On Eating Your Pets

Seth Victor

dog sandwich

An article caught my eye this morning about a man in New Mexico who was charged with a felony for extreme cruelty against a dog. The man allegedly stabbed his girlfriend’s dog in the heart, and then marinated the remains of the animal in preparation to cook it. While animal cruelty is a crime in New Mexico, eating dogs or cats is not, and if the defendant is successful in showing he did not act cruelly, there is no consequence for killing a companion animal for food.

These types of cases crop up every once in a while, often accompanied by outrage from some segments of the population over the wanton nature of the act. As always, since the law codifies our social voice, some states have put laws in place to discourage this kind of behavior. In New York, for example, one may not ” slaughter or butcher domesticated dog or domesticated cat  to create food, meat or meat products for human or animal consumption.”

But what about other pets that are not cats or dogs. In California, while it is a misdemeanor to possess, buy, or sell “any carcass or part of any carcass of any animal traditionally or commonly kept as a pet or companion with the intent of using or having another person use any part of the carcass for food,” that same provision of the penal code “shall not be construed to interfere with the production, marketing, or disposal of any livestock, poultry, fish, shellfish, or any other agricultural commodity. . .” The exception is worded to protect industrial agriculture, but it raises interesting questions at the pet owner level. If I have a goldfish, can I eat her? The animal is commonly kept as a pet, but she’s also a fish. Granted I’m not in the “production” business, but one could argue I am “disposing” of an animal. Of course, is any one really going to care if  I eat a goldfish? What if I stomp on one?

I raise this point again, as I have before, because for all of the progress we are slowly making on behalf of domestic animals, there are so few gains for industrial animals. Moreover, the line separating these categories is nebulous and artificial. Are dogs and cats better because they are more intelligent? Studies show that pigs are just as smart, if not more intelligent than both. Is it because they are more loyal? Some outliers aside, cats are not traditionally loyal. Is it because dogs are less likely to get us sick than those “dirty” farmed animals? Until industrial farming, humans were more at risk of contracting rabies from dogs than they were H1N1. Yet here we have laws that are clearly aimed not at protecting pets, but at protecting certain kinds of predetermined and acceptable pets. Why? Because that’s the norm, not because it is any more morally compromising to eat cats versus chickens.

FDA approval aside, is it really more wrong to eat the cat than the cow? In the New Mexico case, the  law’s focus is more on the cruelty of stabbing the dog than the eating. Likewise, many advocates focus on the conditions of CAFOs, rather than the fact that animals are consumed. So why does New York not let me humanely raise cats for slaughter? It’s not news that we’re hypocrites when it comes to animal laws, but our process for determining which animals can be killed for food is always baffling.

6 Responses

  1. We are never going to get everyone to turn vegetarian. There’s far too many meat lovers not to mention people with allergies such as soya allergy that make a vegetarian diet difficult but I think I have a solution that would make it illegal to kill your pets while protecting the farming industry. Make it illegal to kill an animal without a license (slaughter licenses for the meat industry, euthanasia licenses for vets). I believe that it would also make it easier to impose regulations for slaughterhouses to make them as humane as possible, which is still pretty inhumane but you get the idea, with licenses revoked for not following regulations. I think it’s the best solution besides humans becoming a herbivorous species. Now if we could only make it a reality…

  2. Regardless of what sensibilities or sentimentality it might offend, the fact stands, there are practical and logical reasons for why — as civilization advanced — humans for the most part developed a different type of relationship with dogs and cats than with chickens and cows.
    That said — and having had plentiful first-hand exposure to both traditional, family-style, pastoral agriculture and mass-scale “factory” farming — I firmly think the latter is cruel to animals and damaging to the environment. As awareness of that increases, more people are making alternative choices — whether that means to go vegetarian or vegan, hunt for their own meat, get meat only from local family farms, or whatever else.
    Nobody else’s choice is likely so satisfy any ideology — but, whose problem is that? If we felt compelled to apologize to zealotry of any stripe, none of us would be able to set foot out of the house, lest our deeds, or even our thoughts, leave us drowning in a crushing wave of guilt for having offended the sanctimonious.
    On that matter of pets, I suppose if somebody felt compelled to cook and eat their dog, cat or fish, then that’s their prerogative. As noisome as that might be to me and many others, I would think it becomes the public’s business only if the animal were tormented beforehand, rather than simply killed quickly and mercifully.
    And at least in this culture, the number of people wanting to feast on Fido is probably few enough, it doesn’t warrant a nanny-state reaction.
    After all, many things i find morally reprehensible are perfectly legal and, frankly, none of my business. And the purpose of the law should be to set basic parameters, not to micro-manage.

  3. What if someone wished to eat their child? What if they killed the child quickly and “humanely”?

  4. […] Our thanks to Animal Blawg, where this post originally appeared on August 7, […]

  5. @19peace80, that comparison won’t work, since society has drawn a line on human killing. I think the equivalent would be if you could kill certain kinds of kids, based on gender or race, under some slaughter law. That’s the kind of arbitrariness we’re dealing with here.

    @HAL 9000, I agree that the quality of life before the killing is paramount. As far as satisfying a particular ideology, no we can’t go around apologizing to every zealot, but eventually the law comes to reflect some ideology, or a mixture. It’s the tyranny of the majority, so identifying which set of moral values fuels our hypocrisy is an important step in fixing it.

  6. Seth, any attempt to draw direct lines of comparison between the human and animal parameters fails, as far as I’m concerned. One might as well try arguing that a dog is a fern, and vise versa.
    That said, i agree that society continues to evolve regarding its view and treatment of animals. As far as I’m concerned, the revulsion toward “factory” agriculture can’t come quickly enough.
    Animal rights ideology will probably never be satisfied — but then again, neither will the ideals of the stock grower providing calves for the roping events in rodeos.
    Me — I’m a pragmatist, omnivore and animal welfare advocate — so I’m probably somewhere in between those two extremes. And the world probably won’t live up to my ideals either. Oh well.

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