A US court has passed two landmark rulings in which animals were given the same basic rights as humans.
Lawmakers in the state of Oregon hope the moves will make it easier for police officers to help animals in danger, and could see people who abuse or neglect animals face harsher punishments.
It could also make it harder for defendants to expunge convictions from their criminal records years later, The Oregonian reported.
“These are hugely helpful to the prosecution of animal-cruelty cases,” Jacob Kamins, a prosecutor assigned to pursuing animal cases across Oregon, told the newspaper.
In both cases, defendants had argued that state laws define animals as the property of their owners.
In one case dating back to 2009, the supreme court ruled that a man from Umatilla County who starved 20 horses and goats on his property should be sentenced in a way which regarded each animal as a “victim”.
Prior to the ruling, defendant Arnold Nix argued that the law defines animals as the “non-human” property of their owners, so the word “victim” would not apply.
In the second case, the state’s high court ruled a sheriff’s deputy was legally justified in stepping on to private land and taking an extremely malnourished horse to a vet because acquiring a warrant could have taken a number of hours, by which point the horse may have died.
While the high court agreed that animals are still defined by law as “property”, it ruled that police needed to act quickly to prevent harm to people or to property.
“To acknowledge that animals are victims of crime, that’s really common sense to us,” Lora Dunn, staff attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund in Portland, told the newspaper.
She added that while the charity recommends that police obtain a warrant to avoid “constitutional issues down the line”, the ruling was important in saving the lives of animals.