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Millions of human beings own dogs, cats and countless other species.

These relationships are not only destructive to non-human animals, they undermine human beings' moral and prudential lives.

The figures below are from the USA in 2004.  Although there are over 210 million pets in America, this number is doubtlessly conservative.  To take just one example,fresh and salt-water fish are not on the list.  Fish do not make good pets. Although many households keep a dozen or more fish circling endlessly in aquariums, they are rarely singled out with names and treats.

The reason is that fish do not have faces or attractive head/body ratios.  Fish resist being petted.

Why do human beings behave this way?  The short answer is that is pet ownership confers many benefits.   Pets provide companionship for individuals without communities and extended families.  Pet owners are said to have stronger immune systems - probably for the same reason managers have more robust scores than their subordinates.

Having subordinates to Lord it over seems to be good  for us.

So what's the problem?  The most important harm flows from sorting other forms of life into pettable or not pettable.   When creatures are deemed not pettable, their subsequent treatment, whether on farms or in the wild, becomes a non issue.  This is why bludgeoning cute baby seals in Newfoundland and Labrador has garnered unwelcome global attention for decades. This is why, on May 26, 2009, Canada's equally cute Governor-General, one Michaëlle Jean, saw fit to consume raw seal heart in a noteworthy attempt to encourage a balanced public discussion and perhaps save the beleaguered seal industry.

Unattractive animals rarely enjoy such attention - unless they are so ugly that they become collectables.

The point is, if concern for other forms of life is informed by pet owner priorities,  the fate of 'non-cute species' tends to become a non issue. To be sure, the loss of biological diversity may worry Dr. David Suzuki and similarly endowed people.  They know they are in a fight because they invariably appeal to public self-interest when making their pitch to conserve and protect.  They warn that undiscovered pharmaceuticals may vanish if we are not careful;  that a `less resilient web of life' may undermine well being in unfathomable ways; over-fishing threatens world food supplies.

Undeterred by such frights, human beings enslave hapless animals as if doing so was natural and wholesome. North Americans own pets roughly at the rate of one animal per person.

Pet-owning households (millions)
Average number of pets owned
Total number of pets  (millions)

The USA and Canada have roughly 250 million people and an equal number of pets. If each animal costs $1 per day, the annual cost is $365.00 X 250 million = $91.25 billion.

In addition, North America's dogs generate two million tons of faeces and four billion gallons of urine every year.  They are a vector for more than sixty-five diseases, including rabies, tuberculosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and histoplasmosis.

More that 90 million cats kill millions of songbirds every year.


For all these reasons keeping pets is immoral.

  • Pet ownership is discretionary. No person is forced to enter into these arrangements.
  • Pet ownership is one-sided. It does not matter whether Fluffy or Jake appear to enjoy their circumstances. Fluffy and Jake have been house broken.

The idea that pet ownership is barbaric is easily demonstrated.  We agree that pets never need to apologize for what they get up to.  This means that pets cannot be said to have chosen their circumstance.  Pets do not have the capacity to act.  They are restricted to fawning, performing, and begging.  They are like prostitutes coerced into sexual performances because of some addiction or impoverishment.

Pet owners have pimp-like relationships with co-opted creatures; and become their own principal clients. They are, of course, almost always willing to share pleasurable opportunities with anyone coming along hoping for a petting or a licking.

This is not the only outrage human being have been getting up to.  Generations of selective breeding have spawned caricatures that require constant surveillance, food, manicuring and defense if they are to survive.  This process began when early human beings became dog breeders (I prefer a different term!).  This relationship resulting in the transformation of wolves into the caricatures now growling or  yapping from parked cars.   Large brains are  metabolically expensive; and so natural selection downsized wolves' brains as soon as eating garbage, barking at strangers and begging for attention became a way to earn a living.

Somehow petophiles conclude that willingness to provide this nurturing demonstrates stellar character. They would do well to ask what corresponding capacities human beings have given up along the evolutionary trail.

In the meantime, petophile apologists often point out that pets have a far better life than farm animals.  This is probably true. Farmers - especially corporate farmers - have manipulated their target species into even more grotesque caricatures.  Chickens and turkeys days spend their days converting food into flesh so rapidly that their skeletons are often unable to support them.  Decades ago, `nouveaux chicks' lost the ability to brood naturally. They owe their existence to thermostatically controlled incubators.

There are also human costs.  Pets are attractive to urban populations because extended families, communities and natural surroundings have vanished - ironically for the same set of reasons wolves' brains shrivelled when they started hanging around camp-fires.

On the surface, enslaving animals as surrogate children and friends makes sense in a crowded, polluted, estranged world.

The irony is that pet ownership could be an important reason these problems exist.