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More Radical Implications?

Nearly all dogs and most cats living from a very early age with caring and loving humans enter into loving relationships and thrive in them. They become affectionate companions who bask in the security of the relationship, relish the affection, and develop into fascinating and wonderful individuals. The joy and deep sense of security dogs and cats find in the relationship is mirrored in the quiet comfort felt when close to their human companions, the delight they show when playing with them, the loving greetings with which they welcome them, the affectionate presence offered to their sick or despondent humans, the way in which they heal more quickly or die more peacefully in the arms of their human companions, and the grief they feel when they lose their people.

Hundreds of thousands of dogs do not live as companion animals. Some are “purely working dogs,” at least from the perspective of the humans. (It is far from clear that such dogs never themselves enter into a loving relationship, giving their hearts and loyalties to non-reciprocating humans who treat them like decently maintained machines.) Given the many ways in which dogs in general and many cats display their happiness, delight, and sense of deep comfort in a lasting and loving relationship with their humans, a case can be made that being animal companions is part of their evolved nature, their telos, as Rollin calls it, and if so, it has radical and far-reaching moral implications.

For example, except for the very occasional case where a pup cannot enter into such a loving relationship or is unhappy in it, there should not be any “purely working dogs.” If the work cannot be accomplished if the dog enters into a companion role, so much the worse for the work. That the work is beneficial to humans establishes nothing morally, just as the work of human slaves being beneficial to their “owners” establishes nothing morally. In both cases it begs all the important questions to claim that the recipients of the benefits are so special, so superior in value that their benefits are worth the suffering or deprivation of the animals or slaves. There are also implications for dogs and cats in research labs, veterinary training, sports, and more, and for other animals whose evolved nature includes entering into and fully thriving in such relationships, but here I can only nail the flag to the mast and develop the points another time.

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