Animal domestication – justifiable or not?

Posted on 22 April 2012

…A regular feature on aspects of morality in veganism by Lizé Oosthuizen

This month I would like to venture a topic which I experience as particularly problematic:  How moral is it to have domesticated pets?

Owing to my great love of animals, I have pets (4 cats – Sheba, the mother of the other 3: Snowflake, Simba and Toffee and a recent addition to our family, a Great Dane puppy called Frasier), but I am finding it increasingly difficult to justify ‘owning’ pets as this seems to be directly linked to animal abuse in at least 4 ways:
Leonardo Da Vinci - maiden with unicorn

  1. It makes animal shelters, SPCAs and the like, necessary because animals usually accepted as pets (dogs, cats, even rabbits and many other unfortunate animals) who don’t have human homes are automatically considered to be a nuisance and often a potential threat to public health and/or society.  The atrocities that happen at SPCAs are heart breaking, as it is daily practice to have animals that are in perfect health and often very young, euthanised due to limited space and resources and an overflow of new arrivals from, needless to say, irresponsible people.
  2. In order to feed our lovely little meat-eating furry friends, most of us, especially in SA, are forced to buy foods from our local vets or pet shops that contain the left-overs of the very meat we refuse to purchase for our own direct consumption.
  3. Pet breeders are another cause for concern as it is a well established fact that the purer a breed of animal the genetically weaker they become and therefore more prone to diseases and short life spans.  What’s more is that the animals used to breed are often overworked and treated as mere machines kept in order to produce ‘products’ for profits.  Furthermore, each time an animal is purchased from a breeder, one more animal in a shelter dies needlessly.
  4. Finally, can it be considered fair to remove an animal from their natural environment and tendencies by containing them within our yards and feeding them a largely unnatural (and therefore unhealthy) diet?  Would they choose this life if they had a choice?  I find birds confined to cages particularly troubling as they rarely have any space to fly in these prisons kept by persons for their personal amusement from time to time.

Now this leads us to the first and more obvious of 2 moral dilemmas – how can we call ourselves true vegans if we still support animal cruelty in abattoirs and the farming industry by purchasing products that inevitably come from these most inhumane and unnatural organisations for the consumption of our pets?

The second moral dilemma is how natural is it to feed our pets with kibble which is, in most cases, chemical laden and full of ‘meaty flavours’ from dubious sources at best?  By way of example, for those of us with cats, we are very aware that the dry food/kibble contributes to urinary tract and kidney disease in them.  In order to reduce the risk there are all kinds of ‘wonderful’ additives introduced to the increasingly pricy kibble, which is meant to ease our conscience about feeding our pets such an unnatural and often detrimental diet.

Thirdly, animals are robbed of their free will which goes against the principles of vegans.

The source of the problem

One conclusion may be that the problem stems from humans deciding to domesticate animals in the first place.  If we never did this, animals roaming around free would be considered normal.  Perhaps they would have been separate from us much like lions in the wild are separate from where human settlements or urban areas are.  Cats and dogs would fend for themselves and live on natural diets, both unburdening humans from the constant responsibility of catering to their every whim and also gracing these wonderful animals with a longer, happier and healthier life span.

Of course, it could be pointed out that humans provide domesticated animals with shelter, food and safety, where otherwise they may have been subjected to the harshness of nature.  To such an argument I reply that nature takes its course and that “survival of the fittest” is a reality, unfortunate as it may be, but we even see this among people.  By way of example, certain individuals succumb to diseases and die of traditionally non-life-threatening diseases whereas others recover from diseases believed to be incurable – could this not be seen as similar?  In any event, domestication is no guarantee of a good life to any animal for the following off-hand reasons:

  1. It is well documented that many animals are kept by abusive owners;
  2. The food we, more often than not, feed our pets is unnatural and highly processed – this is most likely a reason why domesticated (and factory farmed) animals are known to develop cancers and other illnesses relatively uncommon to animals in the wild who eat natural diets and whose environment has not been compromised by humans in some way;
  3. Pets often walk around outside their yards (cats are especially difficult to keep track of 24/7) and as a result they are often hit by cars, many of which may lie conscious and in pain for many hours before death.

So with the above being said, I am content to conclude that it is in the best interest of animals to be awarded the opportunity to fend for themselves, and attempt to survive as nature intended.  At least seen from this perspective each animal has a fighting chance and is not robbed of free will.

Practicality of implementation

Back to reality though:  due to the structure of our society and the long standing traditions and desires to ‘own’ domesticated pets, it is unlikely that people will adopt new lifestyles free of pets anytime in the near future and therefore we are left to do the best we can by adopting pets from the SPCA, Wetnose, etc, finding solace in the fact that we are providing them with a good home and excellent care while their presence is spared to grace our homes.

If you would like to do something for shelter pets, please visit these 3 links and request a daily reminder to click on a link on the site which allows sponsors to donate kibble to these animals in need: The Animal Rescue SiteOpens in a new window, FreekibbleOpens in a new window and Barking MadOpens in a new window.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” ~ Mahatma Gandhi 1869-1948

Article by Lizé Oosthuizen

External link: Mdzananda Animal Welfare Clinic, KhayelitshaOpens in a new window.


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