Home / National News / New York Court Hears Case of 'Personhood' for Tommy the Chimp


(ALBANY, N.Y.) — In what could be a landmark case in the way chimpanzees are treated under the law, a New York court is deliberating whether chimps are entitled to “legal personhood” under the law.

A panel of judges in Albany heard opening arguments Wednesday in the case of Tommy, a 26-year-old chimpanzee who is owned by a man and lives in upstate New York.

In the groundbreaking case, the Florida-based Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) is asking a court to free Tommy from what they describe as a “small, dank, cement cage in a cavernous dark shed” in Gloversville, New York.

The group hopes to have Tommy become the first animal in this country declared a person, protected by the same rights as humans.

At issue is Tommy’s living condition, which NhRP describes as a small cage in a small room. Though Tommy used to live with five other chimps, NhRp says he now lives alone.

The group’s founder, Steven Wise, described Tommy Wednesday as a “being” who ought to be freed.

“Someone who is an autonomous and self-determining being out to be a legal person who has a right to get out of being held for his entire life inside solitary confinement in a cage,” Wise told reporters outside the courtroom.

Tommy’s owner, Pat Lavery, claims he rescued the chimp from an abusive home more than 10 years ago and says Tommy has access to a color TV and receives “enrichment daily.”

“He’s got a professionally-built primate area,” Lavery told local ABC News affiliate WTEN-TV. “He’s not in a trailer.”

“He’s a wild, dangerous animal and how can you treat a wild, dangerous animal like a human?” Lavery said.

A ruling in the case is expected in four to six weeks, according to WTEN.

Wise said he will ask the judge to transfer Tommy to the North American Private Sanctuary Alliance in Wauchula, Florida. Founded in 1993, the 120-acre facility houses 45 great apes, many of them former research animals, according to its website.

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