It is illegal to just put people in a cage for no reason and keep them against their will.
That’s common knowledge, but in a lawsuit filed Monday against a Mayfield couple, lawyers with the Nonhuman Rights Project contend it is also unlawful to imprison a chimpanzee.
According to paperwork filed in state Supreme Court in Fulton County, Pat and Diane Lavery, owners of Circle L Trailers and a small reindeer farm on Route 30, keep a 26-year-old chimpanzee named Tommy caged up on their property.
The group demands Tommy be released into a primate sanctuary on habeas corpus grounds. When applied to humans, habeas corpus requires police to have a good reason to lock someone up.
According to the Nonhuman Rights Project’s website, the legal maneuver was used in 1772 in England by a group of abolitionist lawyers to free an escaped American slave who had been captured there. More than 240 years later, the animal rights lawyers are using that case as a model in their attempt to free a chimpanzee, contending Tommy should be treated as a person under the law.
Tommy’s case is one of four across the state. Instead of filing single lawsuits over several years, the group decided to file lawsuits on behalf of all the chimpanzees they could find in the state, according to its website.
Pat and Diane Lavery were not at their 3032 Route 30 property on Tuesday afternoon. Family members working in the reindeer pasture back from the road refused to comment on any alleged caging of the chimp.
An affidavit filed by Steven Wise, president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, claims he was invited to visit Tommy in October, along with a videographer.
“The respondents are detaining Tommy in solitary confinement in a small dark cement cage in a cavernous dark shed,” he said.
A blog post on the organization’s website said a visitor three years ago called them about four chimpanzees living in cages on the premises. Since then, the post said, all but Tommy have died of captivity-related ills.
“Most captive chimpanzees die young,” the post said.
The bulk of the lawsuit is spent detailing various intellectual achievements of chimpanzees. It contends the animals can use sign language to express intelligent thoughts.
“Like humans, chimpanzees have a concept of their personal past and future,” the suit said. “Like humans, they experience the pain of anticipating never-ending confinement.”
Tommy, the lawsuit argues, should be considered a person by the state and allowed to petition for his liberty.
The suit demands Tommy be taken from the Lavery property and sent to a primate sanctuary selected by the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, where he can live out his days around other chimpanzees.