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


Tina Rulli

People may be familiar with the view that we should adopt our animal companions from rescue organizations rather than purchase them from breeders. Animal welfare groups urge people to “Opt to Adopt!” or to “Adopt, Not Shop!” The imperative is to rescue an existing dog or cat in need of a new home rather than buy from a breeder. Buying from a breeder, whether it is buying an existing animal or one that is not yet born, is supporting a practice of creating new animals (hereon, just “creating them”). But why create more animals when there are so many out there in need of good homes already? Each year animal shelters in the US see a new 7.6 million companion animals come through their doors.1 Despite the familiarity of the pro-animal-adoption view, there is little to nothing in the philosophical literature on the ethics of adopting our animal companions rather than creating them, nor is there anything defending the other side. What is the merit of this argument?

A look at the recent and emerging literature on the ethics of adopting children rather than procreating may be illuminating. The choice of adopting animal companions (rather than creating them) and the choice of adopting children (rather than procreation) are not entirely analogous. But the similarities and differences are instructive.

I explore the case of a duty to adopt our animal companions rather than commission their creation, leveraging the literature on the duty to adopt rather than procreate children. First, I draw comparisons: if there is a plausible duty to adopt children based on the duty to rescue, then there should likewise be a plausible case for a duty to adopt animal companions. I consider and reject the objection that animals cannot be the proper subjects of duties of beneficence. Next, I discuss the difference between a duty to adopt animal companions simpliciter and a duty to adopt rather than create. I focus primarily on the latter.

I then consider potential differences between the duty to adopt children rather than procreate and the duty to adopt our animal companions rather than create them. There are several ways in which the animal duty to adopt is especially compelling, given the problems with breeder practices. Next, I explore reasons people might have for choosing to buy their pets from breeders rather than rescue organizations. None justify that choice.

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