Pets: The Animal Rights Perspective

Sam Woolfe March 25, 2014 6
Pets: The Animal Rights Perspective

From an animal rights perspective, the domestication of any animal can be considered immoral since it involves using them as a means to an end and disregarding their intrinsic value. Gary Francione has described the inherent problems of domestication. In his view, the institution of pet ownership is incompatible with any theory of animal rights.

By domesticating an animal so that they become fit and dependent on living in a home they turn into property. Domesticated animals depend on humans for everything that is essential for their existence: when and whether they eat or drink, when and where they sleep, when they can relieve themselves, whether they get affection, when and whether they get any exercise, so forth and so on. But don’t the same rules apply to children? Yet we don’t consider the institution of child ownership to be a moral issue. Well, the important difference is that children will grow up to be self-sufficient independent people; animals will not.


Breeding an animal to be dependent on us is where the harm lies. Pets live in a constant state of vulnerability – they depend on us for survival and the wild becomes a completely alien landscape for them. Of course pets retain many of their natural instincts, but because they have been bred to be servile, they simply would not be able to have any sort of natural existence in the wild. As Francione puts it, we have bred them into a world in which they do no truly belong.

The human demand for pets has created all sorts of problems. When pets are bred as accessories, used for fighting or just because they look pleasing or unique to us, then we forget that they have their own needs, desires and preferences. Constantly yelling at a dog when they ‘disobey’ you will only make them fear you and be frightened by you – hardly a pleasant life for them. Constantly ordering them to do what you want them to do fails to recognise that these animals have their own desires. Locking them up in a house all day, without giving them exercise or time to socialise with other dogs leads to frustration, stress and restlessness.

Puppies which are removed from their mothers and which are not properly socialised with other dogs are likely to become unfriendly and aggressive. This aggressive behaviour, which is totally the owner’s fault, may lead to the animal being put down. Dog and cat overpopulation is a very serious issue and it has devastating consequences for the lives of many animals. Many dogs and cats are abused, neglected and abandoned because their owners grow tired of looking after them. Pets which grow old or develop health problems are abandoned by the owner who cannot afford to look after them or simply cannot be bothered.

Furthermore, because of the overpopulation issue, many animals will never have an owner, but will live our their entire lives in a cage. Animal shelters are ill-equipped to handle the amount of animals they receive, so many will have to be euthanized. A lack of spaying and neutering is also to blame for this problem. Pet shops will sell cats and dogs who haven’t been spayed or neutered and will go on to reproduce, creating litter for which there are no homes. Stray cats and dogs will live even more miserable lives than their caged counterparts. Furthermore, stray cats and dogs may not be spayed or neutered, leading to more unwanted litter.

The demand for ‘designer pets’, who are treated as commodities to be traded and owned as accessories to be flaunted, has negative consequences for the animal in question. Persian cuts and pug dogs, who are bred to have ‘cute’ squashed faces, can develop sinus and breathing problems and weeping eyes. Bulldogs, bred to look butch and stocky, can suffer respiratory problems. Many dogs and cats are bred to have short legs – unfortunately for these animals it makes it very difficult for them to walk or run properly. Breeders treat their animals like breeding machines, forcing them to produce their valuable litter, then when they grow too old they will be considered useless and therefore killed.


80% of Bulldogs are born by a caesarian section because they are bred to have large heads, making a natural birth extremely difficult, painful and even life-threatening (both for the mother and the puppy). Breeding pets or buying them from breeders should be avoided at all costs. The demand for cute puppies is also a major issue in the UK. It has resulted in ‘puppy farms’, where puppies are bred for profit. Living conditions are poor and the puppies are often not properly socialised.

The animal rights position is therefore unequivocally opposed to the institution of pet ownership. In fact, the very term ‘pet’ assumes that these animals are bred purely for human purposes. But does this mean that an animal rights advocate is opposed to having domestic ‘pets’ in their house? Not necessarily. By taking an unwanted animal into your home you are giving them a much better life than they would otherwise have. Adopting or fostering as many animals as possible should be encouraged. It would be better to refer to these animals as ‘companions’ and as family members, as opposed to ‘pets’, since this doesn’t assume a master-slave relationship.

Of course, while it is ethical to adopt an animal from a shelter, the inherent problems of breeding cannot be ignored. As Francione puts it: “…if there were two dogs left in the universe and it were up to us as to whether they were allowed to breed so that we could continue to live with dogs, and even if we could guarantee that all dogs would have homes as loving as the one that we provide, we would not hesitate for a second to bring the whole institution of “pet” ownership to an end.”

Reddit this article ↓

  • Robert Neve

    Typical peta nonsense. There’s never been any evidence to suggest that pets, when well cared for, have a bad life. This article wants to try and claim they are domesticated and yet wild. You can’t have both. They are either wild and therefore unhappy in homes or domesticated and therefore perfectly suited for life with humans.

    Further to that can you imagine a world where humans had no positive interaction with animals? They were just some thing of nature that wrecked cars, took human lives, carried illnesses etc. Do you remember what happened to species of animals that became just pests? We eradicated them. I don’t believe that it’s shocking that as more and more of each generation grow up with animals then more humans become aware of and more friendly towards animals in general.

    • Sam Woolfe

      I don’t support PETA. They’re an animal welfare group, not an animal rights group, with some very questionable practices.

      I never said that pets, when cared for, will necessarily have a bad life. Given the extent of overpopulation, people should adopt pets and give them the best life possible.

      My point is that the institution of pet ownership is without justification. Not only that, it has resulted in all the problems I point out in the article: overpopulation, miserable lives spent in cages, abandonment, physical difficulties for the animals because we want them to look ‘cute’ and high rates of euthanasia.

      • Robert Neve

        But that’s the same argument you could make against anything. Without alcohol you’d not have drunks, liver issues, alcohol related crime etc. Or if we didn’t have knives there would be no knife crime. Heck almost all those issues you stated also apply to humans. We are overpopulated. Millions live in slavery and prisons. Many are abandoned or have to run. Plenty are physically disabled. So I guess the only answer is the complete halt of any more children being born.

        It is not pet ownership that is at fault but the abuse of pet ownership and that’s a whole different thing.

        • Sam Woolfe

          It comes down to different outlooks. If you view animals as things to be used for human convenience or pleasure then you won’t have an issue with pet ownership.

          I’m not saying that pet ownership should be outlawed, but that people need to take more responsibility for their demand for pets. It’s the same with human overpopulation. It’s a moral issue, not a legal one.

          • Robert Neve

            The end of the article seemed to give that impression. I see pet ownership as something that should be symbiotic. I accept that for some it is parasitic or even abusive but that’s something that should be worked on. I don’t think the whole idea of pet ownership is inherently bad because some abuse it. A dog belongs with owners who have gardens rather than a tiny apartment for example. It’s also the reason I don’t own a cat as much as I would like to have another. Since now I have a 3rd floor flat it would have no ability to access outside on it’s own terms. I think it just comes down to considering the animals needs as much as your own needs. If you do that pet ownership can be a good thing for all.

          • Matthew

            “People need to take more responsibility” is the root of most of society’s ills, whether it be pets, children or anything else.