The room was packed: so many seated, so many cameras, standing room only. When it all started, Steven Wise stood alone before the judges—but he wasn’t really alone, since so many people, myself included, were there to support him. He was in court to ask a small group of women and men to consider Tommy the chimpanzee worthy of legal personhood, worthy of being freed from a small cage, worthy of some semblance of real life.
I’ve been an acupuncturist for 30 years now, but I’m also a lifelong animal activist. For example, I organized protests against Ringling Bros. in Albany from 2010 on and managed to get myself caught by a Ringling employee when I was taking video backstage of the poor elephants—great arrest story, but I digress.
When I learned of the Nonhuman Rights Project’s legal case concerning personhood for Tommy—imprisoned in a tiny cage in Gloversville, NY, 50 miles west of where I live near Albany—I seized the opportunity to attend Tommy’s appellate hearing in 2014. I went because I wanted to bear witness to Steve’s righteous plea on behalf of Tommy and all who will come after in this grand effort. Tommy is one of many nonhuman animals who suffer in such deplorable and, really, unforgivable circumstances.
During the hearing, while Steve made his case, I felt so proud to have witnessed this profound struggle for the rights of our fellow beings. Afterward, we all went downstairs to the big marble lobby and waited—the press and us supporters. I felt even more proud when the NhRP staff came through the doors. We all applauded, shook hands, and congratulated them before they spoke to the press.
In the months since, I’ve fantasized about going to see Tommy. I have grey hair and a friendly demeanor and thought maybe I could get in there for a photo or video. When I think of Tommy alone and hopeless, I feel sickened and sad. His suffering is almost unimaginable. I feel anger and outrage, as so many of us do, that a single selfish human has the power and legal wherewithal to imprison Tommy for the crime of…??? And that Tommy has no right to his own life and choices.
At the same time, when I think of the fact that there will be soon be another hearing in Tommy’s case, I feel that this important effort by the NhRP will be the answer for Tommy and other nonhumans to follow. I have hope that Tommy will soon be free to live a life of joy and discovery and comfort with others of his species in Sanctuary. May fairness, compassion, and kindness infuse the legal decisions brought about by this noble work done by Steven Wise and the NhRP.