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On That Doggy in the Window

We all tell people that if they want a puppy, they should go to a shelter or a rescue group, right? Well, someone who shall remain nameless asked me about that doggy in the window, and what makes that doggy, from a puppy mill of course, not worthy of rescuing.

And what if that puppy is visibly ill? A daughter of a client of mine who does not frequent pet stores saw an ailing dog (I want to say a Borzoi, but I'm not sure) in a pet store window, and checked on her the next day and she wasn't there. (She was not looking to expand her nonhuman family.) The woman asked about the dog and was told there was no such dog. She also asked to use the rest room, at which point she found the dog in a back room. Her only concern was the dog. She didn't want to anger the pet store owner so she paid full price for the dog, who was near death. After several thousand dollars and a couple of surgeries, the dog is thriving and happy, running around 20 acres with other dogs and also horses.

The point of that story is that the dog would have died. The woman didn't care about making a fuss or bringing a lawsuit, and granted, she probably should have done more and/or done things differently, as there's likely to be another puppy in a back room in that very store right now.

So. We come to the question. To me, it smacks of utilitarianism to allow puppies in stores to suffer and die in order to bring an end to "pet" stores. On the other hand, I won't advocate buying an animal from a pet store. The reader-who-shall-remain-nameless asked: Don't those puppies deserve a home, too? Why should they suffer for the sins of puppy mill owners and pet store owners?

We know that those very people are counting on your sympathy. But still . . . . what about those sentient nonhumans who are no different from the ones at the shelter?

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. I have great sympathy for the person who saved this poor pup, but potentially she is making things worse if there's no comeback at all for the pet store (because it's actually rewarding them for having sick dogs rather than healthy ones).

    I'm not sure what consumer legislation is like in the States, but over here she could probably have got back at least some of the money she spent on vet bills by complaining to Trading Standards that the store had sold "goods not fit for purpose". I know that is a horrible phrase applied to living animals, but forcing the store to pay some of the costs would help to remove the incentive to sell sick animals.

    It's a bit like not paying ransoms for hostages – very hard on the current set of hostages, but I'd argue that it's not treating them as if they were means, not ends, because we didn't put them there.

    December 23, 2008
  2. Mary Martin #

    I think my story was a mistake as it's certainly not what ordinarily occurs and the way it was handled was not optimal for the overall situation (though it was for the individual dog). The question is really: What about those dogs who need a home? Why should they be sacrificed to make a point?

    Or at least I think that's the question. The person who asked says (and this is paraphrased): "I know what the answer is as to why no one should buy from a pet store. But what about all of those individual dogs who are there through no fault of their own and still need a loving home?"

    December 23, 2008
  3. Ian Smith #

    If one is operating with an entirely rights-based approach to moral theory than this woman seemingly did nothing wrong (contingent on what rights your theory accepts). That she could have done better by adopting a dog rather than purchasing a dog is irrelvant. That she may have made things considerably worse for others is also irrelevant. Any theory that makes these factors irrelevant to the moral assessment of the act in question seems to be an inadequate theory to me.

    While the decision to adopt rather than buy suffering animals may "smack of utilitarianism", I think utilitarianism is the appropriate theory to look to for guidance in this case. Purely rights based approaches often allow us to escape blame even while our actions negatively effect others.

    Assuming that the individual is only going to rescue one dog or only has the means to rescue one dog…it seems difficult to argue for neglecting the dog that can be adopted in favor of the dog that must be purchased. No matter what decision is made one of the dogs will continue to suffer and we can reasonably expect the individual to provide a justifictaion for her decision regarding which dog will continue to suffer.

    December 23, 2008
  4. I completely understand it and I've been tempted, but I think it's better to make a formal complaint with the city Animal Control and/or another organization that can do more (like ALDF) when we see things like this. I do not support buying animals, period, though I do think it's ethically acceptable in some circumstances and I myself have "rescued" pets from petstores (when I was a kid, I'd buy feeder rats to save their lives). I think what this woman did was fine. However, I'd never suggest to anyone that it's a good way to spend our time and resources if our goal is to rescue animals.

    December 24, 2008
  5. John Carbonaro #

    I've faced this same dilemma buying betta fish in those small bowls. They are not unlike those confined factory animals. If we could get millions of people to stop buying them, the market would dry up. Otherwise, we are perpetuating the problem by buying them. It's like the welfare dilemma- stop the immediate suffering but perhaps prolong the bigger problem.
    When my betta was dying recently, i watched it's labored breathing. I made it as comfortable as possible. It reminded me of my father when he was breathing/heaving on life support. The look of naked life is universal. I reflected on all the good that had come out of this man & what he had given me. I promised to do the same for others.
    I'm glad that i had done it for this fish. I had put it in a 30 gallon tank.
    I have said that in order to buy another one, i must also do something that reaches beyond our relationship. I must find ways to advocate for the dismantlement of the fish/pet industry. Welfare & abolition combined, i guess. People may call it hypocrisy. I'll go ask my fish.

    The situation of animals used by human animals is a species-culture one. Our relationships to these commodified creatures is at times very difficult to navigate through, between where we are and where we want things to be.
    In some ways, any definition of "rescue" may be, in varying degrees, ultimately enabling/sustaining the industry, be it rescued animals that end up in sanctuaries, shelters, our sympathetic purchases from stores…
    If we give these animals somewhere to go, it leaves room at the top of the commodity chain to continue the flow. We cannot leave behind animals in abusive situations, be it on a farm, in a home, or perhaps for some, in a store. Whether this is due to welfare laws or our own conscience, each must reconcile within themselves.
    Until we can abolish dominion/domination of non-human animals from our species, our mind-set, and re-enter a new form of relationship in sharing the world, the distinction between new animal incorporation vs fall-out animal incorporation have less differences than some would like to believe. Human animals have created this situation for animals. Society is driven by the ideology of animal husbandry/animal paternalism.
    All commodified animals are considered by A.R activists to be 'casualties' of this process.
    This process will continue whether we purchase/rescue these beings or not, because they don't have rights. They are considered property. Liberating them from a store or factory farm does not help their rights status. Abolition does not mean they are granted rights either.
    When the slaves ran away, would it have been wrong to give them sanctuary/shelter? Was it wrong/pointless to help them escape? Some might say yes because the slave-making industry would just get another slave to take their place, thus continuing the lucrative trade.
    We do need to make concentrated, enduring efforts to change the human culture of animal relations. Perhaps we don't have to widen our circle. We just have to learn to recognize and respect theirs.
    If people are willing to have a clear conscience because they have a "rescued" animal-refugee VS one liberated from a pet store, so be it. But i won't knock (too hard)the hearts being in the right place of the people who provide a sanctuary to a pet store animal any more than i can to those who run sanctuaries/shelters for beings who have been liberated from other oppressive situations, SO LONG AS WE CONTINUE OUR FIGHT FOR ANIMAL RIGHTS. Just as we work to promote veganism to as many people as possible to wither the profiteering machine of the animal-based economy, we must also put direct pressure on the pet store industry. Our local PETSMART is actually working with the local animal shelter to adopt out animals from their store. Perhaps there should be legislation requiring all pet stores to work with shelters to re-home a percentage of the animals that their industry has created and ultimately, betrayed. Casualties, yes. Left behind as part of the 'sacrifice' to a greater good(perhaps in itself a speciesist-paternalistic decision)-unclear to me.

    December 24, 2008
  6. "I know what the answer is as to why no one should buy from a pet store. But what about all of those individual dogs who are there through no fault of their own and still need a loving home?"


    That is the answer.

    December 24, 2008
  7. Elaine… Open Rescue in a petstore, I've never heard of that before – But it really does make sense… hummmmm 🙂

    Hi John… That's interesting about "all commodified animals being casualties" – Either as an individual animal, or by being a member of a particular "breed or type".

    What might illustrate this, is the mass killing of fancy plummed birds… Once, Victorian fashion had them nearly extinct. Now, feathers aren't "in" but exotic pet trade is. Either way we are influencing the fate of their entire species…

    And the life of any single animal, a "milled" pet animal, a "food" animal, a "work/service/entertainment" animal… each one's life takes so many turns of our making… Even if "buying" or "rescuing" any of these animals, they are still in our clutch. I think I understand what you mean about animal "parenting"… it adds a cultural layer to "animal husbandry".

    And John, 'changing our relations with animals'… learning to recognize and respect their "rights"… For me this means to allow them to have their "space". This unknown author sums up exactly what I wish for animals by allowing them their "space":

    "If animal rights will have any meaning at all, no words get nearer to their core than what Justice Louis Brandeis called 'the right to be left alone.' The dignity of one's private life, habits, acts, and relations is essential, Brandeis explained, in a way property rights are not, to the 'inviolate personality.' Justice Brandeis called the 'right to be left alone' the most comprehensive of rights."

    For me, the most blatant violation of that right is seen "at the point of sale"… If commodification had an exact moment of rooted evil, (and social acceptance) – it's the (human/non-human) auction block or today's "pet-store". It's the most crystalized moment of domination. But there were Abolitinists who freed slaves by "buying" them and aiding them as you mentioned – So maybe the merits (or harm) in "buying" an animal can only be judged on a case by case basis? Sort of like buying lobsters to set them free? This certainly can't be wrong…

    In any case, I can't help but feel sorry for even the "pure breed pet store" animals right now – who for whatever reason were left "unsold" -and who's fate *after* Christmas becomes a questionable future.

    December 24, 2008
  8. john carbonaro #

    Hi Bea,
    Yes the commodification process makes almost all of our efforts/choices very complex. We don't want to support the pet industry, so we rescue animals. but then, we are faced with the dilemma of utilizing the pet food industry. Not all carnivore animals can be made vegan. And does it go against vegan values (not to use animals) if we USE animals by enlisting them in a (human) boycott of the flesh industry? Making them vegan is using them for a means/purpose, even if it is supposed to benefit all animals in the long run.Is this an acceptable loophole for the 'greater good'?

    December 25, 2008
  9. Hi John – I understand what you mean about the support to pet-food industries – (all too clearly). Making animals Vegan – I have no problem with. But I'm starting to think that the only acceptable and timely solution might be in "vat" meat.

    And of course we, (the Movement) are using animals in all stages of their captivity to document their suffering and their plight… It's how most people became Vegan – the sad images being the catalyst. This for the time being I have no issue with. For me, the "compromise" is justified as we are bearing witness and working for change.

    December 25, 2008

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