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Should We Keep Pets?

The folks at Opposing Views asked me what my thoughts were about the keeping of pets.

First, let me say I’m thrilled there’s an "Is There a God?" debate. And as the inadvertent, official videographer at our best buddies’ new baby’s bris, I’m overjoyed that there’s a debate called "Should Boys be Circumcised?" When asked if I had "the stomach" to get so close to the blessed event, my response was "hey, I’ve been to a slaughterhouse, and there are certainly similarities, so sure, I’ll do it."

Rant alert.

I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t say, at least once, to someone other than my husband, my in-laws or my mother, that when a grown man (grandpa) is actually asked to pin an 8-day baby to a dining room table as he screams bloody murder and flails in pain because he is being cut without anesthesia and for no good reason, while people gaze on blissfully, that, my friends, is no blessed event.

That’s mutilation.

And when people say the 6 pound, 8-day old "did such a great job" and "was so brave" what does that mean? He did a great job bleeding and squealing? With all due respect, there’s no bravery involved when a roomful of grown-ups ambushes you, strips you, overpowers you, then cuts you. You cry out for help, you try to escape, and you inevitably lose. The words "terrorize" and "torture" come to mind, but the tiny boy doesn’t know enough about what’s occurring to be brave. He’s just trying to survive.

You’re probably thinking this happened yesterday, but it was three weeks ago.

I’m done now.

End of rant.

Now, should we have pets?

Ideally? No. Realistically, considering the fact that we have bred and domesticated certain animals, I believe we have an obligation–as the creators of a colossal overpopulations problem–to do our best to solve the problem.

Rather than setting all animals free, which by the way I’ve yet to hear any animal advocate propose, but plenty of anti-animal advocates claim we propose, the solution would take, say, a generation (horses can live for decades, and I include them along with dogs and cats). During this generation, all breeding of "pets" by humans would cease, and spaying and neutering would be necessary, though I welcome arguments that us ceasing breeding would do the job without having to take control over the animals’ reproductive systems without their consent and sterilizing them. Desperate times require desperate measures.

I do not think that there’s a home for every dog and cat, as I’d have to modify "home" with "acceptable," and I know few people now who in my opinion are meeting the needs of their "pets" (particularly once the people have children).

Rounding up feral dogs and cats to sterilize them and return them would also be part of the solution, however I question where that stops. Do we just do it in our own neighborhoods? Do we actively go out looking for animals to sterilize? I’d say no to that one.

Finally, it’s true that "the wild" is a dangerous place and animals suffer all the time. My purpose, though, is to do something about the suffering that we have caused and continue to cause. Just because there’s suffering in the wild and there always will be doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to alleviate some of the suffering we’re responsible for.

Though dogs, cats and horses do add immeasurably to our lives (or at least they can), that’s not a good reason to continue to breed them and keep them in our homes. I’ve said before that I don’t feel that bad (most of the time) that Emily is an inside cat as she has a terminal disease (FIP) and is highly contagious and cannot ever be in contact with other kitties.

Meanwhile, a few doors down, at a home that has two outside cats, one recently disappeared, and two children (and two parents) are distraught. They’ve plastered the community with signs, and when a storm washed the signs out making them illegible and causing some to fall, they replaced them with new signs that are laminated, and they’ve used better quality staples. If the cat didn’t go outside, she would be home right now. Such is the position we’re in and we put our cats in.

This isn’t an issue that there’s consensus on. It’s not black and white, and it seems to involve compromise regardless of your position.

What do you think?

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. davedrum #

    As someone who currently has a small "herd" of rescue dogs (and a few cats), I'd like to offer my own short view. I saved way too many dogs from the streets and the woods that were NOT making it on their own. I mean a great many (over 100) just for the few years I lived north of Atlanta in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains (a few miles from where the trail starts). There is no shortage of backyard breeders, puppy mills, and just lots of unfixed dogs roaming around down there. It felt like it was never ending. I very rarely found any dogs that looked healthy or well fed. They were skinny, sick, full of parasites and would have died a slow cruel death had I not stopped or spent time feeding them and gaining their trust (some of those dogs took months to come over to me..yet I went everyday to feed them). I know I did the right thing by not driving by. By letting nature take it's course with them. I always knew in my heart that if I did not stop, nobody else would have…so might as well have been me. It took a great deal of time, lots and lots of money, as well as an emotional toll at times. But I'd do it all over again. Every minute, dollar, and tear spent was worth it when I found them a home or took them in as part of my own little "pack" here.

    I agree Mary, that it's NOT normal to have these domesticated dogs (and cats), but we did not create the problem, and we've yet to come up with a solution that is reducing their numbers…so we all need to do what we can. That can be adopting and saving a life, volunteering one's time, or even donating to make sure those that need homes can be cared for while they are waiting. I know that keeping dogs in cages for years and years is not something I like to see or hear about (as SOME dogs do in no kill shelters). For those rare cases… I DO wonder what is best. IS being sentenced to prison for a crime one did not commit…while sleeping on a cold wet concrete floor…and turning around in circles all day…year after year…a HUMANE thing to do? Again, there are not many like that…but there are some. Those special cases are the ones I wish I knew what to do for…and had more room for… I wonder what others here think of "those" situations…

    Is it better in that case to euthanize or let one live like that for years? Again, I'm not saying which I think is best…but it's a question I'd love to see someone answer rationally and with the mind and heart of the DOG at stake…not one's OWN position on it… based off of pure "theory"… one's position with regard to the "life" that has to live that way day after day, year after year…

    August 31, 2008
  2. This debate has taken an interesting turn: We are now attempting to convince someone that numbers do not represent "right." The argument being attempted is that a majority does not exist currently that would compel an alteration to our laws regarding animals-as-property, which is, from this line of reasoning, the only legitimate mechanism to both argue that X is "right," and to enforce the rightness of X.

    While the second argument *may* be correct, the first begs the question: Were the Nazis correct, then? Are sexists, in a society of patriarchs, beyond our moral criticism, even if these beliefs violate premises we generally hold to be true regarding interests and suffering? Etc.; etc. The proponent of this argument is taking it as far as it can go and it is getting interesting.

    August 31, 2008
  3. Bea Elliott #

    Davedrum – Wonderful hearing of your dedication and exceptional devotion to these animals that you've chosen to rescue. It's admirable and touching that you have concerns for those you cannot save. You are a remarkable man.

    Mary, I used to think pet-over-population could be minimized by adding a safe birth-control in thier food in the "wild" – But of course, that would have the animals still dependant on man and would defeat the whole purpose of having them be "free". I think forced sterilization is the solution of least harm and interference, given what we've been left to deal with.

    When I think of how enormous the problem of "too many pets is", I'm always baffled as to how people justify "making" or "buying" yet even more. I'll never get it.

    August 31, 2008
  4. davedrum #

    ALEX SAID: "The argument being attempted is that a majority does not exist currently that would compel an alteration to our laws regarding animals-as-property, which is, from this line of reasoning, the only legitimate mechanism to both argue that X is "right," and to enforce the rightness of X."

    WOW!!!! are you even HUMAN? Did you even UNDERSTAND the question I put forward?! This is not school!… this is not a class!…there's no prize!…no grade!…

    I feel the fool…. It must be "I" missing it all along…

    What do you think about the "living breathing being" held in a cage for years? One can spend their lifetime in school and look at subject models over and over… you'll never find the answer with models or math….

    I wanted to know….

    What do YOU think? As one who cares about animals? Or is have I myself been missing it? Is this "whole thing" (the abolitionists) about who is more intelligent? You see, I always thought that AR…was about HEART… and about caring… not about X,Y, or Z!

    August 31, 2008
  5. Dave,
    I wrote a long response then lost it. And lots of questions came up for me while writing it, so I'll just ask everyone what they think tomorrow and try to re-craft. It's yet another important, non black-and-white issue, I think.

    August 31, 2008
  6. "It's not black and white, and it seems to involve compromise regardless of your position. "
    That's exactly how I feel.

    The first trouble is with the word "pets." No, of course we should not have pets. "Pets" is a notion of property and subjugation. It's not what I want for animals and it's probably not what they'd want either.

    However, given the only alternatives of death or warehousing, I'd bet many animals would happily choose to be a pet. I bet they'd even choose to spend all day alone while their "master" works. I'd bet they'd gladly give up their reproductive organs. I'd bet they'd happily choose the life of a pet.

    Even without those terrible alternatives some animals would likely choose to be pets. There's reason to believe cats and dogs intentionally participated in their "domestication." They do have agency after all. (And I can tell you for certain that some cats choose their people. I've lived my entire life on the premise that humans need not seek out cats as companions, yet I've also always had cat companions. If you like cats, they will find you!)

    Even some humans choose to be pets! Subjugation, in and of itself, is not necessary a bad thing. There will likely always be some bonds between some humans and some animals that look similar to current "pet ownership." And some of those human-nonhuman interactions will likely be acceptable from an AR perspective if the animals' interests are respected.

    The major problems of "pets" are that most humans don't respect the animals' interests. These animals live, breed, and die according to human whims, just like animals raised for food. Should we foster the concept of pets? No. Should we provide proper care for the animals currently in existence who have no other habitat, yes.

    August 31, 2008
  7. "overpopulations problem"


    Such language is consistent with the perspective of the welfarist establishment, but inconsistent with a rights-based approach; it does not accord with your views (so there is a quick fix). The phrase ("overpopulation") is popular and uncontroversial because it fits within the long-standing and prevailing social/legal paradigm: "we should use our animal resources responsibly and humanely".

    To bolster accuracy, which bolsters clarity of thought, the phrase should never be used by rights advocates. In short, when it comes to domesticated nonhumans: the problem is not *over*population, just population. There is no acceptable population because domestication is not (morally) acceptable. What follows is an except from something I once wrote on this.


    Bob Barker used to say: "… reminding you to help control the pet population, have your pets spayed or neutered"

    This issue has been framed with certain assumptions, mainly: domesticating nonhumans for companionship is okay, we just need to do it "properly". The word overpopulation suggests that *some* population, however reduced it may be, is morally acceptable. Clearly, this is not the abolitionist position, which rejects the moral legitimacy of domestication altogether. It's not a question of how it transpires, or at what levels, domestication is intrinsically problematic.

    The human population should be reduced. All populations of domesticated sentient beings should be *eliminated*. The question needs to be reframed. Domestication is the crisis, not "overpopulation". Humans should never have started down this path, but we are thousands of years removed from that initial process, and must move forward — to abolition.


    Programmatically, I summarize abolition as follows.

    "a] Termination of all efforts at domestication, while care is provided for every nonhuman already bred or captured (who cannot be reintroduced or returned) till they have age related deaths. b] End of all direct and calculated human/nonhuman relationships. c] Non-interventionist, relatively peaceful future implied by the preceding points."


    The "take home message" is really quite simple, and stated very well by Francione. Here is one way of putting it: Stop bringing sentient nonhumans into existence, but care for those that already exist. Leave free-living (non-domesticated) nonhumans alone.

    August 31, 2008
  8. Angus #

    I would hate to live in a world with no direct human/nonhuman relations. I see nothing wrong with "pets" or companion animals, so long as the animals individually are living flourishing lives, and I have no doubt that many cats, dogs, and horses live flourishing lives as members of extended human/nonhuman families.

    Elaine is right about many animals choosing to participate in domestication. I'd go further: historically, the human animal has been domesticated by nonhuman animals. It's been a dialectical process, going back to the Mesolithic period.

    Progressive change in society happens in complex ways, and in fits and starts, with unforeseeable twists and turns along the way. For example, the whole debate about whether liberationists should tolerate/promote any "welfare" moves or half-measures is unresolvable at a strictly theoretical level because real life does not operate/move/change in black-and-white, even if some states of things are truly good and some states of things are truly bad. The danger of AR degenerating into dogma, a kind of religion of rule-following, is to be guarded against. My advice would be: keep an open mind on all issues and follow the lodestar of animal flourishing.

    September 1, 2008
  9. Dave,

    You ought to relax. Or are you joking, with all your dramatic capitalizations and well-placed exclamation points? I was simply relaying information about the direction this debate has taken over at Opposing Views. If you would like to know what I think, please participate over there and you will see all my "human" responses advocating for the abolishment of the institution of "pets."

    September 1, 2008
  10. Bea Elliott #

    This is the "party-line" vegan-abolitionist's mandate that is the most difficult for me to embrace.

    The caveat of "zero tolerance on animal interaction" does not encourage people who "love animals" to listen to the rest (and all) of the vegan message. They just turn us "off" as total radicals. People are much more likely to give up meat eating before relinquishing the bonds of their pet-friends and pet-family. As noted here, it is a contention point.

    I have to agree with Angus, the future holds many possibilities. Maybe someday all animals will co-exist (socially and legally) in a unique and unforseen manner. The future might have some kind of "contract of devotion" or licenses to "guardianship". It is understood that animals and man are inextricably linked in our earthly experiences. Man's collective memory of himself shares the same clay as with "animals". They are part of our human psyche. They connect us in an intimate way to nature and the mysteries of life. They, "the animals" our "pets" (in the definative context) are our best friends and dearest companions. They are the closest most of us get to knowing "unconditional love".

    But, if there is no negotiation on this point – if man concedes that there can be no mutual benefit for animals existing in the family of man (literally) – will that drive an underground society of those who refuse to part with animal companions? Will it be a crime to have a "pet-like friendship"? Would there be investigations on those who housed animals who might otherwise survive without aid? What types of reprimands will we have for these "hold-outs"? Will there be laws against squirrel feeding or placing seed for backyard birds? Does it mean that my garden pond must be void of koi to follow the caveat of "abolition"?

    If an animal is thriving – if they are well cared for and loved – convincing people that this is "wrong" or should be "eliminated" just fuels a debate that makes Abolition unworkable and unattractive. This is a challenging debate and it's outcome may very well mark a clear "divide" in the movement.

    For now, I'd love to see less focus on the matter as it serves no purpose in the present quest to win more people to veganism. Let's get people to stop eating animals first – then we can give them the "other bad news" that "pets" are also to be rescinded.

    September 2, 2008
  11. Roger #

    Well it is no surprise that the "pet issue" is proving to be difficult. It is difficult on multiply levels as far as I can see. I am a little surprised by Angus' "no contact" scare which is beloved by countermovement organisations such as the National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA). Then again, I've known plenty of "animal rights advocates" who cannot imagine not being attached to a dog with a rope, psychological and/or physical.

    I am far from convinced that nonhuman animals volunteer for domestication. This volunteering appears to have a generational component, like debt bondage.

    Even if we assume an individual volunteers, should we assume their children have also? And I certainly cannot see how that gives us the right to start selectively breeding, altering, pure-breeding and so on. All dogs should be mongrels, I'd say, since they are not too choosy about who they shag with.

    I have followed the rights violation discussion: with some interest but it does not seem to be getting far. It is hard for me to think that surgically altering animals who do not and cannot consent is not a rights violation – but so would be imprisoning nonhumans in isolation so as to prevent them meeting members of the opposite sex.

    A difficult one alright.


    September 2, 2008
  12. "the human animal has been domesticated by nonhuman animals"
    ooooooh! I like that idea 🙂

    September 2, 2008
  13. Arty Tovar #

    People seem to think they have a (right) to own animals as pets.
    Where do such (Rights) come from?
    As millions of animals are killed each year here in the USA, At the tax payers cost, I can't help but to see the stupidity as I watch the very same people that complain about the cost to keep animal shelters up and running, then turn around and vote down new laws that govern pet ownership.
    30 some years ago, one couldn't find parrots at your local animal shelters, you will find them there today.
    As mankind continues to prove he/she is not responsible enough to care for any animal, the shelters continue to fill.
    Programs such as TNR and others, these programs fail wildlife, these programs do not address the issues, folks continue to turn there backs unto there pets and give them up as if there lives have no meaning.
    Folks continue to drop there pets off on a country road.
    Folks continue to allow there pets to roam freely.
    A simple rule applies to humans, the needs of the many will always come before the needs of the few, then why does this rule not apply to animals?
    There is more people that abuse there pets than there are those that don't, how do I come up with this FACT, visit any animal shelter for the proof.
    The price to own any animal as a pet and the laws that govern pet ownership needs to take a drastic change before the animals will endure a much needed relief.
    Mankind continues to claim he/she is the most intelligent creature to walk this earth but seems to prove differently with each new day.
    There's a great need to take the lives of animals out of the hands of the careless human, and yes we good people that love our pets dearly, we that consider our pets to be family members will also suffer under new laws.
    It some cities in Australia, cat ownership is governed by strict laws, and the costs to keep a feline has risen to the point where most can not afford to own one, since these new laws and prices have taken effect,the issues that caused such changes have dropped a great deal.
    There are no such (RIGHTS) to own any animal and keep that animal as a PET.
    These so called (RIGHTS) are nothing less than mankind's false beliefs.
    You show me a LAW that governs these so called (RIGHTS), and I will show you a law designed and implicated by MAN.
    This does not make it RIGHT.
    In the meantime animals continue to pay the ultimate price for mankind's ignorance,They pay with there lives.
    Arty Tovar
    Wildlife Rescuer

    September 18, 2008
  14. Arty Tovar made a great post… What else is there to say?

    November 11, 2009

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