Saturday, January 15, 2011

Our pets couldn’t use “animal rights

Returning to Lee Hall’s book, “On Their Own Terms. . .” let’s consider domesticated animals, such as cats and dogs. These animals are not the ones Hall says should be allowed to live free, “on their own terms.”

The reason: dogs and cats are in the “purpose-bred” animal category. They were bred from other pets to be pets. And “pets” are dependent creatures. (They count on us for shelter, food, medical care . . . Just imagine your cat or dog suddenly having to live outdoors in even a New Jersey winter, foraging, sleeping and surviving outside.)

Hall describes domesticated animals as “refugees of our custom of dominion.” She discusses how pet-keeping came about – it’s a surprisingly recent practice -- and says we should of course take care of these “refugees.”

But she raises the startling question of whether bringing dependent animals into existence is “a habit we could, and should, relinquish.” Just think of all the backyard breeders and puppy mills, not to mention the (relatively) bona fide dog and cat breeders – and the gigantic industries that have grown up around our pets: food, amusement, health care, grooming . . .

Hall says, “It’s to the undomesticated communities of wildcats, to wolves and free birds and rabbits, that the animal rights ideal applies. Rights cannot be meaningfully extended to purpose-bred animals, beings perpetually at our mercy.”


Dave Shishkoff said...

So great to see this subject discussed, it's an important step to understanding and advocating for a meaningful animal rights movement.

Not a pleasant topic either, we care deeply for the animals in our care, but we really need to consider if this is the right thing to do..especially if we support animal rights.

Thanks, and keep up the discussion! =)

- Dave

Lee Hall said...

Without question, dogs and cats have moral significance. I wouldn’t hesitate to say they are persons.

But can they have rights?

Well, the end of domination, and, within it, the abolition of commodity status, could be real for a bird or a bat -- what about a chihuahua?

Autonomy is central to animal-rights theory and activism. It’s time to talk about this. Thank you, Pat Summers, for opening a space to do this.

Ellie said...

I think we should ask ourselves if it's fair to nonhuman animals to breed them as pets. It's a question I've struggled with, and I have to admit it was difficult for me to see beyond my relationship with my adopted dogs. Because I loved them and did all I could to ensure their well being, I leaned toward answering in the affirmative -- but that was a myopic view.

The reality only became clear when I was willing to remove myself from the picture, and I realized that absent someone who cared for them, my dogs could be killed like millions of others each year, or possibly used against their interests.

Dependent animals are at a huge disadvantage. They can't live on their own terms because they will always need care, and as such they are subject to our dominion. We may love our pets, but our legal system cannot recognize their personhood as that would require a commitment society isn't willing to make.

Thus, if they are to be bred, there must also be the option to kill them; and my answer to the question above is: No, it is not fair to nonhuman animals to breed them as pets.

Let's love and care for those in need, but also understand their objectification as pets is not in their interest.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to discuss this.

Ellie Maldonado