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Excerpted From: Kelsey Goldman, Letting the Cat out of the Bag: How Lack of Access to Animal Companionship and Husbandry Fosters Inequality for Black Americans, 12 UC Irvine Law Review 693 (February, 2022) (211 Footnotes) (Full Document)

KelseyGoldmanBoth historically and currently, Black Americans have been systematically deprived of the benefits of animal companionship and husbandry. When it comes to Black Americans, evidence of human-animal relationships tends to be sparse and is often actively hidden. Human-animal relationships are a defining characteristic of American society and cannot continue to be overlooked when discussing the state of racism in America. While denial of animal companionship and husbandry has been integral to the creation and maintenance of systemic racism, creating access to meaningful and useful animal companionship and husbandry for Black Americans may be a key element to undoing some of the damage.

This Note will set forth the important benefits that animal companionship and husbandry bring to individuals and communities, the ways in which Black Americans have been systematically deprived of the benefits of animal companionship and husbandry, and several suggestions for radical changes that could serve as reparations in order to provide Black Americans with new animal-related opportunities. It is my hope that the information set forth will contribute to larger discussions around the role of animals in upholding structures of violence and inequality, the overlooked significance of animals in society, and the ways that the dominant White culture has imposed its attitudes toward animals on others.

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In order to remedy the harms done to Black Americans from the systemic deprivation of the benefits of animal companionship and husbandry, radical, reparative changes must be made to provide them with new opportunities in these areas. The following policy suggestions are of limited scope in order to specifically address the exclusion of Black Americans from the opportunities of animal companionship and husbandry. This Note merely discusses small steps necessary to fully remedy the injustices suffered by Black Americans and in no way seeks to overtake other forms of reparations that are being pursued.

The most easily accomplished actions would be those that simply remove unnecessary governmentally imposed barriers to animal companionship. This could be accomplished by removing barriers to animal ownership that discriminate by species or breeds, unless there is clear and convincing scientific evidence that there is a legitimate danger posed that is not also posed by other allowed species and breeds. For example, three states currently have no bans on specific species, thirteen states have partial bans on specific species or breeds, and fourteen states merely have licensure or permitting requirements for specific species. These states serve as models that demonstrate that comprehensive bans are unnecessary. Therefore, state and local governments should remove any bans in place unless the necessity for them is well supported by scientific research and there are no less restrictive means available.

The next most realistic action would be to prevent unnecessary, privately imposed barriers to animal companionship, notably to housing. The simplest way to accomplish this would be to amend Fair Housing legislation to bar discrimination against a tenant having any animal or animals that are legal to possess, with the exceptions of prohibiting animals in the household when the sharing of living areas in a single dwelling unit is involved, requiring a person to pay for any damages caused by any animal that they have willfully brought onto a property, and requiring a person to remove any animal from a property if that animal has been a nuisance and the resident has not corrected the nuisance within thirty days of notice. Currently, both Ontario and the United Kingdom have enacted similar bans on “No Pets Housing,” demonstrating that this type of legislation is entirely possible at both the local and national levels.

Beyond the physical and economic barriers, the psychological barriers must also begin to be rectified. The trauma that is caused by the use of animals to terrorize and by traumatic pet loss needs to be stopped immediately. In order to accomplish this, legislation must place a universal ban on the practice of using animals to harm or control human beings. Additionally, there must be harsh criminal consequences for police who harm a citizen's animal, with a high burden of proof on the officer to prove self-defense and that there was no less harmful alternative. Lastly, there needs to be reform to prevent unnecessary removal of pets from loving homes based only on arrest or the owing of fines. With these three changes, psychological damage due to animals could be mitigated, and only then can healing truly begin.

Beyond animal companionship, there needs to be reforms that change the nature and color of animal husbandry and agriculture. These changes will require large government investments and strength to stand against the entire factory-farming industry. One way to enact this sweeping reform would be to first make available free, hands-on animal-husbandry programs to Black communities. Next would be to provide Black Americans the option to use publicly managed plots of land for the purpose of animal husbandry. Most importantly, the government should place a ban on factory farming and provide grants and other incentives to those committed to starting a small farm. With these slow changes in policy made over a long period of time, we could see a shift away from factory farming and instead to Black Americans finally reaping the benefits of animal husbandry. The most obvious difficulty here lies in paying for this massive project; however, the government could consider sourcing the funding from corporations who unfairly benefitted from slavery.

Moreover, one major problem that arises with both animal companionship and animal husbandry is the high cost of veterinary care. While we are still fighting for universal healthcare for humans, it is unlikely we will first see universal veterinary insurance. However, there could be a system put into place for animals that replicates Medicaid. This would include standardizing what must be included in veterinary insurance, as well as making veterinary insurance free for those below a certain income threshold. While even this is a lofty goal, it is necessary to prevent unintentional neglect as well as traumatic pet loss.

These proposals are a mere starting point, but inevitably more barriers will be identified and more solutions will be found. In order to ensure the government takes seriously the importance of animal companionship and husbandry, we must provide additional protections to those fighting to protect the rights to animal companionship and husbandry. Therefore, the most important and perhaps most difficult challenge would be to amend the U.S. Constitution to include access to animal companionship and husbandry as a fundamental right. This would be more than a mere symbolic victory; it would help pave the way for further progress by requiring strict scrutiny for laws that infringe on these rights. The fundamental importance of animal companionship and husbandry has been ignored for too long, and this collective ignorance has allowed inequality to fester unchecked. Only by bringing this issue into the light can America begin to make the changes necessary to leave behind its past and move toward a better future.

J.D. graduate, class of 2021, UC Irvine School of Law.

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