The 180

Believe in animal rights? Be prepared to go pet-free

According to animal law professor Gary Francione, there is no way to have animals in your life without breaking their own rights. If they're a pet, they're property. And if they're property, they have no rights. Francione, who has six of his own rescue dogs which he calls 'refugees,' explains.
Even if you love your pets, Gary Francione argues you're trampling their rights as animals.

If we want to achieve true animal rights, we need to stop having pets. 

That's according to Gary Francione, a law professor who deals with animal rights, and a longtime vegan. He says keeping pets is just another way of exploiting animals. 

And he says pets shouldn't exist.

But Francione is realistic. He himself has six rescue dogs, who he says he treats well. Once the animals exist, he says, we must take care them. But really, they shouldn't be around in the first place:

"Well, look, it's obviously better if you have a non-human companion, to treat the animal better, than worse...but, the problem is, can we justify domestication at all? That is the basic problem, the basic question. My position is, we cannot justify domestication, 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."

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.- Gary Francione

Francione hopes that all animal domestication will stop one day, though he's not counting on it happening any time soon. 

Pets with menageries of stuffed animals are still their owners' property. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length.

What's wrong with pets? 

The problem is that, you know, we bring these creatures into existence that are perpetually dependent on us. They're dependent on us for when they eat, when they drink, when they go out, they're really not animals, in the sense that they cannot take care of themselves, but they're certainly, obviously, not human, so they're just basically subject to our whims. Now, understand something: our pets, my pets, your pets, everybody's pets, are property, whether it's in the United States, or Canada, or any place else, they're property. They have no intrinsic value, they only have the extrinsic or external value that we accord to them. So, I love my dogs, and I choose to value them highly, I choose to value those pieces of property that I own highly. But the law doesn't require me to do so. The law allows me to value my animal property very low, and so as long as I give my dogs food, water, and shelter, I'm not violating the law. I don't have to show them affection, I don't have to have them living in the house, I don't have to treat them as members of my family. And indeed, if I want, I can drive them to a kill shelter today. and say: "Here: I don't want my dogs anymore, if you can't find a home for them, you can kill them." Or I can take them to a veterinarian who is willing to kill them, or I can basically kill them myself, as long as I do it humanely. 

Pets who live with royals are still property. (Matt Porteous/EPA)

So they are property. And I object to that. I don't think we can justify treating non-humans, whether for food, or for clothing, or as pets, I don't think we can justify treating them as property. 

So, I'm just trying to be clear on what you're suggesting here. I don't believe you're arguing that we should be treating cattle and codfish more like dogs and cats, and I'm sure you're not arguing that we treat dogs and cats more like cattle and codfish, so what are you arguing? 

I'm arguing that we ought to get rid of domestication altogether. I'm arguing that, if animals matter morally, we ought to stop bringing  them into existence and using them as resources. That we ought to take care of the animals that exist here now, but we ought to stop bringing domesticated animals into existence, and you know what, it would not only be a good moral thing to do, it would be good for our health, because I think the evidence that animal products are detrimental to health is increasing, and the reality is animal agriculture is an ecological disaster. 
Cats in hats are also property.

Humans have been domesticating dogs and cats for thousands of years, what would it take to stop that? 

Well, we would just spay and neuter them all. 

So that's it then, the lines would just end? 

That's right. And look, I have no illusions here. We would only stop domesticating dogs and cats after the paradigm shifted and we stopped seeing animals as things, we started seeing them as non-human persons, by which I mean simply beings that are morally considerable. And the only way we're going to get to the domestication of dogs and cats issue is if we come to the position that it's wrong to be treating animals as resources in the first place. And by the time we got to that point, by the time we transitioned to a vegan existence, we would see that pets are a problem, and other forms of exploitation are a problem. 

So I'm not suggesting that we're going to start with pets, we're not going to do that. As a matter of fact, the use of animals as pets will probably be — I mean, I won't be around, you won't be around, but it'll happen eventually — will probably be the last thing to go once we really recognize animal rights in a meaningful way, it will be the last thing to go.