Is Pet Ownership Ethical?

Animal Rights and Welfare Activists on Animal Domestication

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Because of pet overpopulation, just about all animal welfare activists would probably agree that we should spay and neuter our cats and dogs. But there would be some disagreement if you were to ask whether we should breed cats and dogs if all the shelters were empty and there were good, loving homes available.

Animal industries such as the fur industry and factory farms try to discredit animal protection groups by claiming that activists want to take people’s pets away. While some animal rights activists do not believe in keeping pets, we can assure you that no one wants to take your dog away from you — as long as you're treating it well.

Arguments for Pet Ownership

Many people consider their pets to be members of the family and thus treat them with love and respect. Oftentimes, this feeling appears to be mutual, as dog and cat pets seek out their owners to play, pet or invite them into their laps. These animals provide unconditional love and devotion — to deny them and us this relationship seems unthinkable to some.

Also, keeping pets is a much more humane way for them to live as opposed to factory farms, animal testing labs or circuses use and abuse the animals. However, thanks to regulations passed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture like the Animal Welfare Act of 1966, even these animals are entitled to a basic quality of life as sentient beings. 

Still, even the Humane Society of the United States argues that we should keep our pets — according to one official statement "pets are creatures with whom we share a world, and we rejoice in their companionship; you don't have to anthropomorphize to recognize that the feelings are returned...let us be close and cherish each other always." 

The vast majority of animal activists advocate spaying and neutering. However, most will say that the reason is the millions of cats and dogs who are killed in shelters every year, as opposed to any basic opposition to the keeping of pets.

Arguments Against Pet Ownership

On the other side of the spectrum, some animal activists argue that we should not keep or breed pets regardless of whether we have an overpopulation problem — there are two basic arguments that support these claims.

One argument is that cats, dogs, and other pets suffer too much at our hands. Theoretically, we may be able to provide good homes for our pets, and many of us do. However, in the real world, animals suffer abandonment, cruelty, and neglect.

Another argument is that even on a theoretical level, the relationship is inherently flawed and we are unable to provide the full lives that these animals deserve. Because they are bred to be dependent on us, the basic relationship between humans and companion animals is flawed because of the difference in power. A sort of Stockholm syndrome, this relationship forces animals to love their owners in order to get affection and food, oftentimes neglecting their animal nature to do so.

The animals rights activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) opposes keeping pets, partially for this reason. An official statement on their website states that animals' "lives are restricted to human homes where they must obey commands and can only eat, drink and even urinate when humans allow them to." It then goes on to list common "mistreatments" of these house pets including declawing cats, not cleaning litter boxes and scolding any creature to get off the furniture or hurry up on its walk.

A Happy Pet Is a Good Pet to Have

The opposition to keeping pets must be distinguished from a call to release domesticated animals. They are dependent on us for their survival and it would be cruel to turn them loose on the streets or in the wilderness.

The position must also be distinguished from any desire to take anyone’s dogs and cats away. We have a duty to take care of the animals who are already here, and the best place for them is with their loving and caring human guardians. This is why animal rights activists who oppose keeping pets might have rescued pets themselves.

Activists who oppose keeping pets believe that domestic animals should not be allowed to breed. The animals who are already here should live long, healthy lives, cared for with love and respect by their human guardians. As long as the pet is happy and lives a life of love without undue suffering, for most people, animal rights and welfare activists alike, pets are definitely fine to have!