Chairman Bao is a Shih Tzu. We travel a lot. I drive. He watches. We've logged at least 10,000 miles and he's never once said, Sweetheart, don't you think you should stop and ask someone?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Are you legally considered to be a person? Of course. Am I? Indubitably. What about Bao? Hmmm.

I've been pondering this all day, ever since I read about Hiasl, a Viennese chimpanzee who chomps pastries (but doesn't like coffee) dabbles in oil painting and watches TV. For the past 25 years, Hiasl has lived in an animal sanctuary. But the sanctuary has gone bankrupt, and it costs about $3000 per year to keep Hiasl in pastries and paints. There are lots of people who want to donate money to keep Hiasl in the manner to which he has become accustomed, but according to Austrian law, only people can receive personal donations. So a Viennese charity called the Association Against Animal Factories has begun a campaign to legally declare Hiasl a legal "person".

Now, hold on. This is not as bizarre as it looks. If a corporation can be a legal person, why not a chimpanzee? Or for that matter, a Shih Tzu? My dictionary defines a person as "a human being" but it's a very old dictionary. Besides, there's clearly a difference between a person and a legal person, or corporations wouldn't exist.

Hiasl's lawyer Eberhart Theuer says, "Our main argument is that Hiasl is a person and has basic legal rights. We mean the right to life, the right not to be tortured, the right to freedom under certain conditions. We're not talking about the right to vote, here."

But why not? Why shouldn't Hiasl vote? Why shouldn't Bao vote? He's smarter than half the human beings I know. (And I'm being nice) But seriously. If chimpanzees and dogs could vote, who do you think would have won the last election? Lassie, probably. And would that really be so bad? Think about it.

They're saying that the case could set a legal precedent, at least for chimpanzees. Who knows? Meanwhile, the thought of law schools scrambling to introduce courses in Animal Rights Litigation brings a smile to my face.

By the way, Hiasl is pronounced, HEE-zul.


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