Friday, December 27, 2013 1:55 PM PT
Best Friend, Yes - but not Property

     WASHINGTON (CN) - An animal rights advocate and public speaker who believes pets are not property sued the District of Columbia, claiming its law that "No person shall knowingly and falsely deny ownership of any animal," could cost him his beloved beagle Liam if he talks about him.
     Iver Robert Johnson III aka Jay Johnson sued the District of Columbia in Federal Court, challenging the constitutionality of D.C. Code § 8-1808(b).
     Only with a court order, Johnson claims, can he safely declare that his rescue beagle Liam is not his property.
     A central message of his public speaking involves denying that his dog Liam belongs to him, Johnson says in the 6-page lawsuit.
     Liam spent the first four years of his life as a test animal for Abbott Laboratories.
     "Johnson has developed a deep bond with Liam, and empathetically imagines those first four lonely and painful years that Liam spent in a laboratory, treated as nothing but a piece of property - a thing," the beagle's nonowner says in the complaint.
     Johnson had the number that had been tattooed on Liam's ear during his lab days tattooed on his own foot.
     "Johnson has given speeches at animal rights events in places such as Portland, Chicago, and New York, where he has explained his belief that nonhuman animals are not property," the complaint states. "He has also written about his belief online. He frequently refers to Liam in these speeches and writings."
     The complaint adds: "Unlike Baltimore, in the District of Columbia, Johnson cannot deny ownership of Liam without violating the law."
     Under D.C. law, unless a resident is an employee of a veterinary hospital, pet shop or an animal welfare agency, denying ownership of any animal is illegal, punishable by a fine of up to $100.
     "Each time Johnson would deny ownership of Liam in the District of Columbia, he would be subjected to arrest; a fine of up to $100; mandatory collateral posting of $5,000; and either the forfeiting of the $5,000 collateral, or a trial. These penalties have worked to prevent Johnson from scheduling and giving a speech about Liam in the District of Columbia and from privately speaking, denying ownership of Liam," the complaint states.
     He seeks declaratory judgment that the law violates the First Amendment, and the city enjoined city from enforcing it.
     He is represented by Jeffery Light.
     Visit Courthouse News for complaint.