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


  • 1. This chapter is the product of a close collaboration. David Benatar wrote the first section. The second section is adapted from Jessica du Toit, “Is Having Pets Morally Permissible?,” The Journal of Applied Philosophy 33 (2016): 327-43, and is used here with permission. This chapter in turn was adapted from a master’s thesis written by Jessica du Toit under David Benatar’s supervision (“Human- Animal Relationships,” The University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa, 2013). The third section and conclusion of the chapter were jointly conceived, with Jessica du Toit writing the first draft and revisions made by both authors.
  • 2. One-year mortality rates in feral dogs have been found to be around 95 percent. L. Boitani and P. Ciucci (“Comparative Social Ecology of Feral Dogs and Wolves,” Ethology, Ecology & Evolution 7 [1995]: 58) say that a number of studies have found this.
  • 3. For a fuller account, with a focus on human reproduction, see David Benatar, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).
  • 4. Companion animals are often restricted well beyond the level that can be justified. See Clare Palmer and Peter Sandoe, “For Their Own Good: Captive Cats and Routine Confinement,” in The Ethics of Captivity, ed. Lori Gruen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).
  • 5. Gary Patronek, “Assessment of Claims of Short- and Long-Term Complications Associated with Onychectomy in Cats,” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 219 (2001), quoting the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 1999/2000 APPMA National Pet Owners Survey (Greenwich, Conn: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 2000).
  • 6. P. C. Bennett and E. Perini, “Tail Docking in Dogs: A Review of the Issues,” Australian Veterinary Journal81 (2003): 208-18.
  • 7. This evidence is reviewed in Benatar, Better Never to Have Been, 64-69.
  • 8. Among other things, various animal welfare laws prohibit the unnecessary killing, torturing, maiming, starving, and under-feeding of companion animals, and require that these animals receive adequate veterinary or other medical attention whenever necessary.
  • 9. Gary Francione, Animals, Property and the Law (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995); Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009).
  • 10. Francione, Animals as Persons, 13; “‘Pets’: The Inherent Problems ofDomestication,” Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach (blog), July 31, 2012, http://www.aboh-
  • 11. The notion of the permissibility of breeding companion animals and allowing them to reproduce with one another, should, both here and at later points in this section, be understood to be very restrictive. That is, it should, for example, be understood to refer to the permissibility of breeding only those companion animals for whom we can provide a good home.
  • 12. There might be some sense in which they would still be vulnerable to harm—it would not be illegal to harm them in some ways—but in another important sense even those beings who have full legal status are vulnerable to harm. They are vulnerable to harm by those who violate the law. Of course, there is legal recourse in the latter cases, but that is often no consolation. A murder victim is not brought back to life merely because his or her assailant is brought to account.
  • 13. Francione, “ ‘Pets’: The Inherent Problems of Domestication.”
  • 14. In “ ‘Pets’: The Inherent Problems of Domestication,” Francione says, “But if there were two dogs left in the universe and it were up to us as to whether they were allowed to breed so that we could continue to live with dogs ... [I] would not hesitate for a second to bring the whole institution of [pet-keeping] to an end.”
  • 15. It might be suggested that breeding permanently dependent humans is a better analogy and that our intuitions are clearly against such a practice. However, one confounding variable with this case is that the cognitive capacities of the bred humans would be stunted relative to the species-norm; this might explain our opposition to it.
  • 16. Wayne Pacelle, The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them (New York: William Morrow, 2011), 197. See also the Humane Society ofthe United States’ fact sheet entitled “Pets by the Numbers,” January 30, 2014, http://www.
  • 17. See the UK RSPCA’s fact sheet, “Facts and Figures,” media/facts.
  • 18. See RSPCA Australia’s “National Statistics 2011-2012” report, https ://www.rspca. National%20Statistics%202011-2012.pdf.
  • 19. See the Canadian Federation ofHumane Societies’ report, “Animal Shelter Statistics 2013,” http: / /
  • 20. Of the 6-8 million cats and dogs who entered shelters in the United States between 2012 and 2013, only some were deemed sufficiently healthy to be adopted. Of those cats and dogs, approximately 2.7 million were killed. RSPCA figures obtained from the UK for the past five years show that 46 percent of the total number of animals who entered the charity’s shelters were killed. While some of the animals killed were killed for their own sakes, many of them were killed because there was simply no room for them in shelters (Nick Craven and Lynne Wallis, “Revealed: RSPCA Destroys HALF of the Animals That It Rescues—Yet Thousands Completely Healthy,” The Daily Mail (online edition), January 8, 2013, http://www.daily- thousands-completely-healthy.html. During 2011, Australia’s RSPCA killed approximately 38,900 of the 108,000 dogs and cats who entered its shelters (see RSPCA Australia’s “National Statistics 2011-2012” report). And in Canada, it is estimated that 46,000 of the 150,000 dogs and cats who entered shelters in 2013 were killed (see the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies’ report, “Animal Shelter Statistics 2013”).
  • 21. Pacelle, The Bond, 204.
  • 22. Pacelle, The Bond, 206-7.
  • 23. Asher et al., “Inherited Defects in Pedigree Dogs. Part 1: Disorders Related to Breed Standards,” The Veterinary Journal 182 (2009): 402. Interestingly, conformational breed-associated defects were recognized as early as 1868 by Charles Darwin, who hypothesized that muscular defects in Scottish deerhounds were related to their great size (ibid.).
  • 24. Ibid. 406; Advocates for Animals, “The Price of a Pedigree: Dog Breed Standards and Breed-Related Illness,” 2006, 9, tions/price-of-a-pedigree.pdf.
  • 25. Asher et al., “Inherited Defects in Pedigree Dogs,” 406; Advocates for Animals, “The Price of a Pedigree,” 14.
  • 26. Asher et al., “Inherited Defects in Pedigree Dogs,” 406; Advocates for Animals, “The Price of a Pedigree,” 13.
  • 27. Advocates for Animals, “The Price of a Pedigree,” 10.
  • 28. Asher et al., “Inherited Defects in Pedigree Dogs,” 407; Advocates for Animals, “The Price of a Pedigree,” 12.
  • 29. Asher et al., “Inherited Defects in Pedigree Dogs,” 409.
  • 30. Summers et al., “Inherited Defects in Pedigree Dogs. Part 2: Disorders That Are Not Related to Breed Standards,” The Veterinary Journal 183 (2010): 40; Pacelle, The Bond, 218.
  • 31. Elaine A. Ostrander, “Both Ends of the Leash—The Human Links to Good Dogs with Bad Genes,” The New England Journal of Medicine 367 (2012): 637-38.
  • 32. Even those who, because of the non-identity problem (see Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984], Part IV), would deny that the animals brought into existence are harmed, could still recognize that worse outcomes result from breeding “thoroughbreds” than from alternatives.
  • 33. We dedicate this essay to the memory of Ben du Toit (December 4, 2004 to December 14, 2014), an animal who was the best of companions.
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