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On Service Dogs

In Dog Saves Owner, Dies Trying to Save Cat (Elkhart Lake, Wis., AP) we learn that Jesse, the 13-year old service dog saved her owner, a disabled woman, by bringing the woman her artificial leg and a phone so she could call 911. Jesse then tried to save the woman’s cat, who accidentally started the fire, and both the cat and Jesse died.

For me, the issue of service dogs isn’t a Gray Matter because they are even more enslaved than my greyhounds, who must be walked on leashes and cannot decide for themselves that they don’t want to be "owned" by me. According to

Slavery, bondage, and servitude refer to involuntary subjection to another or others. Slavery emphasizes the idea of complete ownership and control by a master: to be sold into slavery. Bondage indicates a state of subjugation or captivity often involving burdensome and degrading labor: in bondage to a cruel master. Servitude is compulsory service, often such as is required by a legal penalty.

Service dogs, according to those definitions, are closest to the condition of slavery. Wouldn’t you agree? There were many kind slave masters throughout history, and I’m sure that most people who own service dogs are very kind to them. That’s not my issue.

The fundamental question is: Is it right to enslave them for the sole purpose of helping us, just because we can do it, and just because they can help us? I understand that many service dogs were found in shelters, with little hope of being adopted. Their servitude (often it would be that or death) saved their lives. I get that. But if you’re going to say that animals have the right not to be owned, they certainly should have the right not to be made to work for their survival.

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