Is a pet-free world possible?

Seth Victor

Gary Francione rejecting the premise that animals can be property is not new; the good professor has been expressing his view for decades that the key to animal equality must be, in part, approached through our definitions of ownership. He recently posted  that pet ownership is unnatural, even if it were possible to create and enforce laws that gave pets legal status as persons. He goes on to say that even if there were only two dogs left in the world, and good homes could be assured to all of the offspring, pet ownership would still have no place, and he would work to end the institution.

Putting aside whether you agree with Mr. Francione, I wonder how we could even achieve a pet-free world today. There are over 78 million dogs and 86 million cats in the United States alone. That’s 174 million animals (and that’s just counting the two largest categories of pets), in a country with about 311 million humans. Assume that we as a nation decide we want a pet-free country. How do we go about doing this? One option is to impose mandatory spaying and neutering, outlaw breeding as a profession, and let all the cats and dogs across the country live out their lives and die out. Now we are not saying we want the species to go extinct, so in that plan there would have to be some wild population in place. Naturally, some breeds would not survive as well as others, such as perhaps the English Bulldog with its unfortunate muzzle. Do we allow that to happen, or do we intervene as we do with certain threatened wildlife? Where do we drawn the line before we would become caretakers again? As many a biologist has pondered, where is the line between wild and domestic? Can we re-cross that line? Do we owe any stewardship to the masses of animals we have brought into the world, or to the species, and if they were wild, what would we consider a stable population? Would we find ourselves hunting down dogs like we now do wolves?

My take is that Mr. Francione really wants to see breeding stopped, wherein humans are forcibly bringing more animals into creation for the sole sake of ownership. In that respect, I think there are good points. But again, I’m not trying to argue that his philosophy as a whole is wrong or right. If we are seriously going to have these discussions, however, we need to know how far we take the theory. What makes a pet certainly isn’t defined the same way throughout the world, and there are people within this country who still debate whether “wild” animals can become pets. So my question remains: Where do we draw the line, and how far to we enforce it?

Edit: Or, as Spencer Lo asks, is a pet-free world required?

15 Responses

  1. […] although we are superior, we aren’t necessarily any better. They are animals, the beings that cannot speak. Unfortunately, they aren’t presented by yours truly in their natural environment, but at the […]

  2. Francione opposes domestication, and I agree — not because it’s unnatural, though certainly it is, but because it’s immoral to produce conscious living beings as perpetual dependents and objects of property who have no rights. Since pet ownership is an outgrowth of domestication, no wonder there are millions of healthy or treatable dogs and cats getting killed (not euthanized) each year, to say nothing of those who are killed by private vets, at the behest of their owners. Domesticated animals will never have protection of their most fundamental and moral rights.

    “What if pets could be protected?” Then they would cease to be pets — for being a pet requires they remain submissive dependents who are denied the autonomy to make personal decisions.

    We should love and care for dependent animals, and just as importantly, cease to breed them into this arrangement wherein they will remain vulnerable at best. I don’t think there will ever be a “pet-free world”, but when we stop allowing breeders to make them marketable products, more human animals might begin to understand pets want to live as much as we do.

  3. My dog may have equality and “personhood” just as soon as he gets a job and starts paying his share of the grocery and veterinary bills.

    Anyway, and all joking about a certain professor apparently having too much time on his hands, I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with the general principle of pet ownership.

    The animals we keep as pets have far better lot than their wild counterparts.

    It might be soothe a romantic ideal about nature to consider wild animals “free,” but actually, wild animals are slaves to the constant need to survive — everything they do must play into either self or species preservation. Also, there is no merciful lethal injection at the end of an aged wild animal’s life (for those few that do actually survive to an advanced age) — there are only slow, painful or horrific ways to exit nature’s stage. Starvation, death from exposure, being consumed by a predator — often while still alive — and so on.

    By contrast, pets have all their basic needs met. A well-cared for dog never has to wonder where his next meal is coming from. His life will be longer, and far more stress and pain-free than a wild animal’s. And, again, his death will probably be far quicker and more merciful.

    The down side, of course, is that domestic animals are completely at the mercy and whim of their keepers. Not all pet owners are altruistic, good, attentive or ethical. Pet abuse and neglect abound.

    As with many things, I would recommend simply a better enforcement of existing laws, rather than trying to re-invent the wheel — especially along the lines of catering to weird and untenable ideals.

    But beyond that, a growing social stigma and shame against being cruel toward pets will do more in the long run, I think.

  4. Laws don’t work for animals. They’re just a slap on the wrist of someone convicted of animal cruelty, and worse, they make cruelty to animals legal. They permit institutions and private vets to kill healthy and/or treatable animals; to use dogs and cats in lethal and painful lab procedures; and to eat them in some countries. That’s to say nothing of the billions of animals who are not considered pets, who are made to suffer in numerous ways until they eventually meet a violent death — the laws permit this too.

  5. I do not really agree with Gary Francione. Well some animals to need a house to live in and someone to take of them. Where can I read Gary Francione statements about this?

  6. @HAL 9000 …

    Joking aside, and trust me anyone on the animals side as heard all such tired old jokes a 1,000 times, domestic dogs do have “jobs”, they do provided services, and just like slaves before them, which they are unpaid for.

    Working animals aside, home canines provide entertainment, companionship, security, therapeutic contact and so on … and, yes, human slave owners did have to pay for the upkeep of their “property” too.

    In no places does animal rights propose equal and equivalent democratic human rights but would, in many proposals, place them on an equivalent basis to dependent human beings such as children.

    The “great evil” that distorts our relationship with domesticated animals is an economic system which gives to financial value to their lives, that forbids them to, in essence, own themselves. Perhaps the most far reaching alteration could be established if they were given the right to live out their natural lifespan and not be terminated when financially inconvenient to either their owners or the state?

    Although “ownership” is portrayed as an “evil” by the Francionians … and, please people, he does not own the concept as much as he seems to wants to monopolise it, it’s as old as veganism itself … if we could tie ownership or stewardship to the responsibility to see the animals’ lives out according to their natural span, it would over turn the meat, dairy and pet industries. Industries which only make their profit by the premature termination of animal’s lives.

    Give a cow the right to grow old and die naturally. Take on board our additional moral responsibility towards domesticated breeds that we have created, e.g. cats and dogs, and the financial costs of allowing them to live out their lives.

    It’s all about money greed.

    Personhood for animals would be different from personhood for human beings. It starts with no more having a “right” to kill an animal than we would to kill a child or working class laborer merely on the basis of whim, or because it was presently not financially viable.

  7. For Good,

    Those arguments and ideas are easy to see though, for the underlying ideology they betray.

    First, what is meant by “on the animal side?” That reminds me of the Tea Party and similar political movements touting “patriotism,” as if that ideology owned the word, and any possible meaning it might hold.

    In other words, it’s the old rhetorical trick, “If you’re not with us, then what are you for?”

    Likewise, the attempt at a rhetorical guilt trip, by bringing up slavery, and thereby suggesting, what do those who disagree with this idea, agree with?

    The fundamental problem with so-called animal rights philosophy is that it rests upon the premise of some sort of equality across an insurmountable barrier of fundamental difference in kind.

    There’s a reason human beings have rights, and animals do not.

    I hold that the human soul represents the apex of creation, and therefore, no idea is more important than any human beings. Ideas are to serve us, not the other way around, and hence, I reject ideology of any sort.

    Along those lines, it strikes my that animal rights philosophy isn’t so much about advancing anything, as it is about de-valuing people.

    Case in point, the suggestion that a dog, cat, cow or any other animal have the same standing as a child is irrational and obscene.

    Clearly, kindness toward domesticated animals is praiseworthy and right, while wanton cruelty or neglect is shameful and wrong. Any reasonable person of good conscience realizes that.

    But animals have no “rights,” and domesticated creatures are incapable of self-determination or ownership. Indeed, as I pointed out earlier, even wild creatures are incapable of such. They are owned, directed by — and yes, slaves — to the principles of survival, self preservation and species preservation.

  8. Many if not most domesticated animals cannot survive independently, but they certainly can and do make decisions. They’re also not “stupid” — baby chicks can do arithmetic, sheep have keen recognition of faces, birds clearly plan for the future and the list goes on. As we define “intelligence”, some nonhumans have more than humans do, which gives neither more rights than the other.

  9. Ellie,
    I’ve never said animals are “stupid.”

    But ponder this, the more we discover about animals, might lead to how much more we have to discover about ourselves.

    What do you mean by “intelligence.” Do you understand the distinction between sentience, and sapience?

    “Rights” don’t exist in the animal world. They are completely irrelevant in that paradigm.

    As higher, sapient beings, we have a moral capacity and understanding to treat animals with kindness. Most especially, those animals we keep domesticated and directly under our care.

    “Rights” are not an issue.

  10. Hal, I think “intelligence” is just a measure of what’s valuable to a particular group that varies with the needs of different societies. In our society, “intelligence” is measured academically. Most adult humans have more mathmatical ability and a larger vocabulary (i.e., specific vocalizations than chickens do, so chickens are considered less “intelligent” — but since math is likely meaningless to chickens, and their vocalizations are adapted to their needs, measuring their “intelligence” on these abilities is also meaningless.

    Yes, I understand the difference between sentience and sapience. Do you understand there are many thousands of humans who lack sapience? And yet they have rights, as they should.

    You say rights don’t exist in the animal world. I think they do, both moral rights or social justice, and rights of entitlement. The latter are obvious in observing animals who win dominance. The former, moral rights or social justice exist because animals have a sense of what’s right or wrong within their groups.

    For starters, see:

    Social Justice in Animals

    Wild Justice, Co-operation, and Fair Play

    Click to access Bekoff.pdf

  11. Hal 9000,

    you are a right why “there’s a reason human beings have rights, and animals do not” but it is a lot simpler than the thesis you offer, the unproven and undefined claim to human superiority.

    The reason why there are human rights is merely because someone cared enough and had enough will to fight for something. That something being a re-definition of the relationship between two different parties, e.g. the oppressors and the oppressed.

    The shallowest study of the argument against racial or sexual equality in the past would show that,

    a) the oppressors used the same arguments as those you choose (e.g. women and negroes having a lesser or no soul), and
    b) change was led and came about from will within the elite oppressive caste which, in the case of animals, would mean humans.

    Critiques of human superiority are general presented as misanthropy by the opponents of change in our relationships with other animal species but what are they really? A necessary change in perspective which places sustainability and environmental balance as the highest value rather than other human eccentricities. Sustainability and environmental balance are clearly the most centric and highest values if we value existence and areas where human being have scored incredibly poorly for most of the species existence.

    Then we must ask, what is the purpose of superiority? To rule and abuse, or serve? Again, which is greater? To paraphrase the oft reviled Paul Watson, “worms and insects can get along perfectly without us, we cannot get alone without them. Who is the truly the greater? We are the dependent on them, along for the free ride and rapidly sinking the ship by killing of the crew”.

    Human rights are animal rights. And animal rights for animals most certainly can exist if we want them … and succeed in crossing all the barriers likely to be erected by the slave owning classes yet again.

    The fight for animal rights and a legal re-definition of our relationship with other species is a continuation of previous fights for rights for the oppressed against their financial exploiters be they workers, slaves, women, children other races. It’s the same fight, the same dynamic and we face the same opposition from the same oppressive classes.

  12. For Good,

    Repeated attempts to compare animal “rights” ideology with previous struggles to, for example — acknowledge the human dignity of blacks, or the equality of women — are really nothing more than first, a desperate grab for credibility and secondly, a rhetorical tactic to try to lump any dissenting opinion in with racism, or other forms of prejudice.

    If you wish to think of yourself as merely an animal, and human presence in this world as a mere accident, and perhaps an inconvenient or unfortunate one at that — them be my guest.

    But again and finally, I see no merit and value in such an essentially vapid, empty and ultimately negative view of oneself and of humanity in general.

    I absolutely agree with the principle that the wanton exploitation of natural resources — ignorant of anything except perhaps this year’s profit — has to stop. Otherwise, there will be a steep price to pay. Indeed, we already seem to be in the throes of learning a hard lesson in that regard.

    But there is absolutely no need to drag oneself and the entire human race down to some delusional level of “equality” with animals to do that. Indeed and in fact, I would think, it would lessen our chances of doing what needs to be done.

    We can do what needs to be done precisely and exactly because we’re better than animals. Conversely, it is when we think like animals — seeing only what is directly in front of us, and only in terms of our immediate benefit — that we are at our worst. Toward ourselves, toward each other, toward animals, and toward ecology.

    And furthermore, it is precisely and exactly because we are better than animals, that we have a moral charge and obligation to be kind and respectful toward them. Especially those animals that are domesticated, and dependent upon us.

  13. OK … so where are leading with “human presence in this world” not being “a mere accident”? Are we talking spare ribs and ‘Old Men in the Sky’, aliens from outer space, or Atlantis?

    The best biological specimens are those that live in balance with their environment and engage in positive symbiotic relationships with other species.

    If we are going to trade insults, your “delusion” over humanity “superiority” is akin to a crack addict’s high. The evidence of our tendency towards destruction and ecocide is so overwhelming, I don’t even feel the need to exemplify … look at the world around us. If we only limited it to ourselves I would not be so critical but we seem so possessed by self-importance that we imagine we have the right to inflict it on all other species.

    Do we need to remove that self-importance, or at least downgrade it to the level of admitting interdependency? Of course. Now.

    It seems you entirely misunderstand what animal rights actually means but I suppose that, on one level, it does mean admitting an equality with other species … the equal right to a natural existence without interference from us, and especially economic exploitation and abuse.

    It surprises me that, as someone with such anthropocentric view, you also refusing to see a consistent and evolving pattern of altruistic concerns manifesting themselves in positive and compassionate legal changes and a willing limitation of abuse.

    Well … willing on behalf of some of us but generally against the will of those carrying out and profiting from the worse exploitation of others.

    The equation of that as a “guilt trip” is completely illogical.

  14. For Good,
    All that tirade does, is prove my point. There’s no need to go into a huff. I don’t accept your moral ideology. At all. Period. No idea is of more value than any human being. No beast of equal value to a human being.

    You’re also pummeling straw men. I’ve stated, clearly, I see deep value in kindness to animal, and hold deep concern toward our current wanton, industrial, profit-driven approach to the environment.

    But, as I think I’ve already noted, the irony of animal rights’ obsession with ecological destruction is — that destruction is directly the result of us thinking like, well animals. Seeing nothing beyond our immediate gain.

    So, feel free to cling to your perception that humans are basically merely another species of animal. And, let’s see how far that goes toward actually solving any problem, ecological, or otherwise.

  15. Are you going to tell us your theory of what human beings are … if we are not another species of animal?

    I am mystified by what you think we might be.

    What is it … the product of mud and spit, and the voodoo of some desert tribal god; or a scientific experiment delivered by flying saucer pilots?

    The facts disagree with your assessment of what “thinking like animals” might be. It strikes me that unlike human beings, most animals just take as little as they need to survive each day. As a rule, they don’t destroy for fun nor invest their time creating devices of genocide and mass despoliation, and they have no interest in needless consumerist lifestyles.

    The vast reduction in pollution and waste by adopting a sustainable, non-materialistic, vegan lifestyle is scientifically sound.

    And, please, skip the distorting innuendos and pretentious point scoring. There was no “tirade” or logical failure. Cut to the chase …

    What exactly are human beings if we are not an animal and a product of evolution?

    (Aside: a Buddhist hunter!?! That’s a bit of a contradiction, isn’t it?

    Have you read what the Buddha said of hunting?)

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