The animal rights dogma seems to be gaining ground everywhere you look — even in state legislatures and governors’ mansions. In Colorado, lawmakers are set to debate a bill that would elevate the legal status of cats and dogs, allowing their owners (among other things) to sue veterinarians for “loss of companionship.” San Francisco has already begun to toy with this sort of dangerous precedent.

What few observers have recognized is that such a new law could easily be reinterpreted to suggest new “rights” for all sorts of animals, including lab rats and dairy cows. One need only look at the animal rights organization Farm Sanctuary, which is pushing “sentient beings” city council declarations for cows, pigs, and chickens. The group already argues, as does PETA, that livestock have the “right” to not be eaten.

Elsewhere, New Jersey Governor James McGreevey has just unveiled a new “animal welfare task force” that’s causing a stir in the Garden State. The panel, says today’s New Jersey Star-Ledger, is “dominated by animal-rights activists,” including representatives from the Humane Society of the United States (not your local Humane Society — think PETA with a 9-figure bank account) and a host of other animal agriculture opponents.

But New Jersey’s capitulation to animal rights extremists was already underway before the governor weighed in. Farm Sanctuary has been pushing since 2001 for a vote in the state legislature that would ban veal production in New Jersey (the bill could be passed as early as next month). And just like their ill-advised effort to add pigs to Florida’s constitution, the New Jersey veal measure will undoubtedly be used for leverage in other states.

Farm Sanctuary, you may recall, paid a $50,000 fine in November for illegally funneling $465,000 into Florida during the 2002 election cycle. And one of its program managers is currently facing burglary charges in connection with a theft from a New York farm (a category of crime that is definitely on the upswing). On Friday, Farm Sanctuary’s Gene Bauston told the Ithaca (NY) Journal that over 1,500 animal rights activists have already written prosecutors to demand that the charges be dropped. “It’s all over the industry,” Bauston brags, acknowledging at last that animal rights is no longer just a weekend pastime.