Animal-rights group continues fight to free elephants (Connecticut, US)

Feb 20, 2019 | News

Ben Lambert, The Register Citizen

A second lawsuit brought by a group seeking to free three elephants from the Commerford Zoo in Goshen was recently dismissed, according to state records, although the ruling did not delve into underlying merits of the case and the group may appeal the court’s decision. 

In both cases, the Nonhuman Rights Project has sought a writ of habeas corpus to move the elephants, Beulah, Karen, and Minnie, to a wildlife sanctuary. It argues that, considering the elephant’s cognitive abilities and sense of self, the animals should be considered autonomous beings and thus legal persons who cannot be detained under the law. 

In the latest suit, filed in June 2018, the Nonhuman Rights Project argued the first case was improperly dismissed and recent developments represented enough of a shift in legal thought to warrant a new one. 

These developments include a Colombian Supreme Court decision recognizing part of a rainforest as worthy of rights and a concurring opinion by Judge Eugene Fahey in “Nonhuman Rights Project Inc on behalf of Tommy v Lavery et al,” a New York case concerning two chimpanzees. 

Fahey, while concurring with the court’s decision to deny the group leave to appeal that case, said the argument at hand deserved serious consideration, writing that while “it may be arguable that a chimpanzee is not a ‘person,’ there is no doubt that it is not merely a thing.” 

“Does an intelligent nonhuman animal who thinks and plans and appreciates life as human beings do have the right to the protection of the law against arbitrary cruelties and enforced detentions visited on him or her? This is not merely a definitional question, but a deep dilemma of ethics and policy that demands our attention,” said Fahey. 

“To treat a chimpanzee as if he or she had no right to liberty protected by habeas corpus is to regard the chimpanzee as entirely lacking independent worth, as a mere resource for human use, a thing the value of which consists exclusively in its usefulness to others.” 

Judge Dan Shaban, who heard the case after it was transferred from Tolland to Superior Court in Torrington, was not persuaded. 

“There is no real difference between this petition and the one previous to it,” said Shaban in dismissing the case. “(T)he petitioner simply does not want to wait for the appellate process to be completed even though it was the one who brought the appeal.”

On its website, the group disagreed with Shaban’s conclusion and said it would likely appeal. 

“As we carefully took pains to explain in our written submissions and oral argument, the two cases are not alike and, even if they were, the NhRP was permitted to bring a second petition as the first petition was not dismissed on its merits and therefore could be brought again,” Steven Wise, of Nonhuman Rights Project, said in a statement. 
“However, we never stop fighting for our clients when we know we are right in arguing against the injustice of the legal system continuing to treat them as things with no rights despite all we know about who they are and how they suffer when deprived of their liberty.” 

“We hope The Appellate Court of Connecticut will allow the first petition to move forward immediately. Meanwhile, we are weighing our options as to how to proceed on the second petition,” Wise said, also the statement. “We will likely appeal as we believe we are legally correct.” 

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also took up the cause of animal rights Monday. He and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., introduced a bill to outlaw the crushing of animals. 

“Despite taking steps in 2010 to ban the sale of videos depicting animal crushing, Congress failed to make the underlying act of crushing a federal crime. This means that – even when there is overwhelming evidence that animal abuse is taking place – federal law enforcement is unable to protect animals or arrest known abusers,” said Blumenthal’s office in a release. 
“The PACT Act would ensure that individuals found guilty of torturing animals face felony charges, fines, and up to seven years in prison.”

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