Owner's Rights, Animal Rights

We hear a lot about the Animal Rights movement being full of fanatics, but many of us who consider ourselves to be responsible , thoughtful, and compassionate pet owners or pet guardians tend to overlook the fanatacism at the other end of the spectrum, what I will call Owner's Rights fanatics, who assert or imply that an animal's owner should be totally free from any legal regulation whatsoever.
To me both types of fanaticism are enemies to any kind of rational legislation or regulation or even simple discussion of what laws and private ethics would best serve the cause of protecting the welfare of pet animals and respecting and promoting the symbiotic nature of the relationship between pets and their people.
This article is intended to focus on issues of pet animals, chiefly dogs and cats, though it would also apply to any animal kept as a pet or companion. ( I know very well that many horse-people consider their horses as pets, pets with the benefit of the activity of riding and driving, which properly done is just as enjoyable to the horse as to the person :
"The bounding steed you pompously bestride,
 Shares with his lord the pleasure and the pride"
said Alexander Pope, and every World Class dressage horse I have observed in piaffe and passage would appear to agree. ) For pet animals the concept of symbiotic relationship, a relationship of mutual benefit, would clearly apply.
What I am NOT discussing here is the situation of animals kept as livestock, raised for production of edible products (meat, milk, cheese, eggs) or other bodily products (wool, leather), especially those raised to be killed for human benefit. It's difficult or impossible to fit the livestock paradigm into that of symbiosis, since being killed at an early age is clearly not beneficial to the animal. The situation of animals kept for racing or fighting or any other wagering type of event would also not fall under the symbiosis paradigm, as the majority of these animals who do not emerge as champions will face a very short or a very brutal life. Here need for legal limits on mistreatment and exploitation would seem to me to be well justified, and the only question is how severe the limits need to be.

Fanatics : Owner's Rights, Animal Rights

Pam Green, © 2007


Animal Rights : the End Animal Ownership fanatics

We hear a lot about the Animal Rights movement being full of fanatics, whose ultimate goal is to end ownership of domestic animals including pet dogs and cats by either ending breeding of same, making the current generation the last generation, or by giving these animals their "freedom" and turning them back into "Nature" to become "wild and free" again.

Those who wish to end ownership of domestic animals by ending all reproduction of same are ignoring the fact that the welfare of many humans absolutely depends on partnership with animals. Some humans could barely survive without animal help and many would be utterly miserable without their beloved friends.

"I should not wish to go to any Heaven in which there were no horses" (Winston Churchill)
"If dogs don't go to Heaven, I want to go wherever they go." (Will Rogers)

Those who wish to end ownership of animals by "freeing" domestic animals to return to Nature seem utterly oblivious to the ever-decreasing amounts of natural habitat that are available (and already fully occupied by genuinely wild animals who desperately need their habitat for their own survival) due to the ever-increasing human over-population due to unrestrained human breeding. If the Free the Animals fanatics were sincere and logical, they would be calling for human spay/neuter laws to reduce human population and remove humans from occupancy of lands adjacent to remaining wild areas, thus liberating such area for animal habitat. I don't even see the Free the Animals proponents voluntarily refraining from reproducing or selling their lavish homes to purchase land for Wildlife Conservatancy programs.

Even if plenty of wild habitat were available, there are very few domestic species that are able to go feral successfully , to survive and breed in the absence of human caretaking. Pigs do it well, but wild boars become a danger to any humans living nearby. Horses have done it fairly well, but mustangs already over-populate the lands available to them and are considered a nuisance. Cats do it fairly well, though with a high death toll, and the feral life tends to be "nasty, brutish, and short." The feral cats we already have are a serious problem to humans as a resevoir of Rabies and Toxoplasmosis, decimate bird populations, and threaten the survival of endangered wild feline species that live off the same pool of rodent and bird prey. Dogs do not go feral with any great success. Many of our current breeds are so altered by selective breeding for unnatural forms that virtually none could survive in the wild for more than a very brief and miserable period. Most of the rest of dog breeds would have a very high death toll but a few might survive. For most dogs, the best means of survival would be preying on domesticated livestock, though of course if there were no such livestock then this would not be possible. Domesticated dogs can suvive feral in urban areas, but there they become quite dangerous to humans as they pack up.

If the Free the Animal proponents really think that Back to Nature were so wonderful, why are they not abandoning our unnatural civilized life to go Back to Nature themselves. Do they even take camping trips where they have to live off the land without the artifacts of civilization , ie tools and clothing, on a temporary basis ? Abe Lincoln once said something like "To him who thinks that slavery is not so bad, I say let him try it !" (let him try being a slave). To those who advocate that it would be kind to kick our dogs and cats off the sofa and out of the house to go Back to Nature, I say "let him try it !" (let him try living as a wild animal himself for even just one month).


a crucial distinction

There is no doubt that amoung those seeking to legislate for animal welfare, there are some few but very vocal fanatics of the End Animal Ownership extreme. However there are many more thoughtful and compassionate people whose goal is Animal Welfare, who do NOT seek to end the domestication of animals but rather to set better terms for quality of life for these animals, doing so partly by education when possible but by legislation when nescessary. The Animal Welfare person generally knows that the right relationship between pets and people should be one of mutual benefit, what a biologist would call "symbiosis", but that while dogs and cats generally do live up to their end of the deal, humans sometimes do not do so, and therefore some combination of education and legal regulation can be needed to ensure that the humans do hold up their end of the deal and provide decent quality of life for their pets.


Owner's Rights : the no laws at all fanatics

Alas, many of us who consider ourselves to be responsible , thoughtful, and compassionate pet owners or pet guardians tend to overlook the fanatacism at the other end of the spectrum, what I will call Owner's Rights fanatics, who assert or imply that an animal's owner should be totally free from any legal regulation whatsoever, that an owner should be free to do whatever he pleases with his property.

The Owner's Right fanatics oppose all legislation that imposes duties on animal owners or that limit the owner's unfettered choice to do whatever they please because they consider their animals to be their property. Property, just like a tennis racquet or a toaster oven is property. Thus the OWNER'S RIGHTS fanatics scream and screech like bloody murder whenever any legislation impacts their perceived rights to do anything they please with their "property".

Many many genuinely caring and responsible pet owners believes that regulations of their own activities are unnescessary because they are already doing what is best for their pets and wants to retain the flexibilty to use their own judgement to continue to do so. Thus they oppose legislation that restricts this flexibility even if that legislation is telling them to do what they are already doing, eg vaccinating, spaying and neutering all but the best breeding candidates and insisting that most of their puppy/kitten buyers will also spay or neuter, leash laws, etc. These same owners also fear such legislation as leading to more restrictive measures, ones that would prevent them from doing what they consider best for their pets. This is "the slippery slope" arguement.

Thus they may lable every lgislative proposal as an Evil Plot by "those Animal Rights nuts" and therefore respond with an absolute "NO, NO, NO !". This view that "No compromise is possible !" and the belief that to accept any legal limits on what an owner can do with an animal is just the slippery slope to the total Animal Rights agenda of ending domesticated animals is to effectively become a fanatic at the other end of the spectrum. To believe that every piece of animal legislation that sets limits or imposes duties on animal owners must be opposed in total , rather than insisting that all legislation must acknowledge the value of the pet-person symbiosis and must serve to protect and promote that mutual benefit, is to effectively join the Owner's Rights fanatics.

If you don't believe there is an OWNER'S RIGHTS Fanatic frame of mind , then clearly you have not been listening to some of the statements in the Vick case by Vick and his fellow football players, such as that "the dogs are Vick's PROPERTY" and "he can do whatever he likes with his PROPERTY" and that "dog fighting is a sport just like hunting." (In hunting of course the underlying assumption is that it is OK to do whatever you like to a wild animal who is nobody's PROPERTY. This ignores the many livestock, especially cows and horses, who are shot by mistake by careless hunters, who also as we know occasionally shoot each other.) Now it absolutely floors me to hear the "I can do whatever I like with my PROPERTY" concept coming out of the mouth of Vick and friends who are persons of African American descent. Like hasn't they considered that those same words were in the mouth and mind of the PROPERTY (SLAVE) OWNER who owned, exploited, and abused this person's great-grand-parent(s) ? !!!

That's the most extreme version of course and the one that most people can clearly see as wrong and immoral. But those who consider themselves responsible pet lovers yet oppose almost every legislation that might protect pets from neglect or abuse or might set limits on promiscuous breeding of pets are a lot closer to this end of the spectrum than they want to recognize. At best they unwittingly support the Owner's Rights agenda.


the dangers of fanaticism of both kinds and the need for some degree of regulation

To me both types of fanaticism are enemies to any kind of rational legislation or regulation or even simple discussion of what laws and private ethics would best serve the cause of protecting the welfare of pet animals and respecting and promoting the symbiotic nature of the relationship between pets and their people.

On the one hand we have fanatics who seem to be saying that the rights (though the concept of responsibilities seems to be ignored) proper to an adult human should also apply to a young child (though no one really seems to think 5 year olds should drive cars or handle firearms) , a dog or cat, and (to the more extreme) a rabbit or mouse. On the other hand we have fanatics who seem to be saying that a non-human animal has no more rights and is worthy of no more consideration for its welfare than a tennis racquet or a toaster oven or an obsolete computer. Both sides do not seem to understand or acknowledge that just as a child differs from an adult in needs, values, and capabilities, so do dogs and cats and horses differ from humans and from one another in many ways while being similar in many ways. What promotes a living being's welfare depends on that being's capabilities, needs, etc. A dog would probably claim the right to a reasonable amount of sniffing time on walks and the right to roll in substances humans find disgusting, but a dog would not ask for choice of what to watch on TV or for an internet account or library card. Humans and dogs enjoy different things, but we could agree on many things that we want to avoid as painful.

I believe that those of us who consider ourselves responsible pet people should be voicing the concept that the appropriate relationship between pets and people is a SYMBIOTIC one, ie one of MUTUAL BENEFIT. Thus the owner/guardian has the right, privilege , and duty to make many decisions that are for the welfare of both the pet and the person, but the owner's right to make decisions is limited by considerations of the pet's welfare as well as some limitations related to the rights and welfare of neighbors and society generally. While some pet owners may be educated and caring enough to make good decisions, there are plenty who are not able or willing to give knowlegable consideration to the pet's welfare or the rights of neighbors and society. Some pet owners can NOT be allowed to simply do whatever they please, either because they don't know enough or don't care enough. Education can go a long way to improve owner attitudes and decision making capability, but there will still be some who cannot be educated and therefore must be legislated.

If every person were intelligent and well educated and thoughtful and considerate of others, we would need very few laws. We would still need some agreements or conventions on some things where there is no inherrent best way to provide for mutual welfare. For example we do need laws or conventions about which side of the road to drive on because everyone has to accept the same choice. But if no one ever drove drunk , then we wouldn't need laws against drunk driving. If we were all recieving telepaths and therefore truely felt another's pain as if it were our own, we wouldn't need laws against bodily assualt and murder. Of course a law forbidding something no one does anyway might be futile and silly, but it also wouldn't be harmful.

We DO have people who mistreat pets, whether from ignorance or from malice. We DO have people who breed pets in a way that is dead certain to harm their welfare and that of those who take them as companions. We do need laws forbidding dog fighting. We do need leash laws, as well as needing safely fenced off-lesah dog parks. We do need vaccination laws, but they need to be responsive to the best current veterinary knowledge. And we do need laws or very strong social customs enforced with extreme social santions against promiscuous pet breeding, pet breeding solely for financial gain, pet breeding without consideration for genetic health and socialization.

We need rational laws that respect the value of a mutually beneficial pet-person relationship, including the kind of careful thoughtful breeding practices that produce good pets.

So we have to be ready to discuss what laws promote such relationships and what laws would damage them. We cannot continue to act as fanatics with one side saying "no, no , no" and the other saying "yes, yes, yes" and neither one addressing the real issues and real goals. If it continues to be a case of two totally opposed forces screaming opposites at one another, then the legislators, many of whom are not devoted pet people, will just have to respond to the loudest voices, the most money, the most votes, or they will have to guess at what might actually benefit society as a whole without the advantage of rational input from those who are really informed and involved.

Responsible pet people need to be pro-active in framing legislation, not merely reactive to bad legislation propounded by either the ignorant or the fanatical.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 8/25/07 revised 8/25/07
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