Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why Pet Ownership is Weird

I was recently asked to explain why I think pet ownership is "weird." Here was my response:

I'm going to say this without care for your feelings or beliefs on this matter. No intelligent conversation could ever occur if we spent all our time worrying about other people's feelings. I'm asking you to drop your hackles and actually think for a moment. Beliefs, by their very nature are irrational. I am not sharing my beliefs here. These are just my observations and a little of my commentary on those observations. I'm also not peddling a "truth" because those are as slippery as beliefs. So let's clear some things up:

1) I am not stating or even insinuating that everything or anything in nature or the universe is not connected.
2) There are rare instances in nature of one species "adopting" and rearing a member of another species (e.g. ducks raising a swan, or even "feral" human children being raised by wolves) but this is always seen as eccentric behavior on the part of the adopters.
3) The only reason dogs are domesticated is that humans meddled with the nature of wild dogs--hence my use of the word "unnatural"--by eugenically inbreeding them and selecting the offspring to inbreed and crossbreed further until we have all these AKC "breeds" of domesticated dogs that were originally bred for specific tasks.
4) Humans feel that eugenically breeding humans for selected traits is immoral, but we have no qualms about doing it to dogs.
5) Many of these AKC "breeds" of dogs have genetic weaknesses (i.e. negative consequences) found in other inbred populations (hip dysplasia, epilepsy, etc.) yet we keep inbreeding them. However, random cross-breeds (which we negatively label "mutts") tend to have fewer genetic weaknesses.
6) Most of the "purebred" dogs are no longer being used for the tasks they were bred for, so why are the "breeds" perpetuated?
7) Humans are responsible for this unnatural meddling with nature, so we have the responsibility to decide what to do with the situation:
  7.a) We could choose to put dogs back to work doing what they were bred for and let the other obsolete breeds fade away over time.
  7.b) We could choose to undo the whole inbreeding thing altogether by either sterilizing all domesticated dogs, or by outlawing selective breeding of dogs and asserting that it is as immoral as eugenically breeding humans.
  7.c) We could perpetuate the eugenic breeding of dogs, and create new roles (unrelated to the genetic traits selected) for the dogs, such as inviting them into our homes to be treated as surrogate family members.
8) Humans chose option 7.c. Was this a conscious choice?
9) People give their dogs human names.
10) People feed dogs diets that would never be found in nature.
11) People sleep with their dogs in the same bed.
12) People keep dogs inside human houses and apartments, sometimes only to go outside to their "natural" environment a couple times a day for a quick waste-elimination break.
13) People project human thoughts and emotions on their dogs.
14) People talk about their dogs as if the dog "chose" this inbred existence, or as if it has any "say" in determining who brings it into their house and feeds it.
15) People even dress their dogs in parodies of human clothing.
16) People talk about "owning" a dog. Does the thought of "owning" another life form in this universe not sound strange and presumptuous?
17) People get emotionally distraught when faced with the loss of the imaginary anthropomorphic personality construct they build around a dog (or other pet) when it dies and goes back to the natural system it was taken from in the first place.
18) People talk about leaving a dog in it's natural environment as if it is an act of cruelty. They conversely call it "humane" to rip a dog out of it's natural environment, force it into a life of long periods of inactivity, an unnatural diet, and training so that it can act in ways that are unnatural to dogs, but acceptable to people.

If we treated other people this way, we would call it slavery. Oh wait, we did that already. Why is it that I feel so alone when pointing out that the concept of pet "ownership" is unnatural?

And, in case you're interested, here are my beliefs on the matter: I feel deeply that what we do to dogs and other pets is immoral. As immoral as doing it to other humans.

Now, all of this aside, I may not own any pets, but I have several friends who do. They and their pets are always welcome in my house. I treat their pets with courtesy and affection. I dog-sit for my neighbors and friends. But none of that changes by observations and conclusions that the whole system is unnatural and weird.

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