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Many of us, at one point or another, have owned a goldfish (or two) or know of a family member or friend who shares a home with those lovable cold-blooded creatures. But I'm willing to wager that most of our readers are unaware that goldfish now have "rights" under New York State law.

In a decision released on March 28, 2006, the Appellate Division, First Department, concluded that those who kill or abuse goldfish can be found guilty of a crime; a felony. To reach that end result, the court looked at a state statute known as the Agriculture and Markets Law, which provides, in part, as follows:

A person is guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals when, with no justifiable purpose, he or she intentionally kills or intentionally causes serious physical injury to a companion animal with aggravated cruelty. For purposes of this section, aggravated cruelty shall mean conduct which: (i) is intended to cause extreme physical pain; or (ii) is done or carried out in an especially depraved or sadistic manner.

The term "companion animal," as used in the preceding paragraph, is statutorily defined as follows:
"Companion animal" or "pet" means any dog or cat, and shall also mean any other domesticated animal normally maintained in or near the household of the owner or person who cares for such other domesticated animal. "Pet" or "companion animal" shall not include a "farm animal" as defined in this section.

While the defendant's counsel argued that fish are not "companion animals" because they are not "domesticated and because there is not reciprocity or mutuality of feeling between a fish and its owner," the appellate court quickly flushed these and other arguments down the proverbial toilet.

For a copy of the Court's decision, please click this link: