Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Ethicists and pets

Boy, The Guardian (based as it is in a country renowned for its fondness of dogs) is asking for trouble when it runs a piece in which ethicists question the morality of pet ownership.

(Yes, there are many critical comments following.)

While there are lines in it which appear close to "peak Guardian", some points are valid enough.  In fact, it starts with someone noticing live baby rats on sale in a pet shop being available for snake food.   (I do think there is something inherently strange, cruel and unnecessary about keeping reptiles as pets if they can only be fed live mammalian food.)  Also, despite repeated discussion of the issue in the media, the breeding of dogs with inherent health problems just to match some pedigree "ideal" is pretty ridiculous.

So, I don't doubt that there are ethically questionable issues with some pets.  

But, as my wife said after we lost our first dog a couple of years ago, "dog people" have trouble being happy when they try living without a dog.   And there is no doubt that dogs can have a fantastically comfortable and mutually rewarding life with humans.

But (and I think I have read and perhaps blogged about this before),  attitudes to pet keeping haven't always been the same:
Widespread petkeeping is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until the 19th century, most animals owned by households were working animals that lived alongside humans and were regarded unsentimentally. In 1698, for example, a Dorset farmer recorded in his diary: “My old dog Quon was killed and baked for his grease, which yielded 11lb.” However, in the 19th and 20th centuries, animals began to feature less in our increasingly urban environments and, as disposable income grew, pets became more desirable. Even as people began to dote on their pets, though, animal life was not attributed any intrinsic value. In Run, Spot, Run, Pierce reports that, in 1877, the city of New York rounded up 762 stray dogs and drowned them in the East River, shoving them into iron crates and lifting the crates by crane into the water. Veterinarian turned philosopher Bernard Rollin recalls pet owners in the 1960s putting their dog to sleep before going on holiday, reasoning that it was cheaper to get a new dog when they returned than to board the one they had.
Actually, I'm a tad skeptical of that last story.  It just doesn't ring that true - or at least, I would expect, would be a pretty rare attitude to find amongst pet dog owners of any era.  

Anyway, worth a read...

Update:   I asked my pet sheepskin at lunchtime what she thought of the article, and she wasn't impressed:

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