When pigs fly: What rights do animals have?


WASHINGTON, December 7, 2014 − Last week, a woman wanted her pet, a pig, to accompany her on a flight from Connecticut’s Bradley International Airport. She did not claim that her pig was a person, but that it was an “emotional support animal.”

U.S. Department of Transportation rules provide for allowing support animals on commercial flights. Unlike “service” animals (only dogs, actually), “support” animals are not included in the ADA. Thus, laws created by individual cities, states and businesses govern.

U.S. Airways (now formally merging with American Airlines) provides that “to travel with an emotional support or psychiatric service animal in the cabin, the traveler must provide documentation on letterhead dated within 1 year of the flight from a licensed mental health professional or a medical doctor specifically treating the traveler’s mental or emotional disability.” If the animal is not disruptive and does not pose a danger to other passengers, airlines usually allow them on board.

It was unclear if this woman had the paperwork, but the flight crew nonetheless kicked the pig off of the plane after it defecated and continued to squeal.

In all of history, nothing can surpass a pet as a consistent and reliable source of unconditional love. In the homes of the rich or the poor, in every place on earth, pets are “family” and many of their owners will describe how smart, and how “human” they really are.

Moreover, some will offer that certain animals are smarter than humans. Dr. Arthur Saniotis, a Fellow at Australia’s University of Adelaide’s School of Medical Sciences, tells us that humans have been deceiving themselves for thousands of years. He says that humans are not smarter than the rest of the animal kingdom.

“Science tells us that animals can have cognitive faculties that are superior to human beings.”

“The belief of human cognitive superiority became entrenched in human philosophy and sciences. Even Aristotle, probably the most influential of all thinkers, argued that humans were superior to other animals due to our exclusive ability to reason,” Dr. Saniotis says.

Another Professor at Adelaide, Mariej Henneberg, says animals possess different abilities that we often do not understand.

“Animals offer different kinds of intelligences which have been under-rated due to humans’ fixation on language and technology. These include social and kinaesthetic intelligence. Some mammals, like gibbons, can produce a large number of varied sounds – over 20 different sounds with clearly different meanings that allow these primates to communicate across tropical forest canopy. The fact that they do not build houses is irrelevant to the gibbons.”

“Many quadrupeds leave complex olfactory marks in their environment, and some, like koalas, have special pectoral glands for scent marking. Humans, with their limited sense of smell, can’t even gauge the complexity of messages contained in olfactory markings, which may be as rich in information as the visual world,” he says.

Professor Henneberg says domestic pets also give us close insight into mental abilities of mammals and birds. “They can even communicate to us their demands and make us do things they want. The animal world is much more complex than we give it credit for,” he says.

The case for declaring animals human can be compelling. Consider the stories of animals saving lives, particularly those of children. Consider also television programs or side-features on those programs devoted to smart pets.

Even documentaries about different members of the ape family are persuasive, revealing phenomenal abilities of the gorilla, chimpanzee or orangutan to understand, talk and emote. Koko, a female western lowland gorilla, was taught sign language in 1972 and reportedly knew more than 2000 spoken English words. Koko gained even more publicity when she “adopted” a kitten.

Reality check: the movies Planet of the Apes; Beneath the Planet of the Apes; Escape from…; Conquest of…; Battle for…; Return to…; Rise of …; and Dawn of…; all were FICTIONAL portrayals, despite yearnings to believe the contrary because Cesar was so endearing.

Note also that the famous talking TV horse Mr. Ed (1958 – 1966), could not really talk. On the other hand, Flipper, the beloved 1960s TV dolphin, amazed audiences every week on his eponymous show with very real evidence of understanding human commands. Examples of animal intelligence could fill volumes.

So what does the law say?

In 2010, after listening to marine animal researchers present findings, one advocate, Thomas White−a professor of ethics at Loyola Marymount University−declared that dolphins should be considered “non-human persons” who qualify for “moral standing as individuals.”

Some animal rights activists and many others have urged “human” status for animals, often following mistreatment. They argue that animals have fundamental rights as legal “persons.”

Alas, the law says, and has always said, that animals are property. Evidence the very latest court ruling:

Last week, a New York appellate court unanimously ruled that chimpanzees were not legal persons.

Tommy, a 26-year-old-chimp, owned by an upstate New York couple, was the subject of litigation seeking to “free” him from the couples’ “captivity.”

Advocates argued that Tommy was protected by habeas corpus laws, laws often invoked by prisoners or detainees to contest their imprisonment.

The court said that one of the things that define a legal “person” is the ability to take on legal duties, and another, the ability to be held responsible for its actions. The court ruled that since chimps could do neither, it was inappropriate to give them legal personhood.

Moving from the law to common practice, despite many sometimes very persuasive arguments that animals should be treated like people (ask someone who lives alone if their dog is a person), it seems most among us recognize that animals are not people.

In the case of airline travel, travelers with a defined disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are allowed to bring on board airplanes “service” animals to assist them. Many people confuse “service” animals with “emotional support” animals.

Which begs to ask, should any pig fly?


Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website

His new book “Who Will Pay My Auto Accident Bills?, The Most Comprehensive Nationwide Auto Accident Resolution Book, Ever” can be reviewed on http://www.completeaccidentbook.com and can be ordered there, or obtained directly on Amazon: Click here to order


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  • laurelladesborough

    Fine. Let the pig fly in the air cargo compartment! That works just great for animals who travel by air. Why should other passengers be subjected to a PIG in the cabin? Not a good idea.

  • fearnot

    I have sat next to plenty of pigs on planes.. this one would have been a relief.meanwhile if apes are given “personhood” status can they be held liable for crimes? Will they be sentenced in courts..? How about sexual relations? Will “bestially” now be come common place and legal? If both parties do not consent will it be rape?

  • Mikaela Cohen

    I would hope the attorney authoring this article would realize that the ACAA, not the ADA, applies to air travel….