The Current

'They're property': Love not enough to justify pet ownership, says animal rights author

You may never think of dogs, cats, and other animal companions the same way again.
Keeping pets as property is not ethical, according to law professor Gary Francione. He's the author of Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach. (Submitted by Gary Francione)

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Gary Francione lives with six dogs. He calls them the "non-human refugees" who share his home — four of the dogs suffered cruelty at the hands of past owners.

He loves them all.

But the Rutgers University law professor, and author of several books about animal rights, argues love is not enough to justify the institution of pet ownership.

"They're property," Francione tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"This is the problem. Animals are sentient beings whom we own, as we once owned slaves."

Francione points to domestication of animals as the source of the problem.

"These are creatures who live in this netherworld of vulnerability," he says.

"We've bred them to be completely dependent on us for every aspect of their lives. And I don't think we should continue to perpetuate domestication."

Stanley Coren and his 7 1/2-year-old dog, Ripley. (Submitted by Stanley Coren)

But Stanley Coren, author of How Dogs Think, disagrees — at least when it comes to dogs.

"Dogs are very much a special case in that we didn't domesticate them, they domesticated themselves," Coren tells Tremonti.

Dogs ate food scraps scattered around in early human hunting communities, Coren says, and they learned to make themselves loved by humans to get access to those leftovers.

"So dogs began to evolve so that they were changing physiologically as well as psychologically to fit with our lifestyle," he explains.

"I feel that dogs have, if you will, chosen to be our companions."  

Jessica Pierce, author of Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets, believes that keeping pets that live in cages or tanks is unethical.

But for her, when it comes to dogs and cats, the questions are more complex. 
Jessica Pierce with Poppy at five-months-old. (Submitted by Jessica Pierce )

"Pet keeping, as we currently practise it, is incredibly damaging to animals and exploitive," she tells Tremonti. 

"We need to evolve how we do it in some pretty radical ways."

But Pierce says that with a lot of care and attention, owning a dog or cat can be beneficial to both the human and the pet.

"There is a population of people who strongly desire and really need to have interrelationships with animals," says Pierce.

"And I don't want to take that away. I don't want to take it away from myself and I don't want to take that away from other people for whom that's an extraordinarily important part of their experience of life."

Jessica Pierce with Bella, age five. (Submitted by Jessica Pierce )

Despite seeing pet ownership as unethical, Francione doesn't believe that we should just let our pets go, leaving them to fend for themselves.

"I think we have a moral obligation to take care of the animals who are here now," he says

"They're in this mess because of us."

Listen to the full segment near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Karin Marley.

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