Even if you dislike animals, you have an obligation not to harm them
We hear it as vegans, and shake our heads at it all the time: people who refer to themselves as animal lovers, when they support the use, slaughter, and exploitation of animals every day, and even put the animals they “love” on their plates. It’s confusing and infuriating, and any attempt to point out the cognitive dissonance is met with defensive attitudes. What about the other side of the coin, though? What about people who actively dislike, or do not care for animals? What is their moral obligation to protect the beings that they would much rather avoid in their everyday lives?
Think of someone you know (perhaps it’s you!) that has a strong distaste for children. They dislike the noise they make, they can’t stand their grubby hands, and they go nuts over their bad attitudes. Chances are, the person you are thinking of would never harm a child, no matter how proudly they proclaim their dislike for children. For all the negative feelings they may have towards children, this person still knows that they must not harm children. It’s the same with non-human animals. I might find dogs to be noisy and overbearing (they’re growing on me though, I promise), but I still see it as a moral obligation to fight for their right to live unharmed. Certain animals can’t be exceptions to our demands for protection simply because we aren’t fond of them, or they aren’t intelligent or cute enough to generate a passionate effort to serve their wellbeing.
For me, my veganism is absolutely a lifestyle born out of love. All of my activism is born out of love for that matter, whether it is for another species or marginalized groups of people I am either a part of or an ally to. I’ve met other vegans who really don’t care about the affection of animals and couldn’t care less about personal interactions with them. One could even say they don’t like animals, but their dislike doesn’t negate the fact that they recognize that these are other beings, too, and must have a voice provided for them in situations of great injustice.
I found The Guardian’s Laura Marcus to be an interesting example of what I’m discussing here when she wrote an article last week titled, “Your pet doesn’t love you – it’s just trapped by you.” At first, it appears that she is on to something despite any knee-jerk reaction to a disagreeable title. “Perhaps it’s because I never grew up with pets. My parents believed we humans had no right to own other animals. I agreed with them then, and I still do.” So, Marcus has a solid grasp on the concept that we must not own animals as property. She fails to tell her audience, however, how we are to handle domesticated animals who need our protection. The cats I share my home with are not “trapped” by me as much as they are safe from a brutal outside world, where their safety is at a grave risk. Marcus takes what she thinks is a “high road” of of refusing to live with a companion animal, but it comes across as nonsensical. She has every right to exist as an individual who doesn’t care for the company of a non-human animal. I don’t think that finds her morally deplorable or as bizarre as others might, but I would implore her to consider giving shelter to an animal because it’s the right thing to do.
Disappointingly, she closes with some statements that made me really question how concerned she was for the protection of non-human animals. “I won’t eat veal or battery-reared chicken, I am against the badger cull and living in a rural area, I believe farm animals should be treated as humanely as possible,” she writes, “I also love cooking for vegetarian friends. I just think a real animal lover wouldn’t dream of thinking they had the right to own one and treat it like a personal possession.” A “real animal lover,” in my opinion, wouldn’t dream of thinking they had the right to consume an animal’s body in the first place, as she does. Pet “ownership?” Not okay. Unnecessary slaughter? Somehow… perfectly fine. Her inconsistency is indeed a rare brand.
Are animals sentient? Can they suffer? Yes. Theorist Gary Francione considers that to be reason enough not to exploit animals, and I wholeheartedly agree. Is the animal ugly? Is it aggressive? Is it simply obnoxious? Would it gut you, a human, if it had the chance? Maybe it’s all of those things, but that still does not give us the right to take it’s life or cause it any harm when it isn’t necessary