The latest issue of The New Yorker contains an article on Trouble. No, not the kind of trouble that's here with the current financial crisis, the election, or the environment. This Trouble is a dog, a small Maltese owned by Leona Helmsley until Helmsley died a little over a year ago. She left Trouble twelve million dollars.
Pet trusts are a difficult thing. The first one was established for Washoe, a chimp that had been taught sign language. The trust was established to save him from being sent off for medical experimentation, but to do so, New York State had to appoint a guardian for Washoe to administer the trust, and to accept him as "a person with a disability." The New York court did so, and the decision was accepted in Washington State, where Washoe lived.
Trouble thus had precedence for inheriting. But the two guardians named in Helmsley's will, her brother and grandson, didn't want him. And two grandchildren who had been disinherited threw the whole will into question. Eventually, one of Helmsley's hotel managers took the dog into his home, and the court reduced Trouble's bequest to a "more reasonable" two million dollars. This includes annual security costs of a hundred thousand dollars. Since she inherited, Trouble receives a lot of death threats.
To me, this all falls somewhere between ludicrous and important. The important part is that animal rights are a genuine issue -- but how far should they go? Is Trouble a "person"? Was Washoe? If my dog Cosette is a "person" (with or without a disability -- and is being a dog a disability?) and I am her "legal guardian," then how can I have bought her, or how could I sell her? (Not that I want to.) Buying and selling persons is illegal.
Bruce Sterling's SF often features "post-dog canines," genetically enhanced dogs who are the equivalent, legally and morally, of Sterling's "post-humans." His fiction assumes this state, but doesn't detail how we got to that point. I wish he would. Bruce, you listening?