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Prisoner demands visitation rights for his dog

NEWS AND COMMENT-MADRID, SPAIN: FC, the initials given to a prisoner in Zaragoza in order to keep him anonymous, requested visitation rights for his dog Viny. His request was refused and he is arguing that visits from his sheepdog are vital because his dog “needs to see him” as he is a “paternal figure” to the animal. He has made an application to a judge to appeal the prison’s refusal.

FC and Viny

FC and Viny. Photo: FC via The Times newspaper.

The application to court is based upon the UN’s Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare (UDAW). Wikipedia says that UDAW is a proposed inter-governmental agreement. According to the authors it is not yet enacted or enforceable in any sense. But it is meant to recognise that animals are sentient in order to help prevent cruelty and reduce suffering. And its aim is to promote animal welfare standards across the board. It is to be adopted by countries who are members of the United Nations.

The declaration calls for “recognition that animals are living, sentient beings and therefore deserve due consideration and respect”. One of its principles is that all member states should “prevent cruelty to animals and to reduce their suffering”.

FC has a fair argument. Viny is suffering because he has been separated from his human companion. He is probably suffering from separation anxiety but it depends upon his circumstances. If somebody else has stepped in and is looking after him well, I would have thought FC’s application would fail.

On a common-sense basis, dogs are almost invariably described as “family members”. This means what it states. They are treated and regarded exactly like a human family member. The connection between human and dog is as strong as it is between humans in the family.

On these basic premises it would seem to me that FC’s application to court should be successful. Ironically, therapy dogs are frequently allowed into prison because they have a calming effect on prisoners. Therapy dogs help prisoners to improve their coping skills and strategies.

The prison states that if they allow Viny to visit FC, they would open the floodgates to other pets coming into see prisoners which would be unmanageable. They feel that they don’t have the required facilities to deal with pet visits.

I hope that FC has also included in his court application the emotional benefits that he would receive when visited by Viny. He could argue that he requires a therapy dog and that Viny is perfectly placed to provide that service. FC is serving a 10-year sentence for attempted murder after stabbing his ex-girlfriend. He is three years into that sentence.

The application by this prisoner, I think, reflects a growing and gradual trend towards establishing much better rights to animals. It depends where you live and what rights are going to be granted but, for example, in some countries a legal advocate can represent an animal in court. Although people are not quite ready to grant rights which are akin to those of humans.

The best-known case of an animal attempting to be awarded human rights concerns a monkey who took a selfie using a camera owned by the British nature photographer David Slater. The photograph was enormously popular and therefore valuable in terms of income and PETA bought a test case arguing that the macaque should be assigned the copyright in the photograph. The application failed when the United States Copyright Office said that works created by non-humans are not copyrightable.

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