A recent article in The Globe and Mail (09/09/19), by Professor Alexandra Horowitz of Columbia University, addresses the harsh reality of proprietorial rights.  We own our furniture and we own our pets. 

Is that ethical?

It is, so long as we assign the same sensibility and emotional capacity to our pets as we do to our furniture. Of course, the initial reaction to such a proposition is one of dismissal, “Our pets are part of our family”, we say. “Our pets make decisions, they experience cold, they react to stress.  They are different altogether.” 

Different, yes, and there are some constraints on our treatment of them, but  Dr. Horowitz notes that qualifiers against the constraints are weighted completely in favour of the owners.  We say, “We can break a chair or throw it away, but we can’t do that to our pets!”. Not exactly.  On the one hand, our federal laws forbid injuring animals or throwing them away.  On the other hand, neglecting a pet is allowed, if it is not “willful”; so is throwing the pet away, as long as it’s in the direction of another set of arms, like an equine auction or a humane society shelter.  “We can smash our furniture to pieces, but we can’t do that to our pets!”.  Not exactly.  Causing animal suffering is disallowed, but only “unnecessary” suffering.  If it is deemed justified by the owner, say in an aberrant form of training that deems the suffering “necessary”, then it is allowed.  Dr. Horowitz concludes, “In the eyes of the law a dog is a chair is a dog.”

Isn’t it time for a change?

Over the past 50 years, myriad scientific studies have been carried out which demonstrate that animals feel pain, that they show rationality.  Added to the science is the philosophical rejection of that old saw that “animals have no souls”.  That argument works so long as you subscribe to a value system based upon concepts of superior and inferior, good and bad, ‘man’ and then the rest of the world.  Assumptions like those belong to the pre-21st Century mentality. Today, near the end of 2019, as we stare at the ravages of the human-caused climate crisis, it is plainer than ever that we are all related, that every action has a reaction, that we should give care rather than take ownership.

Of course, any societal change, whenever it takes place, takes place in small, measurable steps. Dr. Horowitz is partial to David Favre’s suggestion of a replacement definition for the human ownership of animals as ‘property’, to one that refers instead to animals as “living property.”  Such a term would acknowledge that our pets are agents, owners of themselves, along with being sentient creatures whose well-being should be the first human concern.  Such an enhanced definition brings with it a fundamental respect for the beings involved as well as more sympathetic interpretations to the laws that watch over them.

For me, it is not about ownership, it is about “living with” and I agree with Randy Sterling of Blenheim, ON, “Our laws need to change to allow the courts to better protect animals that are owned by animals.”

Sandra Pady, DSC Founder