It’s been almost two years since I got my first cat. It was love at first purr (or maybe hate). She followed me everywhere and demanded attention all day long. When she wasn’t sleeping or eating, she wanted in on whatever we were doing — even if that meant sitting on our laps while watching TV.
I tried everything from ignoring her to training classes for cats. But nothing worked. We’d be reading books together, then five minutes later she would start sniffing around my shoes looking for food. Eventually, I decided there had to be something better than just making sure she ate every three hours and walking her twice a day. So I took her into the vet to see what could help us both. The doctor said she might have allergies and recommended giving her shots. That seemed like a good idea but also kind of cruel because it hurt so much when they went in. Afterward, I felt horrible about myself. And after paying money out of pocket instead of through insurance, I didn’t want to go back.
So now I don’t have any pets. My parents are convinced I’m allergic to them, which is probably true. They’re right though. Having a pet really changed how I feel about animals. Nowadays, I can’t imagine ever owning another one again. Even if someone gave me millions of dollars, I wouldn’t take it. There’s no way I could handle being responsible for an animal. Instead, I try to volunteer with organizations such as PETA, local Humane Societies, shelters and other rescues whenever possible. Sometimes I donate blood plasma or sell things online. Other times I’ll spend time taking care of sick or injured animals who need our help. In general, I’ve learned that the best thing you can do for your pet is leave him/her where he/she belongs — with his/her family. You should never give up hope on rescuing your pet. If anything, do more!
But why does everyone think dogs are so special compared to other types of pets? Do cats deserve their bad reputation? What exactly makes some humans consider becoming pet owners and others turn away from the whole ordeal? Is it purely a matter of economics? Or is there something else going on here? To answer these questions, let’s look at different approaches to pet ownership.
What is the humane approach to getting rid of a pet?
Humane societies promote kindness toward animals. Many organizations believe that the best way to keep an animal healthy, happy and safe is by providing adequate shelter, nutrition and medical treatment. However, many shelters do euthanize animals once certain criteria are met. This usually happens due to overcrowding. For example, in 2012, Florida’s Orange County Animal Services killed nearly 1,000 animals per month. Why did they need to kill those poor kitties? Because too many kittens needed homes.
Many experts argue that this practice isn’t necessary because most pets aren’t “culled” until they become a burden on the system. As evidence, studies show that only a small percentage of shelter animals meet adoption requirements. Also, shelters often place retired veterans and active military personnel as foster dads, allowing them to observe first hand the conditions the animals live in before deciding whether to adopt them themselves [sources: Meyerhofer, Kelling]. Foster families may decide to sponsor additional animals once their current ones find permanent homes.
One big question remains though: Shouldn’t we make efforts to prevent unwanted pregnancies rather than put down pregnant women? Studies suggest otherwise. One study found that pregnant female pit bulls received fewer neutering surgeries and spay procedures than non-pit bull females. Another research project showed that although male domestic dogs receive less aggressive veterinary care than female dogs, intact males still require regular checkups to avoid aggression.
In addition to overpopulation, cost plays a large role in the decision to surrender or euthanize animals. Some states subsidize vets’ services, meaning that private clinics can charge higher prices without losing business. Others offer low rates for public health programs, offering free vaccinations for children. These programs save taxpayers money and provide important benefits that benefit everyone.
Another reason some people choose not to own pets has to do with personal beliefs. People differ widely in terms of ethics regarding speciesism. According to some definitions, speciesism is discrimination based solely upon membership within specific taxonomic groups, including human beings. While some scientists say that such discrimination against fellow creatures is wrong, many ethicists disagree.
If you ask many philosophers today, opinions vary. Some believe that the key ethical principle guiding interactions between humans and other living beings is respect for autonomy. Autonomy means having control over your life choices — and your actions. A classic argument for this view says that animals lack the capacity to exercise autonomy. Therefore, we ought not treat them unfairly. On the flip side, some argue that animals possess basic cognitive capacities that grant them moral status similar to that of humans. Thus, we should protect their interests and allow them to flourish.
Some researchers argue that animals are property like cars. Ownership rights confer legal responsibilities. Animals shouldn’t be treated differently simply because they cannot vote or pay taxes. Like drivers, owners must maintain their cars properly and fulfill obligations under traffic laws. Those who violate rules suffer consequences ranging from fines to suspensions of driving privileges. Similarly, owners face penalties if they fail to comply with regulations governing pet ownership. Pets may cause harm and accidents happen. Yet unlike cars, pets don’t threaten lives or livelihoods. Still, many people prefer not to accept responsibility for animals. Perhaps they worry that caring for pets will infringe upon freedom of choice. Maybe they fear they won’t know how to feed, clean or discipline their furry friends. Whatever the case, many refuse to assume full custodial responsibilities.
While most Americans agree that animals are entitled to fair treatment, some people balk at the notion of companion animals. Opponents point out that domesticated animals occupy space that could be used for productive purposes, such as farming. Furthermore, critics cite environmental concerns associated with raising livestock and maintaining pastures. Advocates counter that alternative agricultural methods exist, such as organic agriculture and hydroponics. Critics insist that the Earth already supports enough grazing lands and that intensively farmed crops deplete natural resources faster than traditional cultivation. Finally, opponents say that animal husbandry helps preserve biodiversity. By creating habitats tailored specifically to their needs, farmers create diverse ecosystems filled with plants and insects beneficial to native flora and fauna.
The “No Kill” Movement
In recent decades, animal advocates have launched numerous campaigns designed to reduce killing throughout the entire process of production, distribution and consumption. Among the biggest challenges facing activists are economic subsidies supporting industries involved in meat, dairy and egg production, along with breeders and veterinarians. Overproduction contributes to high demand and weak supply. Prices drop dramatically during periods of mass slaughter. Consequently, many producers dump surplus products on consumers and unscrupulous dealers. Meanwhile, workers are paid paltry wages, and animals endure unimaginable stress and suffering.
Animal lovers began rallying against the commercialization of pets in 1979 with the formation of the American Anti-Vivisection Society. Since then, their ranks have swelled exponentially. Today, hundreds of anti-cruelty organization operate worldwide. Many support legislation aimed at eliminating unnecessary animal cruelty. At least 2 million signatures have helped enact several hundred state bans on puppy mills. More recently, legislators across the country passed new laws banning battery cages.
Other activist groups focus exclusively on reducing the number of animals euthanized each year. Organizations dedicated to ending euthanasia include Compassion in World Farming, Peta2, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, No Cruel Rescue and the National Dog Breeding Industry Association. All aim to improve conditions for homeless animals and educate lawmakers and citizens alike.
A growing segment of the population believes that the world doesn’t need factory farms. Rather, proponents claim that compassionate individuals willing to commit financially to pet ownership and veterinary expenses can spare countless lives. Groups like Spare Our Planet, Help Save Lives Foundation, PETA Foundation Fund and Global Impact Investing Network facilitate financial contributions to reputable charities engaged in lifesaving work. To learn more, visit the links on the following page.
Notably, the Humane Society of the United States opposes outright euthanasia except in cases involving abuse or neglect. Its stance differs greatly from the position held by organizations like The ASPCA, VSPCA and SPCAs Australia New Zealand.
Why people choose not to own pets
People concerned about spending lots of time and energy caring for or cleaning up messes created by animals tend not to acquire pets. They may also believe that owning and nurturing a pet requires significant financial investment. Although some people earn modest incomes, few are able to afford extensive pet costs. Most households headed by single adults consist primarily of students, retirees and the unemployed. Young couples typically invest little income towards pet acquisitions. Consequently, pet ownership tends to fall under shared household agreements. Often, a couple agrees to share duties related to feeding, grooming and sanitation. Shared arrangements can prove problematic because pets typically rely heavily on their owners for nourishment and housing. Not surprisingly, most households containing a pet experience greater levels of conflict than those lacking furry members.