Commentary #2: “Pets”

Dear Colleagues:

The issue of “pets” is a hot button issue with many advocates.

Here is something I wrote in the Appendix to my book Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?:

Question 3: Does the institution of pet ownership violate animals’ basic right not to be regarded as things?

Answer: Yes. Pets are our property. Dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits, and other animals are mass produced like bolts in a factory or, in the case of birds and exotic animals, are captured in the wild and transported long distances, during which journey many of them die. Pets are marketed in exactly the same way as other commodities. Although some of us may treat our companion animals well, more of us treat them poorly. In America, most dogs spend less than two years in a home before they are dumped at a pound or otherwise transferred to a new owner; more than 70 percent of people who adopt animals give them away, take them to shelters, or abandon them. We are all aware of horror stories about neighborhood dogs on short chains who spend most of their lives alone. Our cities are full of stray cats and dogs who live miserable lives and starve or freeze, succumb to disease, or are tormented by humans. Some people who claim to love their companion animals mutilate them senselessly by having their ears cropped, their tails docked, or their claws ripped out so that they will not scratch the furniture.

You may treat your animal companion as a member of your family and effectively accord her or him inherent value or the basic right not to be treated as your resource. But your treatment of your animal really means that you regard your animal property as having higher than market value; should you change your mind and administer daily and severe beatings to your dog for disciplinary purposes, or not feed your cat so that she will be more motivated to catch the mice in the basement of your store, or kill your animal because you no longer want the financial expense, your decision will be protected by the law. You are free to value your property as you see fit. You may decide to polish your car often or you may let the finish erode. The choice is yours. As long as you provide the minimal maintenance for your car so that it can pass inspection, any other decision you make with respect to the vehicle, including your decision to give it to a scrap dealer, is your business. As long as you provide minimal food, water, and shelter to your pet, any other decision you make, apart from torturing the animal for no purpose whatsoever, is your business, including your decision to dump your pet at the local shelter (where many animals are either killed or sold into research, or have your pet killed by a willing veterinarian.

Many years ago, I adopted a hamster from a law school classmate. The hamster became ill one night, and I called an emergency veterinary service. The veterinarian said that the minimum amount for an emergency visit was $50 and asked me why I would want to spend that amount when I could get a “new” hamster from any pet shop for about $3. I took the hamster to the veterinarian anyway, but that event was one of the first times my consciousness was raised about the status of animals as economic commodities.

As someone who lives with seven rescued canine companions whom I love dearly, I do not treat this matter lightly. Although I regard my companions as family members, they are still my property and I could decide tomorrow to have them all killed. As much as I enjoy living with dogs, were there only two dogs remaining in the world, I would not be in favor of breeding them so that we could have more “pets” and thus perpetuate their property status. Indeed, anyone who truly cares about dogs should visit a “puppy mill”–a place where dogs are bred in the hundreds or thousands and are treated as nothing more than commodities. Female dogs are bred repeatedly until they are “spent” and are either killed or sold into research. We should, of course, care for all those domestic animals that are presently alive, but we should not continue to bring more animals into existence so that we may own them as pets.

In this second Abolitionist Approach Commentary, we will explore the issue of “pets.”

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

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