I just recently finished reading a book by David Grimm called “Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs.”
I won’t lie. I was expecting something a little….lighter.
At nearly 300 pages and with a 2014 publication date, the book took me on a journey from our earliest interactions with companion animals all the way up to today.
Along the way we hit a few (many) rough patches. This was especially true in the chapters addressing animal research, animal rescue during disasters, animals and religion and working animals.
In the chapters detailing how dogs and cats’ legal rights have moved increasingly closer to our own rights (what the author calls “personhood”), I found myself wishing the book included parrots and tortoises (and all other animals, of course).
In the chapters reviewing all the horrific stuff we’ve subjected our canine and feline counterparts to, I found myself wishing to change my own species affiliation. People can be pretty awful sometimes.
There is also an ongoing book-wide parallel drawn between how slaves became full citizens and the trajectory dogs and cats appear to be on now. This (at least as I read it) is not to downplay the significance of the end of slavery, but to signify how, when we change our mindset about the worth of any being, positive changes in the quality of life of that being tend to quickly follow.
For instance, after quite a lengthy battle, pets can now legally inherit money left to them in people’s wills. But canines working for the military are still classified as “equipment” themselves, and there are groups actively fighting to change that even as I type right now.
Perhaps the most gripping part of the book is near the end, however, when one Rutgers university professor named Gary Francione makes an unorthodox suggestion – to do away with “pets,” period.
When I first read that, everything in me revolted.
But as I read more about his reasons, he started to make more sense. Pet cats and pet dogs (as well as many other pets, including parrots and tortoises) are trapped in an odd half-life like none other.
They are not totally wild. But they are not totally tame either. Depending on the species of pet, they may swing more towards one end of the spectrum or the other. But never in their lives will they get to experience the fullness of their wild natures.
They will also never get to assume full control over their lives while living with human owners as “pets”….especially while we continue to neuter and spay some of them to control their numbers.
And there is no safe or realistic way to free our domesticated pet animals so they can go and live as their wild peers live, or as their DNA once dictated they should live.
I had never really thought about it like this before. Somewhere, in a parallel universe, there probably are no pets. Francione says:
Pets…are trapped in a state from which there is no escape….We wonder why our pets are neurotic….while dogs chew themselves raw and cats shred the drapes. It’s because they’re not supposed to be living with us. They exist in this netherworld between humans and animals. They’re in this really bad space; I think it’s scary for them. I love my dogs, but they don’t belong here. They’re refugees from a life they can’t get back to.
I won’t lie. Reading this made me feel really sad. I felt sad for me – the thought of life without my pets (currently, a parrot, a tortoise and a puppy) doesn’t seem like much of a life at all.
I also felt sad for them – and worried – and confused.
Francione’s solution is to simply keep pet animals from breeding until there are no more left. The ones currently living with us will be adopted but then when they pass there will be no new pets waiting to come home with us.
This was just mind-blowing to me, but it made a curious kind of sense. With no “pet” animals living with people, I also wouldn’t spend any time feeling enraged at all the stories of human cruelty towards non-human beings.
In my ideal world, we have wild animals, which we leave alone, and us.
Today’s Takeaway: What do you think about Francione’s ideas? Do you feel deprived (like I do)? Compassionate? Angry? Do you think it could work? What about the idea that pets could become legal “people” with all the same rights as we have? Do you think that would ever work, and if so, how could we make it work? Would it be good for pet animals or make life even harder for them?