Do Dogs and Cats Have the Right to Live?

I guess I’m a hypocrite.

As much as I hate to saddle myself with such an imprecation, it would be dishonest for me to say otherwise.  You see, I haven’t been practicing what I preach.  Last time, I wrote about our duty to care for stray and abandoned dogs, cats and other animals, yet I myself live a pet-free life.

But, as I mentioned previously, not everyone has the proper living situation or adequate finances to take on the responsibility for caring for a pet.  So what’s my excuse?  We spent years living in apartments that did not permit pets (not that we didn’t see the occasional illegal dog being walked).  We also developed a fairly active lifestyle that involved a lot of traveling on short notice.  Every time we thought about adopting a pet, we realized that we wouldn’t be able to just pick up and go for work or pleasure.  Then we moved to the parsonage of a church.

There’s also the little detail about being unemployed for more months than I care to think about.  I am always amazed when I see a bedraggled homeless guy sitting up against a wall with a sign begging for food — with his best canine friend seated right beside him.  I guess they’ll be sharing that hamburger that we give him.  Maybe we’d better get two.

It’s not just dogs, either.  Back when we lived in Fresno, we knew that almost any time we visited a particular store on South Blackstone, we’d be greeted by a homeless woman and her overflowing shopping cart — with her black and white cat curled up atop her belongings.

Thus, I am forced to admit to hypocrisy.  It’s hard to make excuses after seeing the homeless care for their quadruped charges.  For some of them, I’m sure their animal companions are their only friends.

There’s also the laziness factor.  Although I’ll be the first to try to find a home for a pet that needs one, I know I wouldn’t give the pet a very good home myself.  The thought of having to walk a dog or clean a cat box simply does not appeal to me.

At least I know myself well enough to realize that a dog or cat would not have a very good life with me.  Too many people, however, take on the care of pets (and children!) without considering how much time, attention and money such a commitment involves.  Perhaps this is why we see so many abandoned pets wandering the streets.

I believe that these homeless dogs and cats, roaming about in search of a morsel of food or a drop of water, are at minimum, entitled to be accorded the decency owed to all living things that suffer and feel pain.

Alas, there are those who do not agree, believing that dogs and cats do not have any rights at all.  For example, my fellow blogger at jewamongyou (who claims to be an animal lover and states that “animals should not be made to needlessly suffer”) posits that “we shouldn’t assign human rights to animals” because the very concept of “rights” is a human one.

While I do believe that this guy’s heart is in the right place, I have to wonder just what he means by “human rights.”  Does he mean that dogs and cats should not be accorded the right to vote?  I think that would be reasonable, as I doubt that the idea of representative elections would be very meaningful to our pets.  This is also why my one-year-old grandniece does not have the right to vote.

I have at least two points of disagreement with my fellow blogger, however.  For starters, I find it a bit of hubris to equate our species’ age-old fascination with “rights” with the idea that no such thing as “rights” existed until we called them into being.  For example, I love the following famous words from the Declaration of Independence:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”   In other words, the existence of the rights about to be enumerated needs no source of proof; “self-evident” means that no reasonable person can contradict their existence.  The Declaration of Independence refers to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”  This is a way of stating that basic rights are divinely or naturally granted (depending on one’s beliefs) rather than granted by humans.

Of course, the Declaration of Independence goes on to state that “all men are created equal” and have certain divinely granted “inalienable rights.”  My point, however, is that the basic rights of decency, whatever you believe them to be, are granted by God or nature, not by man.

Second, even if one believes that the concept of “rights” is a human one, why does this by definition exclude certain rights from being extended by humans to other creatures?

I don’t claim to understand what my fellow blogger means by “animals should not be made to needlessly suffer.”  I’m sure we would both agree that the disgrace that is animal abuse would fall under this category.  What exactly constitutes “animal abuse” is, of course, subject to debate.  Nevertheless, I’m sure we would agree that such barbaric practices as dog fighting and cock fighting would be included.

Is a dog or a cat made to needlessly suffer when it is abandoned to fend for itself?  I would argue that it is.  I would argue that an animal that is not provided with food, water and shelter is indeed being made to needlessly suffer.  Remember, unlike adult humans (and very much like human children), domesticated animals do not have the ability to do this for themselves.

What about when an animal is deliberately killed?  I would argue that this, too, constitutes needless suffering and that, if nothing else, an animal has the right to its life.  Historically, however, humans have treated other animals as chattel, mere possessions that can be disposed of at will.  This reduces a living creature to the status of a mere thing, just as if a dog or cat were an inanimate object such as a car or a table.  Just as the owner of a table has the right to sell it, give it away, abandon it or chop it up for firewood, historically the owner of a dog or cat (or cow or horse or sheep) had the right to sell it, give it away, abandon it or kill it and chop it up into food or clothing.

How this plays out is entirely cultural.  While animals are considered sacred in many parts of India, for example, eating dogs and cats is commonplace in certain parts of Asia (and elsewhere).  What may be an abhorrent practice in the United States may be standard operating procedure in another part of the world.

Thus, the social norms of a particular culture may grant animals more or fewer rights than those granted by God or nature.  Just as we humans have trampled upon each other’s rights throughout history, many cultures continue to trample upon the rights of our fellow creatures.

There will likely never be an end to the debate about what rights animals do have (by those who believe that such rights are granted by God or nature) or should have (by those who believe that animals have no rights other than those granted them by humans).

My favorite example of this ongoing debate is whether it is amoral to kill an animal “humanely.”  Personally, I nominate that one for the Oxymorons category in Zynga’s game “What’s the Phrase?”

Well, humans are animals.  Is it okay to kill a human if it’s done humanely?

Somehow, we fail to make the connection.

The fact that animals have rich, happy lives just as we do and suffer just as we do does not seem to resonate with most of us at all.  We simply draw a line in the sand between “them” and “us.”  While we celebrate our own higher-functioning brains, our free will and our ability to distinguish between right and wrong, we go right on acting in a instinctual black-and-white fashion as if we were the very animals that we continue to demean.

The bottom line, of course, is money.  Animals are treated as if they have no rights because there is big business in killing dogs, cats, cows, pigs and other animals and selling their flesh — because they taste good and people will buy these animals’ ground-up, hacked-up parts for their tables.

I think I’ve belabored the point enough.  Ultimately, everyone has to make their own decision.  However, I do want to close with a few interesting websites I’ve run across in the last few days (along with brief comments).  Food for thought.

From thentherewerethreeHeck, I will eat Donner and Blitzen, bring it on…I love wild game! I just like to know that my meat was off enjoying the sunshine, and frolicking with some pals, and feeling the wind on its face….before it came to nourish me and the Fam.  (Yeah, you’re all heart…)

From honkifyourevegan.comThe setup was in a supermarket where a guy gave customers samples of cooked sausage and then tried to get them to buy fresh sausage that he was cranking out of a machine on the spot.  Whenever a customer wanted to buy fresh sausage, however; the machine was empty. But this was not a problem because the sausage man had live piglets on hand. So for each customer, he put a piglet into the machine and ground sausage from it.  Despite the fact that no one had a problem tasting the cooked sausage, customers were horrified when the piglet was ground before their eyes. One woman even hit the sausage man with her purse.  It’s a gag, of course, and the piglet is not actually harmed. But isn’t it interesting?  (Not really.  You broke the social compact!  You’re not supposed to show us what we’re eating, silly!) (No explanation needed.)


4 thoughts on “Do Dogs and Cats Have the Right to Live?

  1. Pingback: Cute Cat Photo and Quote of the Day | Honk If You're Vegan

  2. Pingback: How Do Vegans Get Protein? | Honk If You're Vegan

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