Question 75: What about keeping pets?
In a perfect world, all of our efforts would go toward protecting
habitats of other species on the planet and we would be able to maintain
"hands off" approach in which we did not take other species into
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
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.
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
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
The following points should be considered when selecting a companion
Get a companion animal appropriate to your situation--don't keep a big
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
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
animal group; thousands of animals are destroyed each year by groups such
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.
see also question 76
Question 76: What about spaying and neutering?
Ingrid Newkirk writes:
"What's happening to our best friends should never happen even
worst enemies. With an estimated 80 to 100 million cats and dogs in this
country already, 3,000 to 5,000 more puppies and kittens are born every
hour in the United States--far more than can ever find good homes.
Unwanted animals are dumped at the local pound or abandoned in woods and
on city streets, where they suffer from starvation, lack of shelter and
veterinary care, and abuse. Most die from disease, starvation, and mistreatment,
or, if they're lucky are 'put to sleep' forever at an
The point is that the practice of neutering and spaying prevents far
suffering and harm than it imposes on the neutered or spayed animals. The
net harm is minimized.
see also question 75