I have been thinking about the ethics of keeping sentient animals as pets. As someone who has lived with dogs, cats, rats, mice, gerbils, rabbits, lizards, guinea pigs, and chickens, I have experienced first-hand the joy and companionship that such creatures can bring to our lives and the love that we can have for them. Yet, as a philosopher interested in animal ethics, I am aware of the many moral problems associated with our practice of keeping animals as pets. These problems have led me to reconsider human-animal companionship, and I have come to think that no matter how much we might love the animals we bring into our homes, we cannot justify doing so.
Author: Angie Pepper
Humans like watching nonhuman animals. We watch them in parks, in zoos, on farms, in sanctuaries, in pet shops, in our gardens, on the streets, in our homes, on tv, and so on. Lately, we have developed increasingly innovative and ingenious ways of watching animals: ways of accessing their intimate lives without them knowing. Take, as an example, the BBC documentary “Spy in the Wild” in which “animatronic spy creatures infiltrate the animal world to explore their complex emotions”. (If you haven’t seen it, here’s a clip.) Or consider the proliferation of wildlife cams, zoo cams, and pet cams that are placed discretely in animals’ homes and give us unlimited access to their daily lives. Last year, a wildlife fan installed a camera within a birdbox to watch a family of blue tits and the footage was viewed 41 million times within a month of being uploaded. In 2017, 1.2 million people tuned in to watch April the giraffe give birth at Animal Adventure Park.
For many, having an animal companion during the pandemic has been a blessing. Someone to keep you company, someone to play with, someone who brings you joy and gives you a reason to get out of bed. Indeed, in the UK, the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) reported that 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired an animal companion since the start of the pandemic. This brings the total number of animal companions in the UK up to 34 million, including 12 million cats and 12 million dogs, and equates to 17 million households being responsible for an animal’s welfare.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of us to reassess what we value, what kinds of communities we want to live in, and how we spend our money. The financial pressures caused by repeated lockdowns and rising unemployment means that many businesses and other organisations will not survive without targeted support. And, with so many in need of financial assistance, many of us are faced with the question of who we should help.
Every election has winners and losers, and this one is no different. These are, however, particularly turbulent times, and while the message of “getting Brexit done” appears to have chimed with many voters, the Conservative victory last Thursday does not bode well for the UK’s most vulnerable. After a decade of Conservative austerity measures, the use of food banks continues to rise, child poverty has soared, and changes to the welfare system have left disabled adults four times worse-off financially than non-disabled adults. More of the same is likely to most hurt those for whom life is getting tougher by the day.
It is clear that things are precarious for many of the UK’s citizens but it is important to keep in mind that humans are not the only ones affected by our governments’ decisions. Though it is tempting to think that we already have enough to worry about without extending concern to the nonhuman animals who live with us, we owe it to those creatures to speak up on their behalf. With no voice of their own, other animals are entirely dependent on us to keep their interests on the political agenda and to hold our leaders to account for the harms visited upon them. With that in mind, I’d like you to spare a thought for British badgers who, like many humans, have been made to suffer terribly by recent political decisions and government policies.
Today – the 22nd of April – hundreds of millions of people across the globe will come together to participate in Earth Day. This is a day dedicated to political action, activism, and engagement, on matters of climate justice, environmental rights, and environmental protection. However, the theme this year – Protect Our Species – raises important questions: Should we be concerned about protecting our species, rather than nonhuman individuals?