MSU College of Law

Professor David Favre makes headlines around the world for his scholarship on animal welfare

MSU Law Professor David Favre has recently been quoted in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Economic Times (India) for his scholarship and research on animal welfare laws. We spoke with him about the recent trends in the field and his predictions for this evolving area of law. 

Do these news articles reflect a growing interest in creating legal personhood for animals?

I think the news articles reflect an increasing awareness that animals have meaningful relationships with us, and are therefore newsworthy. The news story about divorce courts in Alaska really caught everybody’s eye. One, it came from Alaska, which is not exactly known for cutting edge legal change. Second, people also thought that it was interesting and pertinent. Therefore they were willing to talk about it and reprint that article.

I’m pretty sure [the recent media attention] also comes through the fact that we maintain, so I’m now considered a source on animal issues. The university and the law school have supported me for about 13 to 14 years, and their support is really starting to pay a dividend. Our site is now a go-to source for the press.

What does this recent media coverage reflect about public attitudes toward animals?

It really is objective evidence of a growing awareness in the general public of animal issues. That then supports and lends credibility to further expansions in the legal system. I think the Alaska law, which recognizes pets as individual beings with their own interests – most people accept that. I don’t think that’s a shock. I think a lot of people look at it and say, “Well, what WERE they doing? Why is this cutting edge? Why wasn’t this being done before?” And the fact is that the law is behind society in a number of these issues – particularly companion animal issues.

In your research, where do you see the most movement toward expanded rights for animals?

In the United States. We are the ones most talking about animal rights. Now, animal welfare has long been a priority in Europe. They have advanced a number of their laws ahead of us. But it wasn’t in the context of trying to establish their personhood within the legal system. It was “how do we better take care of animals?” Which is a perfectly fine goal, but it’s a little bit different.

Where would you like to see animal rights move towards in the next 10 years?

I think we’ll see more of the idea of the Alaska divorce law being adopted across the country. What I would like to see is an adoption of laws that allows for the civil enforcement of the anti-cruelty laws. Currently only North Carolina has that now. But that would allow individuals not to depend upon the government to enforce these preexisting standards against people who are violating the law.

The other thing I see happening is a transformation of agricultural animal conditions. Now clearly we are in the midst of a consumer-driven demand that animal welfare and agriculture be given much more serious consideration. I see that continuing to enhance over the next ten years, and hopefully the law will catch up, because all of this is happening outside the law. It’s all through economic and social pressure; it’s not because the laws have changed.

How has your work fed into those goals?

I can’t take credit for social change in the broadest sense of the word because a lot of people and organizations are helping make this happen, and so many books have been written and things like that. I think my role has been to provide a legal context in which we can put this change and make sense of it. That’s what I’m trying to do, and that’s what my living property theory does.  It gives us a place to put this where animals are still within the realm of property but also hold legal rights.