Case That Would Have Argued “Persons” Classification For Beagles Dismissed

As animal rights attorney and activist Wayne Hsiung pets his dog Oliver in the hallway of a rented office space in downtown San Francisco, he describes entering a dog meat farm in China to rescue his beloved companion. The journey home involved carrying Oliver out of the farm itself, sneaking him into a no-pets-allowed hotel, and convincing the skittish dog to board a plane. Since his rescue, Oliver has blossomed from a scared, malnourished victim of the meat industry into a friendly office-greeter who bounds over to meet me and investigate the camera equipment for my interview with Hsiung. As he tells me about Oliver’s past, Hsiung hesitates for a moment. “But this might be my second to last day with him.” He will soon be flying across the country to face judgment on a trial that could land him in jail for the next 16 years.

The founder of Direct Action Everywhere and the Simple Heart Initiative has been prosecuted over a dozen times for his activism work rescuing animals from abusive situations. He was released in November of 2023 after being incarcerated for 38 days for rescuing sick and dying chickens from Sunrise Farms in Sonoma County, California. Now, he faces over a decade of lock-up for his role in the rescue of three beagles from Ridglan Farms, a supplier of dogs to animal testing facilities, in 2017. The outcome of his hearing could change not only the course of his life, but the trajectory of animal rights law and how the U.S. legal system handles cases involving non-human animals.

In the court of public opinion, most Americans agree that animal abuse is wrong and that other animals have at least some degree of consciousness. However, merging this widely-accepted perspective with the laws that govern behavior related to other species is more challenging. Currently, non-human animals are considered property, afforded the same legal protections as inanimate objects. Hsiung believes that other species need to be classified as “persons” by the courts, meaning that they would be protected by the Constitution and guaranteed “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

“We are arguing that animals are ‘persons’ for the purposes of a right to rescue those who are on the brink of death. There is a difference between a dog and a test tube, and the law should
reflect that,” Hsiung says, explaining the significance of this specific case. In a U.S. court, it could be the first time that animals could be considered beings rather than objects, “and deserve the protections granted under the Constitution as such.” However, less than two weeks before the hearing that the attorney-turned-activist has spent years preparing for, the case is dismissed in a sudden turn of events that shocks everyone involved (Hsiung and his team had already flown to Wisconsin, prepared to plead their case).

While Hsiung is glad to stay out of prison, he is disappointed by the greater implications of this decision. He believes that Ridglan Farms dropped the case as a way to cover up the animal abuse he was going to expose in his defense, and to avoid future ramifications for their exploitation of another species. Had the beagles been considered ‘persons’ rather than ‘things’ in the trial, as Hsiung had hoped, the large-scale breeding facility (and all major corporations profiting off of non-human animals) would have had bigger problems than the loss of a few blind puppies.


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