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On Taxes, Veganism and “Pets”

Because I'm a highly-social, party-loving gal who loves to get gussied up and enjoy an all-nighter on New Year's Eve, I . . . did my taxes yesterday. And by "did my taxes," I mean I went through all of my income and expenses and created a spreadsheet for my accountant (I don't know enough to do my own taxes!).

This necessary task is often illuminating as there are some expenses I'm reluctant to tally in my head as the year progresses. One of those is vet bills, which of course aren't deductible, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't know the total.

I've written about my ambivalence regarding "pet" ownership/guardianship/insert-whatever-term-you're-comfortable-with, and also about my strong belief in helping individuals, but I don't recall addressing whether the having of pets is not vegan. Someone wrote me and, though the person clearly was trolling to insult someone, s/he accused me of not being a vegan because of greyhounds Violet Rays and Charles Hobson Booger, III (no mention of Emily, which made me feel terribly neglectful).

I'm doing my best in an imperfect world to respect the rights of other sentients, and I have heard vegans say that sanctuaries–and not pet ownership–will be the only way out of subjugation for cats and dogs. But I frankly never thought of not helping individual cats and dogs (through adoption) as an option for me. I remember the first time I read an article by a prominent vegan–maybe it was David Cantor?–who chooses not to take in animals because he respects them, and I agreed theoretically. But then I wasn't able to put that theory into practice once weighed against, say, the millions of dogs and cats who are going to be killed for the brutal crime of homelessness.

I think that most animal rights advocates believe that we shouldn't own pets, but that we're not at the point where that would do more harm than good right now. Do you agree with that?

The real question for today, though, is whether you think it's not vegan to keep nonhuman animals.

16 Comments Post a comment
  1. There are times when I could swear we're in each other's heads. I spent my New Year's Eve doing a tax spreadsheet too (though for myself rather than an accountant).

    The "you're not a vegan because you live with animals!" attack is one I got a couple times at The Previous Blog — from self-proclaimed vegans, who insisted that the dogs I rescued are my "slaves." These sorts of accusations are ones for which I have little tolerance and to which I often want to respond with a simple "Fuck off." When someone can offer a serious explanation of how these dogs would have been better off languishing in dirty, overcrowded, boring, maddening shelters or being killed and thrown on a pile of other dead dogs than being loved and cared for and allowed happiness and life in my home — when these people have a better, workable solution that they're enacting, and they themselves are doing something demonstrably better for the millions of dogs and cats being killed — then I'll engage. Until someone can explain to me how leaving Mabel to die on the streets or leaving Chance to fade away slowly in a shelter is better than the life they have now, which seems quite happy from outward signs, I'm sticking with "fuck off."

    If people who adopt and rescue dogs and cats were doing *just* that, that would be one thing. But we aren't. You & I & countless others rescue animals while simultaneously working to get people to stop breeding them, stop using them, stop seeing them as tools and accessories. And people who think they're somehow "more vegan" because they turn their backs on and close off their homes to those millions of languishing, dying animals are delusional.

    This is a topic that gets me worked up. Can you tell? 😉

    January 1, 2010
  2. Mary,
    Happy New year and to you Stephanie as well. Actually vegans who refuse to open their homes to animals dying on the streets and languishing in filthy shelters are really missing an important part of veganism. For myself being vegan doesn't simply mean abstaining from all uses of animals, but actively rescuing as many animals as I can. As far as dogs and other family members beings my slaves; I actually am their slave. Right now I am exhausted and am taking a break from shredding newspapers for my rabbits who refuse to use even the most expensive rabbit litter. Before I eat breakfast, I feed 4 cats, 4 rabbits, and 3 dogs. That is after they all have fresh litter boxes, water, food, their little mugs and ears washed and play time. When I finally settle down to eat breakfast, I have to make an extra piece of toast for the rabbits, because as soon as they smell it they come dancing and spinning into the kitchen and sit up like ferrets begging. I wake up hours before I have to go to the office so that our 11 animals (who were all rescued from lives of neglect and abuse) are beautifully cared for and asleep when I leave from so much love, exercise and attention. I really have no social life or much of a life of my own since my critters come first. For anyone to say having animals is enslaving or imprisoning them needs to become active in rescue to see first hand how millions of animals are living and dying without our intervention.

    January 1, 2010
  3. John C #

    My opinion is that we have to do what is best for the companion animals that are stuck in the mess that humanity has created. I feel that the institution of "pet ownership" is not vegan and we should work to end it. This should be done by spaying and neutering companion animals, educating people about animal rights, educating people about adoption versus buying non-humans that are bred and by caring for the existing companion animals and feeding them vegan food.

    Like Stephanie mentioned above, I don't see a better (practical) solution. Setting up sanctuaries like farm sanctuary for companion animals could be a better solution, but is not very practical considering the number of existing companion animals.

    It may feel great to take the moral high ground and argue that pet ownership is not vegan. I have to believe that the abandoned animals would prefer that we all look at this situation realistically, though.

    You're making the best of a bad situation for your dogs, not enslaving them.

    January 1, 2010
  4. Alice Kottmyer #

    We put dogs and cats and other "domesticated" animals in this mess. We bred them so that they would be helpless on their own; cats to some extent, dogs definitely. We have the responsibility to care for them.

    That's why killing them because because they're homeless is so barbaric. We made them dependent, but nobody wants them, so we kill them. In what kind of warped, cruel universe is THAT okay?

    Gary Francione believes that we should work towards having domesticated dogs and cats just die out as species. I've been ambivalent about that, but I think now that I agree with him.

    January 1, 2010
  5. The foundation of my veganism is "harm none." So I can't see how *not* adopting my dog, who was an abused puppy destined for either the fighting ring or endless breeding, would have harmed her less than bringing her to live with us. (It doesn't hurt that she's ridiculously spoiled–nothing but the best vegan food and treats, a fenced backyard to run in, and her own room and futon.) For us, it's important to show people that cruel, irresponsible attitudes toward animals in general have very real consequences for individuals. When they meet Lucy and learn her story, I'd like to think that some of them begin to understand that 1) pit bulls are not monsters, and 2) that my veganism is more than just refusing to eat animal products. It's an extension of that compassion to all beings.

    January 2, 2010
  6. John Carbonaro #

    We don't 'own' the animals that we take into our households anymore than those who take in animals and use them for all manner of humancentric exploitation. The animals that we take in should be refugees from the animal exploiting complex. The animals don't need our love to 'complete' themselves and it is self-serving for people to obtain their needs, desires, enrichments, and goals from such a 'relationship', no matter how much people convince themselves the animals 'need' them.
    Does one need to love the Jews in order to fight the holocaust? Do you need to love slaves in order to bring them in and 'save' them from the harsh realities of their plight? Do you need to love your clients in order to help them/counsel them? No… you just need the courage and the desire to make things right…to see them as separate and as close to their own natures as possible. When this is not attainable for all the fabricated/stolen (exotic) animals (because of the animal industry that humankind's demand has made), we take them in.

    We do not become dependent on them. Our attachments will occur( the only acceptable type of animal welfare) but pursuing the relationship to the level of 'family members' is largely selfish. It is all too familiar a story like the one written by the wretched and pathological Robert Munsch. He authored that twisted book called "love you forever", in which the mother's need for significance and attention from her son overshadows his whole life. Her smothering dependency on him throughout his life (she is depicted at one point sneaking around on all fours) so that she can be cradled by him (her infantile needs since the very beginning)into her old age speaks volumes of what the love relationship (aka 'companion' animals)burdens them with. People keep the industry going because we create this place in our human world that rationalizes the so called interrelationship with animals. We are not protecting them from anything. Would you keep your children home all of their lives because of the harshness of life 'out there'? We have to let go. We have to let go of the notion/mindset of 'pet' animals, and every other kind of animal dependency, so that one day the industry will dry up and we will be caring for the last (of the last) refugees. Vegans can love nature in general & care for the refugees they take in, but they do so out of justice,altruism, and personal responsibility.

    January 2, 2010
  7. John,
    I would love for my dogs and cats to be totally independent of us and not be so needy that I can barely relax without one of them wanting to be petted or stroked. You must not have any rescued animals, because if you did you would understand just how needy they are. I have grown sons who were encouraged from a young age to be independent, strong mentally and confident. I did not fear for them when they became adults and went out into this harsh world as they were not helpless and vulnerable as an abused animal. Your comparison is ludicrous. Because most of our rescued animals were abused, they were fearful and mistrusting and spent a while cowering in fear until they became secure. I truly wish I could provide them with the food they need, exercise and care and skip the relationship part, but they crave love and reassurance and they get all they need. Rabbits on the other hand (with the exception of one of ours) prefer we leave them alone and simply serve them and get out of their way.
    I am not dependent on any of my animals, but I love them dearly. I actually long for the day when I am free to come and go as I please, but until that time I will continue to serve my rescues and give them the life they deserve. They all have each other for companionship – none are sitting home alone waiting for us to come home and sit in front of the nut box with a brewski. I spend my lunch hour at the dog park every day so they get the socialization and exercise they need.
    I dream of the day when exotic animals are kept in the wild where they belong, puppy mills and breeders end and all responsible people spay and neuter. Until that day I will continue to help clean up the mess our species has created.

    January 2, 2010
  8. Brenda #

    Humans created the problem of homeless animals and overpopulation in the first place! It's OUR responsibility to take care of these animals. We domesticated them and genetically engineered them-so to speak-to be dependent on us. Honestly, I am frustrated with some people who stand on their vegan pedestal and accuse others of not being purist vegans while innocent animals are being killed in shelters every second! I've been a vegan for many years and I also volunteer in high kill shelters. Dogs and cats are not wild animals anymore. They don't belong in shelters or sanctuaries. Every person who cares about animals should adopt a shelter animal, fight for spay/neuter and no-kill legislation, educate the public, and help shut down puppy mills. This is the only way to make a dent in this crisis.

    Breeders and puppy mills are VERY POWERFUL! In California, we had a successful bill, AB241, vetoed by Governor Schwarzeneggar even though it passed all the way through the California assembly (it was a bipartisan success). The breeders and puppy mills poured so much money and fear into the Governator that the bill was killed. It would have shut down most puppy mills in our state.

    I challenge every vegan to volunteer in a high kill shelter. To me, that's what being vegan and an animal liberationist is all about!

    Mary, you are doing the right thing adopting. If every vegan did this, we probably wouldn't have millions of innocent shelter animals die a lonely death every year. I don't know many vegans who would adopt a diabetic, retired racing greyhound. That was very unselfish of you!

    January 2, 2010
  9. jeannie #

    I've heard this argument before – that you are not vegan if you take in a "pet." (Though, let me say upfront, I don't think whether or not one is vegan should be the point in this matter. It's simply whether or not adopting an animal, in and of the issue itself, is an action that ultimately works toward the eradication of speciesism and the use of animals. I really couldn't care less about someone else's definition of "vegan," and whether I fit into it.)

    Though I have two adopted animals in my care (one cat and one pit bull mix), I'm leaving myself open to both sides of the fence of this issue for now. Five years ago I didn't make the connections or have the answers that I have today. I have no clue where I'll be at in another five years. And this is a tricky issue.

    Some commenters here are saying that we put cats and dogs in this mess, therefore it is our responsibility to clean up the mess. It could also be said that this is the same intention of those ecologists, biologists, etc. who actively mess with species populations in order to create the balance they believe will set the things right that we have previously set wrong in ecological niches around the world (and look where that has led to – an even bigger mess and more intrusion in almost all cases). We put the *whole planet* in this mess. And we created the mess because we keep sticking our big fat noses into nature's business (whether the intentions are good or bad). Fixing up what we have undone is not always a legitimate reason. Sometimes the best bet is to *finally* leave things be, accept our losses, and let nature take its course.

    And I could see how adopting an animal could be seen as a form of welfarism. In this case, by giving animals a better home we are attempting to "lesson the suffering of animals" (the main goal of welfarism) who would otherwise "languish," instead of putting all our efforts into demanding the end of breeding/using animals…period (just as we demand the end of the use of all other animals…period, without spending time lessoning the suffering of animals in other areas of exploitation, such as with victims of factory farming, zoos, furriers, vivisection, etc.). In hearing some of the reasons for adopting animals, I do sense some parallels with the agenda of welfarism, which is a little unsettling.

    I think it's a matter of re-examining one's true reasons for adopting animals in an effort to be fully honest with oneself. Is adopting an animal truly a selfless act? Or is there a veneer of nurture that provides a subconscious excuse to have wonderful cuddly beings in our lives, and at the same time make us feel as though we are better/superior advocates in the process (I've witnessed a lot of self-righteousness surrounding the number of animals certain animal rights advocates adopt and "take care of"). Though, that is not to say that some of us do not have truly altruistic and compassionate motives in caring for the animals we adopt.

    Swinging over to the other side of the spectrum/fence, we cannot forget that we are animals, too, and therefore a part of the interconnection of all life. I'm not convinced that we humans should never have any face-to-face time with other species or fully remove ourselves from the nature that surrounds us. I've had many face-to-face encounters with wild animals in the wilderness, and I never sensed the animals were worse off for our interaction or my quiet presence.

    On a different note, I think there are a number of vegans and anti-oppression supporters who haven't made the connection that there are always more connections to be made. I see a number of bloggers who have jumped on the "anti-oppression philosophy" bandwagon who seem to not really quite "get it" (for example, there is a blogger who vehemently condemns others, including hardworking climate justice advocates, for not understanding speciesism/anti-oppression, while at the same time this blogger enjoys dressing up her dogs in various costumes so that she can take “fun” photos of them – this is simply one of a *great many* examples of anti-oppression connections that I see being missed on a regular basis by those who pose a written air of moral superiority over others who haven't quite made certain other connections yet.). The “extreme” ideas possessed by those folks who some of us call delusional (or other belittling adjectives) today, may end up being our very own ideas tomorrow. Stranger things have happened, Batgirl.

    January 2, 2010
  10. John Carbonaro #

    Tricia, you can provide everything your animals need as long as your own personal motivation for entering the relationship is about them, not you. I was speaking more about the notion of pet ownership, not about providing a refugee asylum which animal activists should do (if able). I have many rescued animals in my household and I provide for them,including pack- belonging. But to consider them the same as human family members and with the same kind of love is exactly the kind of mindset that gets humans interdependent( in all manner of ways)on animal relations.

    January 2, 2010
  11. Eileen #

    Jeannie, what's wrong with taking cute pictures of rescued animals? I'm far from perfect as a mother, but I see nothing speciesist or exploitative in dressing up my little daughter when it's cold and taking pictures so people from the rescue group can see that she's still happy and well loved almost two years after leaving the shelter. As others have pointed out, we've made dogs and cats dependent on us … in many ways, they're like very young children who will never grow up. I feel that it's practices such as breeding, buying, selling, and catch-and-kill animal control that should be condemned in the strongest terms. If everyone adopted, fostered and/or rescued a homeless animal and refused to support breeding, the pet industry would go away. Then we'd have a lot more success stories to write and blog about before the remaining victims lived out their natural lives.

    January 3, 2010
  12. As someone who blogs daily about animals for a mainstream audience — mostly about "pets" — the No. 1 argument against animal rights advocates and vegans that is used by industry-backed trolls and/or industry dittoheads is how we want to get rid of all pets. Because this idea scares and bothers most people — who think they treat their animals just fine — it's very effective in keeping the general public from even considering veganism or animal rights. So this is a question I ponder a lot.

    Sort of two points are raised in Mary's post: Is caring for animals now in an owner-pet relationship considered vegan? In the great vegan future, would keeping animals confined, controlling their freedom to poop, controlling when they eat, controlling their access to water be considered vegan?

    In response to the first question, I would say it depends on how the animal is acquired and treated. If the animal is rescued, as opposed to bought from a breeder or kidnapped from the wild, and if the animal is given as much freedom and ability to engage in their natural behavior as feasible, then yes. Although the animal can't explicitly consent, I believe that he or she would choose such an environment over execution or fending for one's self in the wild where one is not equipped to survive. That makes it vegan. (There are exceptions, such as the many cases of zoo animals who commit suicide – they would clearly be better in a sanctuary setting if they can't be rehabilitated to the wild.)

    In response to the second question involving a vegan world, no — with the possible exception of some injured animals and animals who choose to enter human social groups but have the freedom to come and go (such as dogs and cats).

    Or that's the opinion I've come to…

    January 4, 2010
  13. jeannie #

    Eileen — putting aside the specific issue at hand and assuming that adopting a nonhuman animal is an action that ultimately works toward abolition — placing a layer of clothing (such as a sweater) on a dog to keep her warm/healthy when she is cold is one thing, while dressing up your dog in a costume (e.g., a Halloween or other holiday outfit) for no good reason but to entertain oneself or other humans is something else. It’s on par with teaching a dog stupid pointless tricks (like spinning or high-fiving), which once upon a time I myself did, until something clicked in my tiny little brain, and I realized that I was teaching my dog these things for my own enjoyment rather than for hers (she performed tricks upon request sheerly to please me or to receive a reward). Teaching my dog commands (such as “stay”) that will help keep her safe is necessary; teaching her to “roll over” would be done purely for my own personal entertainment. If I made the excuse “but my dog enjoys performing tricks,” then I am setting myself up for speciesist behavior. Horse owners often say that their horses enjoy being ridden, and greyhound owners who force their dogs to race claim that the dogs love it. What do you think? Do you think they enjoy it? Sometimes we put on blinders and project our own desires upon the nonhuman animals we care for.

    In any case, my point really wasn’t about dressing up dogs. My point was what appears lately to be a bizarre race by some folks in the animal rights community to be the most “progressive.” Some animal rightists seem intent on making and gathering “connections” as if they were brownie points to be lorded over others. Sometimes it’s time to take a breather and let a few heavy stones sink to the depths, rather than skipping endless pebbles across the surface.

    On a different note, I’m paying close attention to the language of adoption advocates. It’s sounding more and more welfarist to me. Weird.

    January 5, 2010
  14. Eileen #

    Maybe we need to distinguish between animal welfare and animal "welfare," then. I definitely don't think it's acceptable to keep greyhounds for the purpose of making money from dog racing and discard the dogs when they're no longer profitable. It's also not acceptable to purchase animals from pet stores or breeders ("reputable" or otherwise). Those things still wouldn't be OK even if you were to improve conditions at dog tracks and pet stores, and even if you could guarantee a safe "retirement" for all racing dogs, mother animals, and unsold animals in pet stores. I am definitely advocating an abolitionist position, not a welfarist position.

    I can understand why some people might choose not to adopt because other commitments prevent them from providing a good home to an adoptee, and I was in that situation for many years myself … but collectively, we humans have a responsibility to do everything we can to care for the victims of these horrible industries. Suggesting that no one should adopt an animal, or that rescue work is somehow welfarist or unvegan, is essentially condoning the mass killing of homeless animals.

    I don't know how you can compare teaching a rescued animal friend to do tricks – using positive methods that are fun for the animal – to the horrors of the greyhound racing industry. My dog doesn't do tricks, but some dogs enjoy the learning process. Also, teaching animals who live in shelters or foster care to live as part of a human family benefits those animals by making it easier to adopt them out.

    Dressing dogs in cute outfits isn't "necessary," but it's not harmful either as long as the clothes aren't unsafe or uncomfortable. Dog clothes are very common in Korea, where I live, and in my experience it affects the way strangers react to my dog and makes them more likely to tolerate her presence in coffee shops, department stores, and other places where dogs aren't allowed. That means she can spend more time with me instead of being left at home when I go out shopping. I also appreciate cute pictures of the dog I fostered six years ago, because it shows me that she's still safe and well cared for. It's usually the dogs who aren't dressed up who spend their lives chained up outside or emotionally neglected in backyards.

    January 5, 2010
  15. I can understand the thought process that suggests it's not vegan to adopt rescue cats, dogs, rabbits, or other animals that will be perceived as pets by people who don't understand veganism. But I don't agree. So long as animals need homes and so long as I can provide a good (or adequate) one, I feel obligated to do so.

    I personally think – because of my lifelong experience with cats – that there will always been gray areas regarding our relationships with other species. Cats and dogs regular find us, just as often as the other way around. Granted, that's built into the oppressive system humans have set up that makes these animals particular dependent on humans, but it's a fact nonetheless.

    I say, don't worry about the theory. Just make the right decision when an animal in need crosses your path. RESCUE.

    January 7, 2010
  16. There should be a few more LYs in my comment above. Regular -> regularly, etc. Sorry.

    January 7, 2010

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