Animalization and Dehumanization Concerns: Another Psychological Barrier to Animal Law Reform
Legal systems across the world classify animals as property. There is growing global momentum asking courts in anthropocentric legal systems to revisit this position through test-case litigation. This has resulted in a few discrete victories for animals, but not much more. An ongoing issue is general legal conservatism and the belief in human exceptionalism that judges exhibit in these and related cases. In addition to general human exceptionalism, this article argues that a further psychological block for judges can arise from concerns about exacerbating racism and other intra-human prejudices given histories and legacies of animalizing and dehumanizing certain human groups. The first aim of this study is to illustrate this psychological phenomenon impacting judicial decision-making in relation to race. The article discusses the 2022 decision by the New York Court of Appeals with respect to the ongoing captivity of Happy, an elephant at the Bronx Zoo. This decision is selected given its recent and landmark status in North America. The second aim of the study is to outline why the dissociation of humans from animals is counterproductive to eliminating racism and other intra-human prejudices and inequities. The third aim of the study is to explain why affirming human proximity and kinship to animals—and thus putting a positive spin on animalization—in the legal system would be a more effective anti-racist and decolonizing gesture.