Does be­ing a dog owner make me a bad per­son?

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - Editorial - Thom Barker

I am be­com­ing in­creas­ingly un­com­fort­able with be­ing a dog owner.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to put our non-hu­man com­pan­ion — whom I will call Lady Mac­Beth be­cause her name is Lady Mac­Beth — up for sale on Face­book, or take her down to the shel­ter and give her up, or aban­don her on a coun­try road… or worse.

But I could, if I wanted to, be­cause es­sen­tially, legally, she is my prop­erty. I osten­si­bly can­not be cruel to her, we do have an­i­mal cru­elty laws, but cru­elty is a bit of a neb­u­lous term. Pro­vided I give her enough food and wa­ter to sur­vive, a rel­a­tively clean en­vi­ron­ment in which to live, and don’t beat her to the point of phys­i­cal in­jury, I can pretty much do what­ever I want with, or to, her.

And even if I did cross one of those lines, the con­se­quences hardly even rise to the level of a mild de­ter­rent.

In other words, she has some level of rudi­men­tary pro­tec­tion, but she has no rights.

And that is what I am hav­ing an in­creas­ingly hard time ac­cept­ing.

My open­ing state­ment was in­ten­tion­ally am­bigu­ous, a hook, if you will. What I re­ally mean is that the en­tire con­cept of an­i­mal do­mes­ti­ca­tion is start­ing to seem dis­taste­ful.

This is in large part be­cause of Lady Mac­Beth. Some­time be­fore Lady Mac­Beth came into our lives, I heard an in­ter­view on the ra­dio with a law pro­fes­sor named Gary Fran­cione, who was ad­vo­cat­ing the idea that, “We ought not to be bring­ing an­i­mals into ex­is­tence to use as hu­man re­sources, whether for food, or for cloth­ing, or for ex­per­i­ments. Or, as pets.”

It seemed pretty rad­i­cal at the time, and eas­ily dis­missed, but at the time I didn’t know Lady Mac­Beth. I had never re­ally known a dog be­fore her.

Peo­ple’s at­ti­tudes toward an­i­mal rights run the gamut. There are those who be­lieve ev­ery­thing on this planet was put here by God for us to use as we see fit—the sec­u­lar corol­lary for this be­ing some bas­tardiza­tion of the con­cept of “sur­vival of the fittest.”

On the other side, there are those who be­lieve all crea­tures big and small should have equal rights to hu­man be­ings, the mo­ral foun­da­tion of which also has both re­li­gious and sec­u­lar coun­ter­parts.

Most of us live some­where in be­tween. We ac­cept we have do­min­ion over other an­i­mals for what­ever rea­son, but also a mo­ral obli­ga­tion to treat them with com­pas­sion. At least that’s where I’ve al­ways been, but when I look at Lady Mac­Beth, I see more. I see a sen­tient be­ing who de­serves bet­ter than be­ing some­body’s prop­erty, be­cause isn’t the most fun­da­men­tal of rights the right not to be owned?

I find my­self be­ing in­ex­orably drawn toward Fran­cione’s po­si­tion.

It’s a ter­ri­fy­ing prospect be­cause if I am to ex­trap­o­late it to its log­i­cal con­clu­sion, it means I would have to stop eat­ing meat, or at least stop eat­ing meat that is de­rived from an­i­mals who are brought into ex­is­tence solely for the pur­pose of be­ing meat.

I al­ready know peo­ple who only eat meat from wild an­i­mals they have killed them­selves. And surely it is bet­ter to be killed while liv­ing a life ap­pro­pri­ate to your species than to be con­fined to a coop or pen for the sole pur­pose of be­ing meat?

Ob­vi­ously, these eth­i­cal gy­ra­tions will not make any dif­fer­ence to Lady Mac­Beth’s life; that puppy has been bred and born. Liv­ing a life ap­pro­pri­ate to her species, or rather, her breed, is to be prop­erty. I can’t very well just set her free to try to live life as a wild wolf would. That would be cruel.

And therein is the point Fran­cione is try­ing to make, that if we were truly com­mit­ted to the mo­ral treat­ment of an­i­mals, Lady Mac­Beth would not ex­ist in the first place.

That would be very sad for me be­cause I love that dog and I like to think she loves me, but I could be an­thro­po­mor­phiz­ing her de­pen­dence as love. As well as I like to think I treat her, she ex­ists at and for my plea­sure, sub­ject to my whims, my sched­ule and my good will.

In the end, I don’t know that these eth­i­cal gy­ra­tions will make any dif­fer­ence to my life ei­ther. Some­times the cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance it takes to be hu­man — such as be­ing ca­pa­ble of treat­ing a pet like a mem­ber of the fam­ily while ig­nor­ing the plight of fac­tory farm chick­ens — is the only thing that gets me through the day.

I hope, though, that tak­ing the time to think about questions of moral­ity sur­round­ing an­i­mal rights makes me live more con­sciously and con­sci­en­tiously with re­spect to how I treat not just an­i­mals, but other hu­mans.

I think we all have an obli­ga­tion to do that.

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