long overdue for a critical review, and yet no such review is on the horizon.

      In his seminal book, the Naked Empress: The Great Medical Fraud (Switzerland: CIVIS, 1992) eminent researcher Hans Ruesch notes that approximately 15,000 new drugs are marketed every year, while some 12,000 are withdrawn. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 1.5 million Americans were hospitalised in 1978 alone as a consequence of pharmaceutical drugs administered to “cure” them. A further 30 per cent of all hospitalised people suffered further damage from the therapy prescribed to them. In the 1990s, studies…

      There are some alternative to animal testing such as computer simulation.
      People who volunteer and get pay a lot for it.

      Other alternatives
      We can test on horrible people like Shoko Asahara, Charles Manson, James Holmes, Anders Behring Breivik.
      We can test on mass murderers and rapists. Animals never done anything horrible as these people.
      But our species is selfish and have too much compassion toward horrible human beings. They rather give more humane treatment to these horrible human beings than innocent animals that has never done anything wrong like that.
      When they’re life in prison they get free food and healthcare.
      Horrible people that get executed get an easy way out and don’t suffer for their horrible crimes.
      I have no problem if we test drugs and chemicals on murderers, rapists, criminal against humanity and mass shooters.

  6. Annie says:

    I have almost completed my paralegal certificate and would like to get into animal protection law or animal rights advocacy. Does anyone there have any advice of where to look? Does anyone know of anything in the Mpls/ St. Paul areas of MN?

    Thank you!

    • NhRP says:

      Thank you for asking. You may want to check out the website of the Animal Legal Defense Fund (www.aldf.org). They often collaborate with legal professionals in various cities. You may also want to see if there is a committee and/or section in your local bar association that deal exclusively with animal law. If they do not, consider starting one. Lastly, you could contact a local animal protection group you have an interest in and offer your help. Thank you again for asking.

  7. MK Moore says:

    Hello, Can’t something be done on a federal level to stop the abuse of these majestic giants. I am an Aquired Brain Injury patient and have been outraged for years about the abuse of elephants. Isn’t there any way to stop it. If these things were being done to people in the US action would be taken. Why not for the elephants?
    Sincerely, MK Moore

    • michaelm says:

      Theoretically, Congress could pass a personhood status for elephants or any other species, but it’s never going to happen! You might, optimistically, get two people at most who’d vote for it. That’s why the Nonhuman Rights Project is going about this a completely different way – via the common law.

  8. Jennifer says:

    I am not a professional and I don’t have much money but I am PASSIONATE about animal justice. I would love to help raise funds for this cause. Should I be aware of any legal issues with fundraising? I’ve never done any fundraising.

  9. carly says:

    Bravo to you !!!! This is a LONG time coming that animals should have protection rights from humans. If we were not so barbaric towards animals they would not need such rights. I am a vegan and an animal lover so I am thrilled to find out about this project and am here to help in any capacity you need.

    Thank you on behalf of our animal friends!

  10. Mason says:

    What religious views are held by those working to give rights to non-humans?

    • Michael Mountain says:

      Each has their own religious and or political beliefs. It’s not something we discuss since this work isn’t about beliefs but about how the law views nonhuman animals.

  11. angelika stredwick says:

    This is a fascinating project and, I think, the way forward. Just as it took a change in attiude to change the slavery laws and for women to get the vote, a change in the way we think about animals is the first step to a better view on how we treat our earth and everything that lives on it.

    I am from Britain and we have nothing like this here or in Europe from what I can see on the net. I think we need something like you have here. This needs to be global as well as American. Have you any links? What can one do to get started?

  12. Ron "Hound Dog" Samuel says:

    What about our hounds? My hound has been seeking ‘personhood’ for the last several years with only minimal success.

  13. Miranda says:

    I hope that this movement will grow fast. I’m from Canada and watched Blackfish tonight. I was reading up on what I as just one person can help do! It seems as tho money wins and it’s a long shot to save these magnificent creatures. In Edmonton AB Canada , in our zoo we had a celebrity try to save the elephant. And the person who “owns” the animal wins. Breaks my heart and I wish the best of luck fighting this war on abusing innocent gifts that are all around us. It’s a battle that someone needs to fight and win already! Bless your efforts!

  14. It is my firm belief that all beings are sentient in nature and human beings are care providers, partners, co-inhabitants with animals, not owners of any other sentient being. If we cage them fence them or any of the like, it is our responsibility to care for them in a humane way that is as close to their natural habitat as possible. The root cause of the abuse, neglect is the false belief that we humans are superior or in some way to “Rule Over” as some religious groups believe.
    If we could just solve the over breeding of the domestic animals and equines, we would be miles ahead in the re- valuation of these beings and eliminate the need for rescue. Lobbying for strict breeding practices coupled with annual registration fees for all live breedings… The states would then have the means to go after over-breeders of animals and eliminate them from the breeding scene.

  15. Wallace Mann says:

    One avenue I haven’t seen discussed is the fact that corporations have some of the status of personhood. Is there anything in the history of how corporations became persons that could be applied to nonhuman animals?

  16. G K says:

    How do we get this project started in the uk and when will you present a case in the US???

  17. Ben says:

    I am a Canadian (Edmonton) lawyer and am interested in contributing my skills to a cause such as yours. Being an American legal effort, I am not certain what help I might be to you. If I can contribute, please let me know, or if you happen to know of similar efforts here in Canada I would appreciate the referral. Thank you for your work and I wish you success.

  18. Danalee Goldthwaite says:

    Thank you! I didn’t know that you existed until I read the NYT today. You are doing very difficult and necessary work.

  19. Susan Goldberg says:

    I understand that this is a long road and that you have to proceed incrementally, and so it makes sense to begin the challenge on behalf of those particular animals whose cognitive abilities can be shown to be closest to those of humans. I have trouble, though, with the word “autonomous” being used to somehow distinguish apes, cetaceans and elephants from other animals–as though an animal that does not appear to calculate or plan does not have autonomy in its own right, does not live an autonomous life in which it knows exactly what to do for its own purposes. While we can argue about where the line blurs between instinctive and calculated behavior (and whether “instinct” is not in fact its own kind of intelligence), I think that conflating these gradations of intelligence with a notion of autonomy is troubling. Animals have their own integrity; they are self-directed and know how to live their own lives successfully. They are fully autonomous. Just last night on PBS we were shown the amazing and beautiful constructions of beavers–instinct? intelligence? Does it matter?
    Again, I do understand why you are beginning with the chimps–I think what you’re doing is great! May we reach a time when all animals are granted the dignity of personhood and we do not have to draw distinctions among living creatures in order to determine whether they are deserving of dignity and protection.

    • Perry says:

      We should consider pigs, turkeys, cows, and chickens considering they have a desire to live and show it in the same way as elephants and chimps.

  20. Laura says:

    Is the goal of your organisation to eventually advocate for personhood for all nonhuman animals? Or is it your view that only certain species, esp those considered to be the most intelligent among the animal kingdom are worthy of this status. I don’t see how intelligence is a prerequisite for the right not to be treated as property because there are humans that don’t meet this criteria

  21. Bhuman Bo says:

    When there are 6 billion humans on Earth and only 2000 tigers, the life of one tiger is clearly more important than the life of one human. Any legal, philosophical, moral, or religious system that fails to acknowledge this is too biased to be effective. Thank you Mr. Wise for addressing this glaring deficiency.

  22. I only heard about you recently and am so glad that there are suitably qualified people like you who care enough to take this on. Society’s prevailing attitudes towards other species are anachronistic and a rethink is long overdue. The scientific understanding of animals has advanced greatly which assists your cause – but if we were truly evolved it should not be necessary to “prove” that other species have rights. Compassion and our supposed high intelligence should render it obvious.

    Please amend your donation page so that international supporters like me can contribute!

    Thank you so much for what you are doing.

  23. Jerry says:

    I just read the article in Popular Science. It is great. Thank you so much for what this organization is doing. ?I am in 100% agreement. Again, thank you!! I help many save the animals organizations and am proud to do so! Jerry, age 81+.

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