Thoughts on the ethics of pet ownership

Eric Chiamulera

On October 18, 2011, Terry Thompson released 56 exotic pets from a private zoo he owned and maintained on his 73 acre farm in Zanesville, Ohio. This group of released animals contained such species as lions, tigers, wolves, bears, and mountain lions. Because of the perceived threat to the public, authorities slaughtered over 50 of these unfortunate animals. As the story unfolded, it became apparent that Thompson had been ill equipped to properly care for these animals, and that he had been convicted of animal cruelty in 2005 based on his treatment of these exotic pets. One result of this tragedy is that it has increased public awareness of the existence of similar zoos around the country. It has also brought to light the fact that many exotic pet owners do not have the knowledge or experience to properly care for these animals. 

Upon learning about these private zoos, my initial reaction was that there should be strict laws requiring anyone who wants to own a lion or a bear or other large exotic animal to prove that they have the knowledge and resources to properly care for such animals. However, I soon started to wonder whether a similar law should also apply to the owning of even common house pets such as dogs, cats, gerbils, and fish. Such a law would not be the first of its kind. For instance, under Swiss law a prospective dog owner must take a two part course covering the proper care of dogs before being allowed to own a dog.

A law requiring that prospective pet owners be educated in the proper care of a particular animal before being allowed to own it does not have to be overly burdensome. Such a law could simply require that a prospective pet owner take a short online course and test administered right at the store. This basic education would at least ensure that a well intentioned owner did not mistreat his pet out of sheer ignorance.  Therefore, I would support a law requiring that prospective pet owners must prove that they have the requisite basic knowledge to care for a pet before being allowed to own one.

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6 Responses

  1. So the notion of one living being “owning” another living being doesn’t bother you at all?

  2. I had never thought about this. I personally think that laws should prohibit the owning of exotic animals, however, I never even thought about dogs, cats, fish and other normal domestic pets. They are in danger, if not more than exotic animals, on a regular basis at the hands of uncaring and inexperienced pet owners. Why should they have to suffer irresponsible ownership?

    After reading your post, I feel that it is a good idea to have current and potential pet owners undergo some sort of “pet care training”. There are so many dogs, cats, hamsters…etc, at the moment starving and chained up outside because the owners thought it would be “easy” and “fun” to own a pet. Yet, they had no idea what to do with that animal and how to give it the best home possible.

    So yes, I too would support a law which would require prospective pet owners to have some sort of “pet care training”.

    Thanks for this great and thought-provoking post!

  3. @veganelder: Well, if you love and care for your pet like it’s your child, then your not necessarily “owning” it are you? It’s more like a companionship or child-care.

    If anything, at least at my house, the pets “own” the humans because we beckon to their every call. All my pets get whatever they want, as if they were our children.

  4. I’ve long been philosophically opposed to owning so-called “exotic” animals as pets. Bears, tigers, Zebras, deer, wolves, etc. belong free in the wild.

    Dogs, domestic cats and some species of birds, for example have been with humans thousands of years, and are so deeply integrated into our civilizations, they truly are domesticated.

    I agree with palm trees, a level of responsibility, knowledge, and perhaps even formal training, should precede pet ownership. Such animals as dogs depend totally upon their owners — to feed them, to see they get proper veterinary care, the attention they need — and to see to it they are trained and kept without cruelty.

    Finally, as a parent, I will say only that pets are not children, and children are not pets. I treat my dogs like dogs, and my children like children. They aren’t even remotely in the same realm.

  5. [...] thanks to Eric Chiamulera and Animal Blawg, where this piece was first published on Dec. 16, [...]

  6. Laws are indeed necessary. So is better education, starting at prep-school level. A little less anthropocentrism and some basic respect for other forms of life, too, would be great…

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