Why you should care about ending domestication, even if you love your pets
Whilst sitting watching a game of Aussie Rules footy on this sunny winter afternoon, I had one of my two canine companions snuggled up beside me. We have two Kelpies (Australian sheepdogs) who were rescued from a life of servitude on farms. Mack, the five year old kelpie cross, is very affectionate. He loves to have his head tucked up beside my leg as I sit on the couch, or when I’m lying in bed. I could feel his heart beating under my hand, and could hear his half-snore as he snoozed beside me. I thought about how much joy and love I receive from having both dogs in my life, and how very protective I feel when thinking about them getting sick, being in harm’s way, getting old, and eventually dying. Anyone who has ever shared their home with a dog or cat, guinea pig, rabbit, bird or other “pet” can understand how sad we can feel at the thought of losing our non-human kids or companions.
This deep sorrow and dread, I believe, is at the heart of the difficulty some non-vegans and vegans have in considering a world without domestication, particularly a world without “pets.” Many of us see our companion and rescue animals as family, and treat them accordingly. We draw comfort from their presence, we feel affection and joy when we watch them play or do something cute, and we get anxious and feel grief when they become sick, injured or die. We remember childhood pets fondly, we mark special occasions with them in our lives, and even take them to work or with us on holidays.
The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights as developed by Gary L Francione & Anna Charlton, states that “Abolitionists maintain that all sentient beings, human or nonhuman, have one right—the basic right not to be treated as the property of others.”(1) This, of course, includes our fur, feathered, scaled, and reptilian “pets.” Pets are property, and however well we treat them, and regardless of how much love and time we give them, they are still our possessions. This is not just a matter of legality, it is a sad moral reality. The companions we bring into our homes and lives are at our mercy, as their “owners”, whether they are fortunate to have a loving, engaging home to live in, or are treated with abuse and/or abandoned. We, as the guardians of these animals, decide every single aspect of their daily lives from their diet, activity, and socialisation to where they sleep, when they go to the toilet, and often when and how they die.
“Domestic animals are neither a real nor full part of our world or of the nonhuman world. They exist forever in a netherworld of vulnerability, dependent on us for everything and at risk of harm from an environment that they do not really understand. We have bred them to be compliant and servile, or to have characteristics that are actually harmful to them but are pleasing to us. We may make them happy in one sense, but the relationship can never be “natural” or “normal.” They do not belong stuck in our world irrespective of how well we treat them.” (2)
When we domesticate animals we remove them from their families and communities. We strip them of their autonomy, and their rights as individuals. The counter argument we hear frequently is that having animals as pets, particularly infant animals, teaches human children about the cycle of life & death, a sense of responsibility, and compassion for all beings. But there are other ways to teach children about nature, responsibility, and compassion. One way would be *not* to remove animals from their families/communities. For while we continue to domesticate animals, and acquire them as “pets”, then we deny them the rights to have family, be self determined, and live free of imposition and expectation. The other way we can be respectful to the rights of animals is not bring them into existence purely for reasons of companionship, entertainment, servitude or as mere possessions. In other words, shut down the practice of domestication completely, for every reason including “pet ownership”.
“…if there were two dogs left in the universe and it were up to us as to whether they were allowed to breed so that we could continue to live with dogs, and even if we could guarantee that all dogs would have homes as loving as the one that we provide, we would not hesitate for a second to bring the whole institution of “pet” ownership to an end. We regard the dogs who live with us as refugees of sorts, and although we enjoy caring for them, it is clear that humans have no business continuing to bring these creatures into a world in which they simply do not fit.” (3)
When I initially read this statement, in the early days of educating myself about the Abolitionist Approach, my heart was filled with sadness and grief. I thought about the seven canine companions who have enriched and shared my life. I turned to my two current fur-kids, Sammi and Mack, and felt hollow. I couldn’t imagine my life without dogs; a life in which they have been the loves of my life, often my reason for getting up in the morning, or even saving me in the depths of depression. I searched my heart and felt the cutting blow of the death of a loved one, as if ending domestication and the institution of “pet” ownership meant someone was going to physically snatch away the companions who currently live with me, right now, forcibly.
But my sadness and grief were misplaced. The Abolitionist Approach talks about ending domestication of non-humans, it does not suggest our “kids” will or should be taken away from us. We, as humans, got domesticated animals into this mess in the first place, so it’s our responsibility to look after the ones who are already in existence. There are millions upon millions of abandoned animals all over the world in shelters, pounds, or living on the streets, who desperately need our help. That is why it’s so important to adopt or rescue companion animals of any kind — dog, cat, rabbit, goldfish, budgie, lizard, or mouse — who need loving homes — particularly those with medical issues, disabilities or senior animals; and why we should not bring more “pets” into existence.
Finally, and most importantly, we must remember that the non-human animals that we share our lives with are morally not ours to “own.” All individuals — both human and non-human — have the basic right not to be treated as the property of others. When we become vegan and adopt the principles of the Abolitionist Approach, we bring the world closer to being a place where all beings are valued, not for what they contribute to human existence, but as individuals in their own right.