Desktop version

Home arrow Environment arrow Pets and People: The Ethics of Our Relationships with Companion Animals


I originally became involved in this book because of the cats in my life.

In October 2013 my friend and colleague Dr. Jean Harvey, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, contacted me to ask what she admitted might be a bizarre, out-of-the-blue question: “Do you have companion animals ?” She added, “Nothing to do with trying to get anyone to adopt rescues, so don’t worry about that.”

I wrote back to tell her that my life-partner, Ted, and I had lived with many wonderful cats. After our Ozzie died (of acute kidney disease) in early 2011 at age sixteen, Ted and I were devastated. We waited until the summer of 2012 to adopt our current family member, Nekko (Japanese for “cat”), a grey tabby. But why was she asking?

Jean wrote again to tell me about an innovative project she was starting: a philosophical anthology on ethics and companion animals. The features of the anthology were, first, that it would focus on ethical issues relating to companion animals, primarily cats and dogs; second, that the chapters would be accessible not only to philosophers but also to people from other disciplines and to interested and educated people outside academia; and third, that each contributor would provide a distinct perspective on human relationships with companion animals. In particular, Jean wanted to encourage some potential contributors who had not previously written about animal ethics to think about how their published work on human-to-human ethics might apply to the ethics of human relationships with companion animals.

In my case, she suggested that I consider whether and to what extent some of my ideas in an earlier book, Aging, Death, and Human Longevity: A Philosophical Inquiry (2003), might apply to cats and dogs. I had not previously written much about animal ethics, but I was intrigued by Jean’s suggestion and readily accepted her invitation to contribute. (The result is my chapter in this book, “Throw out the Dog? Death, Longevity, and Companion Animals.”) I was happy to be included in what promised to be a groundbreaking collection.

But just over a month later Jean wrote again to say she had been hospitalized. In the course of treatment for appendicitis, it had been discovered that she had acute leukemia. As a result, she said, her schedule for the book (originally planned to be finished in 2014) would now be delayed. But, despite starting chemotherapy, she emphasized her commitment to completing the anthology.

Unfortunately, by February 2014, she was too ill to continue working on it. Her doctors had concluded that no further treatment was possible or likely to be effective, and she returned home from the hospital to spend time with the cats she called her “furry family.” Jean was realistic about her own medical prospects. In an email message to me on February 3, 2014, she wrote,

I now realize I will not be able to bring [the anthology] to completion,

I wondered if there were another way to see it through... . I wondered if you would be willing to edit the collection? ... I realize this is a bit of a cheek, asking about this, but I’m so passionate about the collection being published. In case you have any interest at all, I have attached the ‘basic’ information from each of the six committed contributors [they included her and me]. I’m so sorry this is so quick and business-like. Just really tired and rather anxious to see the email on its way. Every one of the pieces so far planned for is excellent, both in its focus (and therefore in the ‘variety’ in the collection) and in the qualities of the author.

I was deeply saddened by the revelation of the seriousness of Jean’s illness. Although I could not yet accept that her illness was terminal, I agreed to help with the book. My thought was to work with her until she was sufficiently recovered to take it on again. My reasons for doing so were my respect for Jean’s philosophical work and my belief in the value, importance, and timeliness of the book’s theme.

Jean was delighted and relieved when I accepted her invitation, although she must surely have known that my main qualification as editor was not academic but personal: a simple determination to see the project through to its completion. Over the next months she and I discussed in more detail, via phone and email, the book’s focus and goals. Jean also told me she had been warned that she had only about two more months of life. During that time she was working to finish her second single-author book, Civilized Oppression and Moral Relations: Victims, Fallibility, and the Moral CommunityJ which was edited by her colleague and friend Antonio Calcagno (who is also a contributor to this anthology) and subsequently published in 2015. Despite her own truly dire situation, Jean continued to be upbeat, appreciative, encouraging, and supportive of my work on the anthology.

Jean Harvey died on Sunday, April 20, 2014. Hers was a life well lived. I hope that Pets and People: The Ethics of Our Relationships with Companion Animals reflects her intentions, hopes, and scholarly values.


1. This book is a follow-up to and development ofher first, Civilized Oppression (1999).


Harvey, Jean. 2015. Civilized Oppression and Moral Relations: Victims, Fallibility, and the Moral Community. Edited by Antonio Calcagno. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Overall, Christine. 2003. Aging, Death, and Human Longevity: A PhilosophicalInquiry. Boston: MIT Press.


This book was inspired and initiated by Jean Harvey, whose now-classic paper, “Companion and Assistance Animals: Benefits, Welfare Safeguards, and Relationships," was one of the earliest philosophical discussions of ethics and companion animals. Her paper is included here and is the only chapter that has been previously published. I am deeply grateful to Jean for starting this project, and to the International Journal of Applied Philosophy (22 [2], 2008: 161-76) for permission to reprint her paper.

I also thank all the contributors, whose enthusiasm, insight, and cooperation made creating this anthology such a pleasure. Special thanks to the original group of contributors who were with the book from the beginning: Maurice Hamington, Kathryn Norlock, Bernard Rollin, and Cynthia Townley.

I’m grateful to editor Peter Ohlin for believing in the value of the book. Thank you to Emily Sacharin and Andrew Ward, the editorial assistants who worked with me on this project, to Henry Southgate for his careful and professional work as copy editor, and to Shalini Balakrishnan, the project manager.

Many people supported my work on Pets and People. Thank you to my friends Tabitha Bernard, Kathy Silver, Ruth Dubin, Tom Russell, Carol Kavanagh, Stephen Leighton, Carlos Prado, Tam Mito, and Ahmed Kayssi for their kindness. My writers’ group, “Writers Like Us"—Mary Cameron, Carla Douglas, Tara Kainer, and Kim Renders—has sustained and encouraged my writing, both academic and non-academic, over the past three years. I am especially grateful to Kim for the many opportunities she has given me to perform my words.

My friends from high school, Evan Alcock, Dave Beavan, Gisela Braune, and Nancy Chapple, connect me to our past and model hope for our future. My wonderful former students, especially Nikoo Najand, Christine Vidt, and Kassy Wayne, remind me of the value of philosophy and the importance of embedding it in our lives. Daily exercise at Kingston’s Apex Indoor Cycling lowers both my blood pressure and my stress. Special thanks to Jeff Farmer and all the instructors for their encouragement.

My mother, Dorothy Overall, was my first model for living supportively with cat companions. She has always believed in me and my work. My life-partner Ted Worth lovingly plies me with excellent food and endures my scholarly ups and downs with grace and compassion. Our children, Devon Worth and Narnia Worth, and their spouses Julie Mayrand and Michael Ashton, connect me to warm family life outside work, and our grandchildren, Ewan, Nathan, Torin, and Darren, repeatedly reawaken my sense of wonder and joy.

Most of all, I acknowledge and thank the cats who have been and remain an irreplaceable part of my family and my life: Tiger, Nudnik, Ozzie, Nemo, and Nekko.


David Benatar, Professor of Philosophy, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Antonio Calcagno, Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, King’s University College, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada

Michael Cholbi, Professor ofPhilosophy, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, California, USA

Jessica du Toit, Teaching Assistant, Philosophy Department, University of Cape Town, South Africa; Former Fellow, Department of Bioethics, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA

Maurice Hamington, Executive Director of University Studies and Professor of Philosophy, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, USA

Jean Harvey, Professor of Philosophy, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada (deceased)

Josh Milburn, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Philosophy, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Tony Milligan, Teaching Fellow in Ethics and the Philosophy of Religion, Department of Theology & Religious Studies, King’s College London, UK

Kathryn J. Norlock, Associate Professor and Kenneth Mark Drain Chair in Ethics, Department of Philosophy, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

Christine Overall, Professor Emerita of Philosophy and University Research Chair, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Jennifer Parks, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Undergraduate Bioethics Minor Program, Loyola University, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Bernard E. Rollin, University Distinguished Professor, Professor of Philosophy, Professor of Animal Sciences, Professor of Biomedical Sciences, University Bioethicist, Department of Philosophy, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA

John Rossi, Assistant Professor and Co-Director, Program in Public Health Ethics & History, Department of Community Health and Prevention, Drexel University School of Public Health, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Tina Rulli, Assistant Professor, Philosophy Department, University of California, Davis, California, USA

СЫоё Taylor, Associate Professor, Department of Women’s and Gender Studies and Department of Philosophy, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Cynthia Townley, Research Associate, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia

Gary Varner, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA

Katherine Wayne, Instructor, Department of Philosophy, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Zipporah Weisberg, Research Associate, Animals in Philosophy, Politics, Law, and Ethics (APPLE), Department of Philosophy, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >