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Senator George Vest


Pioneer Hero of Animal Rights  

By Charles Regal, MSW, M.Div 

The awareness that animals have a value far beyond property is slowly rising in the United States with some judges taking into account the animal's best interest in deciding custody cases. But most courts 

still regard pets as property worth no more than their market value, like a couch or television. A pioneer in the effort to change this attitude was a Missouri lawyer in the 1800's named George Vest.

Vest was a state senator in the 1870’s, but he's mostly remembered for his final remarks as a lawyer in a courtroom where he sued a wealthy landowner in Warrensburg, Missouri on behalf of his client for $500 (a fortune in those day) for shooting an old dog that ventured on his property. The dog, a ten year old foxhound named Old Drum, belonged to a farmer who adored him. 

Most everybody in town said Vest was crazy for taking the case. The town's veterinarian testified at trial that the dog was "just a useless old mongrel not even worth fifty cents." The defense attorney asked for a dismissal saying the trial was a farce. That's when Vest stood up to address the court in words that shortly went viral around the world:

"Your Honor, the issue here is one that cannot be dismissed.

What is a dog? How much is a dog worth?

The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him

and become his worst enemy.

His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care

may prove ungrateful. 

Those who are nearest and dearest to us,

those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name,

may become traitors to their faith. 

A man's dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty,

in health and in sickness. 

The money that man has, he may lose. It flies away from him,

perhaps when he needs it the most. 

A man's reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action.

The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor

when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice

when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.

The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world,

the one that never deserts him

and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous... is his dog.

He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow

drives fiercely, if only he be at his master's side.

He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer,

he will lick the wounds and sores

that come in encounters with the roughness of the world.

He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.

When all other friends desert he remains.

When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces,

he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey around the world,

friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks

no higher privilege than that of accompanying him

to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies,

and when the last scene of all comes,

and death takes the master in its embrace and his body

is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way,

there by his graveside will the noble dog be found,

his head between his paws,

his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness,

faithful and true even to death."

A teary eyed judge denied the motion for dismissal, and the jury took less than a minute to reach a verdict: In favor of the plaintive for $500. The courtroom 

erupted with applause and everyone, except the defendant, lined up to shake Vest's hand. The Missouri State Court refused to hear the defendant's appeal. 

Reported in practically every newspaper around the world, Vest's speech became immortalized as "Tribute to the Dog." Today there's a memorial to that speech at the Warrensburg, Missouri Court House where the trial was held. 

  (Below is a photo of the memorial at the Court House. Photographer unknown)

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