Give Chimpanzees Legal Personhood


Target: New York Supreme Court Judge Sherry Klein Heitler

Goal: Grant legal personhood status to chimpanzees

A New York appeals court will soon consider whether or not chimpanzees are entitled to “legal personhood.” The case will be the first of its kind and involves a chimpanzee named Tommy who is owned by private citizens. This is a significant moment for the rights of all animals and needs our support.

Tommy is being represented by lawyer Steven Wise, who, in what is the culmination of three decades of work, is attempting to extend rights that have only been reserved for humans to other animals. Tommy is a 26-year-old chimpanzee owned by a private citizen and lives alone in a shed in New York. Wise is seeking a ruling that Tommy has been unlawfully imprisoned and should be released to a sanctuary in Florida.

Tommy’s owner, Patrick Lavery, has waived his right to make an argument in the case, but commented last year when the lawsuit was filed that Tommy’s shed was a $150,000 facility and that Tommy was on a waiting list for a primate sanctuary. Tommy still remains at Lavery’s residence, however, and witnesses, including Wise, have described the building as “dark and dank.”

Despite the fact that there are hundreds of captive and privately owned chimpanzees throughout the United States, Wise believes that Tommy makes a compelling case for a personhood because he lives alone and in conditions not suitable for a primate. If Wise and Tommy are victorious, it could create a path to extend the rights of other chimps, non-human primates, and ultimately of many other kinds of animals.

Legal experts and lawyers in opposition continue to perpetuate the notion that if non-human animals acquire a status of legal personhood, courts will be overrun with tricky and vague legal questions. This, however, is precisely what many lawyers were concerned about when they were in opposition to civil rights and gender equality. The fact of the matter is that for progress to be made there will always be a period in which new legal precedents must be understood and adapted to, but the difficulty in doing so should by no means act as a deterrent.

Please sign the petition below and support Steven Wise in the hope that the first non-human animal will receive rights equal to that of humans.


Dear Honorable Judge Heitler,

You will soon be judging the case of Tommy, a 26-year-old chimpanzee kept in a shed by Patrick Lavery in upstate New York. Tommy is being represented by Steven Wise, who believes that Tommy has been wrongfully imprisoned, much the same as human inmates. Wise isn’t asking for much—only that Tommy be removed from conditions unfit for a primate and into a sanctuary where he will have freedom and proper care.

Please grant Tommy a “legal personhood.” Animals have the right to make decisions about where and how they want to live, and no animal should be forced to live in deplorable conditions. This case could be the beginning of the most important moment in animal rights to date. Please consider the lives of animals when judging this groundbreaking case.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: tambako via Flickr

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One Comment

  1. paula eaton says:

    Give all animals legal person hood. They are all sentient beings and need protection

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