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


Animal Assisted Intervention is a rapidly expanding practice, and for good reasons. In its best form it can be mutually reinforcing for both the humans and nonhumans, most notably dogs, involved. It can encourage meaningful, reciprocal, and long-lasting relationships between human clients and canine co-therapists. It can help humans heal from trauma, and offer dogs an opportunity to flourish in ways that build upon the natural inclinations many of them have to engage with humans as their companions, guides, helpers, playmates, and protectors. But AAI also carries with it grave risks to dogs’ (and other animals’) wellbeing and flourishing. Among other things, it can involve abuse, neglect, violence, and the frustration of natural behaviors. It also risks reinforcing the oppressive view that other animals are instruments for human use to be consumed and disposed of at will. Over the years, there have been well-intentioned efforts at reform and standardization of AAI. But so far, it seems that the animals involved are not universally provided with the robust and comprehensive protections and entitlements they deserve. Although this might not be the only approach, one possible way to ensure that AAI develops into a practice that enables the flourishing of all the parties involved is to embed it in a wider protective political framework such as citizenship. Whether or not we accept Donaldson and Kymlicka’s theory of citizenship, we can certainly see the advantages of according animals’ political status within an interspecies community. With regard to AAI in particular, our foray into Donaldson and Kymlicka’s “zoopolis” demonstrates that fundamental changes in animals’ status, entitlements, and rights are required if they are to thrive and avoid being harmed as participants in this practice.

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