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 …

58 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.

      • Cynthia von Buhler says:

        I want to help with promotion and media. I have large email lists, strong social media and Pr experience. I’m also an illustrator and playwright.

        • Lauren Choplin says:

          Great, Cynthia! If you head over to the Contact tab, you’ll find a link to our volunteer form. Thank you so much for wanting to help!

  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.

      • Cathleen says:

        Spot on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’ve never met you, but I like you!!!!!!

      • Kathie says:

        Your critique of animal research is excellent. (There is a much more extensive one by Mylan Engel, Jr. in a new anthology about the ethics of AR by Jeremy Garrett.)

        I’d rather we didn’t abandon basic standards against torturing humans, though (even terrible ones). I think we can be better than that.

        But we definitely need to stop torturing other animals for our self-interested desires.


  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!

    • murray kat says:

      Judging from where your name link leads to – you might want to consider your own personal rights as an autonomous human being vs an object of male exploration and abuse ?

  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+.

    • Pierre Dandoy says:

      Hi. Excuse me I can’not write in english.
      Quel dommage que vous n’utilisiez pas une plateforme de crowdfunding pour cette opération. En effet, les plateforme de corwdfunding permettent en général de voir ou en sont les contributions des autres participants, tout en offrant une sécurité et une référence de sérieux au projet proposé. Good luck anyway :-)

      • Nonhuman Rights Project says:

        Merci Pierre! Crowdfunding is something we’ve considered and which we may do in the future but right now we’re concentrating on our ongoing e-mail campaign. We all appreciate the feedback and your support for our work! All the best – Lauren/NhRP.

  24. How can NHRP scale?
    Bite size incremental strategy?

    Establish case law in multiple jurisdictions eg state/country
    Low hanging fruit first

    Law Students at universities as resources: opportunity to pioneer ground breaking cases, a worthy challenge

    Provide the tools, principles, language, resources to enable wins: NHRP as a resource center
    Lay a strong foundation

    Establish alliances with similar organizations eg peta, aldf, vegans, bioengineered lab-grown meat companies etc

    Choose winnable battles eg
    Class action habeas corpus for lab animals, followed by etc

    Develop Revenue plan and strategy

    Many powerful well funded interest groups would oppose this initiative due to its direction and eventual logical result

  25. Joyce Dade says:

    With these latest developments and the dedication of so many people working together, we are witnessing and living through a time of evolution and moving forward. A time of change and progress for animals who are so closely related to us and worthy of lives without torture and experimentation. It is a joyous time for us all and the good will and love of many people will speed the day that animals be no longer have to suffer the indignity and pain of experimentation. Our world is changing for the better and we are moving forward, worthy of our title of “human” and the with a richer scope of what it is to be humane as well as human.

  26. I am going thru the extensive material on the website. thank you for making it available.

    I am also happy to see you build on victories, develop a body of case law – I wd love for the info on this to be easily available (search, sort, filter capabilities on the NHRP website) to those who want to work on and win similar cases in other jurisdictions, speed up the momentum.

    Due to the history of common law in the UK, perhaps there may be an opening for more rapid evolution in anti-species-discrimination cases in the UK, which could then spread.

    I am delighted to learn that you hv devised law courses that are available in law schools.

    I am wondering whether there is any thought of developing an online law course, so its easily accessible to anyone around the world (thru the various MOOC platforms like udacity etc), highly scalable, and with little incremental cost beyond the initial course development. I wd be happy to contribute $10k to get the ball rolling. Is it possible that any university wd give course credit upon request for those who complete the material and the coursework?

    I wd also like to request a checkoff on the website for those who want to participate and contribute to progress, so they can volunteer or be harnessed as resources in the campaign.

    Also, I request the capacity for NHRP visitors/members to use the website to communicate and collaborate eg with a forum.

    FYI, a few years ago, CELDF was working on a project in an island nation threatened by rising oceans to amend its constitution to provide for legal rights for Nature, as an entity, and therefore be a topic at the UN.

    At some point, there may be a problem of adjudicating cases like animal murder, as sometimes occurs in chimpanzee communitees. This will require some thought as well.

    Thank you again for the terrific and ground-breaking work NHRP is doing.

  27. Steven says:

    Just wondering if your team are Vegans?

    • Lauren Choplin says:

      Steven: the core members of the NhRP are all vegan; however, the NhRP as such is not a vegan advocacy organization and we don’t inquire into the private lives of the dozens of legal experts, scientists, and other volunteers whose knowledge, time and expertise of all kinds make this whole work possible. Thanks for your interest!

  28. Shirley says:

    I wonder if you plan to include dogs in your project? I know people think of their dogs are members of the family but do they leave their children in cages, only allow them to pee/poop at their parents convenience (usually after 10-12 hrs alone), keep them on leashes, feed them food totally inappropriate to their species (Bowser Brew and Puppy frozen Yogurt pops). I think dogs need the right to run free and it’s cruel to keep them confined in most apartments in the city. Not to mention the horrible effect on the environment of all the dog poop and other animals killed to make their food. It’s time to re-think the “pet” category.

  29. Phil says:

    Hi, I’ve been reading and researching about your organisation and fully support what you are doing, and wish you the best of luck!

    However, I was curious to ask about something. It appears that your efforts are focused almost exclusively on the protection of great apes, elephants and cetaceans, due to their great intelligence and complex social and emotional lives.

    And yet, according to recent studies, it appears that corvids, particularly magpies and new Caledonian cross, along with other species, seem to have a cognitive ability comparable to that of the animal species you protect. Magpies can recognize themselves in a mirror, and New Caledonian cross are expert tool makers, even making specialised tools whose only function is to make different tools. It is even believed that some species of crow may have some form of language, and can accurately describe human faces to each other. Evidence suggests some species may also have a theory of mind.

    And yet, despite all this clrvid species are lften treated as pests, hunted, or sometimes kept in parks or as let’s.

    Do you not protect them because there isn’t as much evidence to support their self awareness as in other species, or is it because it would be harder to protect them due to their often urban lifestyle and status as ‘pests’?

  30. Nona says:

    Where or how can I find out how donation money is spent? What percentage goes where? what percentage to paid staff? to advertising? to fundraising? etc. Information/transparency about that would be helpful. Thanks.

  31. Eleanor Burt says:

    I saw the programme ‘Unlocking the Cage’ last night on BBC television in the UK.

    I have been very depressed after the killing of Harambe, the gorilla, recently, followed by the mindless slaughter of the alligators in Florida. The news in the UK has also highlighted that so many more species (such as lions, elephants, and giraffes) are on the endangered list. What you are doing gives some hope for change, though you have a hard and courageous battle to fight.

    It appals me that in the 21st century humans still put themselves before every other creature and that so many humans think it is acceptable to imprison, torture, and slaughter other species so that we can have a better quality of life or extend or lives.

  32. Lisa T says:

    I have been an avid animal lover and
    defender for decades. It rips my heart out when I
    hear about animal abuse no matter where or how. I
    wanted to let you know that – even though my husband
    and I are Republicans- there is a Democratic
    candidate named Tim Canova who has been a
    staunch legal
    animal advocate for a very long time. He is running
    against Debbie Wasserman- Shultz in Florida who resigned today as Chair of the DNC due to her emails
    against Bernie Sanders.

    Tim is one if the most honest and high integrity people
    we know. You may want to reach out to him.

  33. Eve says:

    Hi Steven Wise and Partners,

    Firstly THANK YOU ALL on behalf of all the animals of our planet because it is evidently clear that you have like many of the greats in our world have taken courageous steps to change the dogmatic minds of the human speciests. Thank God you were born. Thank God for your brilliance it is because of your presence in this world animals now have a night in shining armor. I am studying to be a Holistic Animal Practitioner in Holistic Nutrition with a Veterinary background which I lost faith in many years ago. My concern for Animal Rights is on track with your ethics including Circuses which I find just as horrific as laboratory animals. This leads me to ask will your work be setting up another office here in Australia because I am gravely concerned at the animals being abused here in universities, laboratories, circuses (ill never forget the 60 sec trailer by PETA on Circuses it broke my heart) and the disgusting live export trade to indonesia and other countries. This way animals here in Australia can be protected under animal rights too. I believe if you came to Australia just to shut down Circuses here I know you would have a ground breaking impact – only you could do this! Our Government is weak and uncaring. Please is there some way you can help. Thank you. Eve (Vegan)

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  2. […] posted: Research Document 26 and Research Document 27. These documents were inspired by the Nonhuman Rights Project and by the legislation that was under review in San Diego last […]

  3. […] animals and has fostered movements that seek to give them greater moral consideration (see 1, 2). We now recognise that many species have incredibly complex social systems, have excellent […]

  4. […] examining human ethics towards our fellow mammals. The two minds behind The War Room (1993) follow Nonhuman Rights Project founder and animal rights lawyer Steven Wise’s attempts to argue, in a court of law, that […]

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