AR-FAQ - #75

#75 What about keeping pets?

In a perfect world, all of our efforts would go toward protecting the habitats of other species on the planet and we would be able to maintain a "hands off" approach in which we did not take other species into our family units, but allowed them to develop on their own in the wild. However, we are far from such a Utopia and as responsible humans must deal with the results of the domestication of animals. Since many animals domesticated to be pets have been bred but have no homes, most AR supporters see nothing wrong with having them as companion animals. As a matter of fact, the AR supporter may well provide homes for more unwanted companion animals than does the average person! Similarly, animals domesticated for agricultural purposes should be cared for. However, animals in the wild should be left there and not brought into homes as companions. A cage in someone's house is an unnatural environment for an exotic bird, fish, or mammal. When the novelty wears off, wild pets usually end up at shelters, zoos, or research labs. Wild animals have the right to be treated with respect, and that includes leaving them in their natural surroundings. LK

A loving relationship with a proper companion animal, a relationship that adequately provides for the animal's physical and psychological needs, is not at all inconsistent with the principles and advocacy of animal rights. Indeed, animal rights advocates have been leaders in drawing attention to some of the abuses and neglects of our "beloved" pets. Many of the taken for granted practices do need to be reexamined and changed. The questions that animal rights raises about companion animals are important questions:

  • Can we maintain animals as companions and still properly address their needs? Obviously, we can't do this for all animals. For example, keeping birds in cages denies those creatures their capacity and inherent need to fly.
  • Is manipulating companion animals for our needs in the the best interests of the nonhuman animal as well? Tail docking would thus be a practice to condemn in this regard.
  • Might some of our taken-for-granted practices of pet keeping be really a form of exploitation? Animals in circuses or panhandlers using animals on the street to get money from passersby would arguably be cases of exploitation.
  • Which attitudes of human caretakers are truly expressions of our respect and love towards these animals, and which might not be? Exotic breeding is one example of this kind of abuse, especially when the breeding results in animals that are at a greater risk for certain diseases or biological defects.

All that animal rights is really asking is that we consider more deeply and authentically the practice at hand and whether or not it truly meets the benchmark that BOTH the needs of human AND nonhuman animals be considered. TA

The following points should be considered when selecting a companion animal. Get a companion animal appropriate to your situation--don't keep a big dog in a flat or small garden. Don't get an animal that will be kept unnecessarily confined--birds, fish, etc. However, it is a good policy to try to keep cats inside as much as possible, especially at night, to protect both the cat and local wildlife. Get your dog or cat from a local pound or animal group; thousands of animals are destroyed each year by groups such as the RSPCA. The majority are animals who are lost or dumped. Vicious animals are not adopted out. By getting an animal from such a source you will be saving its life and reducing the reliance on breeders. Finally, get your companion neutered. There is no behavioral or biological benefit from being fertile or from having a litter. And every pup or kitten that is produced will need to find a home. JK