The Status of Pets

Pets are often (mis)used as the typical example of an assumed double standard when it comes to how humans treat other animals. The distinction between pets and other nonhuman animals is usually measured by the market size of the consumer pet industry. For instance, in the "Introduction" to Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child Or the Dog?, Gary Lawrence Francione starts out by noting:

Over 50 percent [of people in the United States] live with cats or dogs, and approximately 90 percent of those people regard their pets as members of their families and would risk injury or death to save the life of their pet. Americans spend approximately $7 billion annually on veterinary care for dogs and cats and over $20 billion on food and accessories for those and other pets.

These figures are used to imply that humans generally attribute moral status to pets, which is then contrasted with a lack of moral status attributed to the 8 billion nonhuman land animals who are slaughtered in the United States every year. This supposed double standard, which is referred to by ableist and stigmatizing phrase "moral schizophrenia," serves as the premise of the book. Thus, using the phrase "animal companions" as a stand-in for pets, Francione concludes:

We would finally have to confront our moral schizophrenia about animals, which leads us to love some animals, treat them as members of our family, and never once doubt their sentience, emotional capacity, self-awareness, or personhood, while at the same time we stick dinner forks into other animals who are indistinguishable in any relevant sense from our animal companions.

Without citing Francione, Michael Pollan makes the same assumption in The Omnivore's Dilemma, even repeating the same stigmatizing ableist language:

There's a schizoid quality to our relationship with animals today in which sentiment and brutality exist side by side. Half the dogs in America will receive Christmas presents this year, yet few of us ever pause to consider the life of the pig — an animal easily as intelligent as a dog — that becomes the Christmas ham.

However, the reality is that the structure of our relationship to pets is substantially the same as the structure of our relationship to other nonhuman animals. While both Francione and Pollan focus on the affection human owners have for their pets, both fail to note that this affection coexists with, and is based on, domination and exploitation.

Both Francione and Pollan contrast pets with other animals that humans literally eat, but our relationship to pets is also one of consumption. When Francione cites that people in the United States spend $20 billion on food and accessories for pets and Pollan notes how people in the United States buy Christmas presents for their pet dogs, both are using consumerism to measure the supposed double standard, but this consumerism is not proof that a double standard exists. Quite the opposite, in fact. People spend money on their pets because of the psychological and material gains that come from owning other animals. Pets are not treated as if their lives have value independent of their human owners. Rather, pets are themselves treated as commodities that are then consumed.

Re: The Status of Pets

Where it becomes quite evident that the treatment of „pets“ or „companion animals“ is by far not decidedly better than a human supremacist stance towards nonhuman animals allows for anyway, is for example the way in which death and disiease of „companion animals“ is dealt with normally. Animals easily get euthanized, whereas in the case of humans a majority would rightly consider „putting people to sleep“ as a case of murder I suppose. Or also, the disposal of bigger animal bodies, like horses, which have to be dropped of at the rendering plant (...), shows that the emotional respect is by far not on a same level as it is in the human-human relationship.

My idea is, that it is indispensable that humans should get „hold“ of „natural space“ again („gardens“), to „create“ areas of protection. Humans take a lot of space on this planet, this can most likely not be reversed, and nonhuman animals are insofar now dependent on people to create safe and protected natural areas and spaces for them – also especially insofar that „wildeness“ has to be protected by all means. Nature does have to be protected in all senses – this implicit (the natural environment is the animal habitat!) political dimension should merge with the politics of Animal Rights.

What is problematic, to my view, is that the Human-Animal Relationship doesn’t get questioned on more layers. It’s not at all constructive to use a highly problematic derogative such as the word „schizophrenic“, to unravel what is wrong in society and their stance towards nonhuman animals. To me it seems that, at most, the ethological parameter is considered to offer a sufficient vocabulary to rationalize that, what the „Animal question“ rouses in our minds. I think we need more categories to better the „Human-Animal relationship“.



Re: The Status of Pets

Brilliant post. I'm going to be really honest here. I am well-aware that I like people, sometimes even love people, because they are useful to me. Maybe they loved me first - that's useful to me. Maybe they were kind to me - useful. Maybe I have a lot in common with them - useful. Maybe they are cute - useful. I'm a selfish person, and that's not an easy thing to change about myself, not in the least. There are so many things I want that I can't have. It hurts me because I know that I prefer one thing or one person over another, and then I want one thing or one person, but all I can have is another thing or another person. Or someone is left out. Someone is discriminated against. Ironically, I usually end up feeling left out. And that's what I see happening here. One animal is loved and another is left out. People feel left out if they don't get the animal they love, so they protest against changing the status quo that allows them this privilege.

It sure ain't easy, but I strive for equanimity. I just don't know how I can ask others to do that if it's going to be a lifelong journey for me. I need to model the ideal first.