Is Pet Keeping Immoral

Despite the emergence of a strong animal-rights movement since the mid-1970s, the ethics of pet keeping is seldom questioned. The major works in animal ethics (Singer; Clark, 1977; Regan; Rodd) largely or entirely bypass this question, and only lone voices are raised in critical opposition (Linzey, 1976; Bryant). Animal-rights philosophy has evolved without offering any critical analysis of the pet trade, though some argue that abuse of pet animals is a "human breach of contract" (Rollin, p. 219). Since so many animal-rights thinkers oppose a purely utilitarian justification for animal exploitation, this omission is surely anomalous.

Part of the reason may be that, historically speaking, sensibility to animal suffering seems to have arisen as a necessary corollary to the practice of keeping pets (Thomas, 1983; Tester). The physical inclusion of animals into the human community seems to have signified a moral inclu-siveness also. It may be no accident that the first country to found a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals— England—was also the country renowned for its love of pet animals. Moreover, one cannot but be struck by the way in which anecdotes about animal behavior, especially that of pet animals, have formed the basis for a whole string of pioneering humanitarian books appealing for greater kindness to animals and a fundamental recognition of their rights (see, for example, Youatt; Wood; Nicholson; Thomas, 1993; Lessing).

Yet questions must be asked about the ethical appropriateness of the psychological needs that pet animals apparently meet. Ryder accepts that some of these are "selfish" (p. 8). One early critique argued that "we need to distinguish between a kind of love which respects animals for what they are and allows them to pursue their own lives according to their own natural instincts, and another selfish form of love which seeks to condition animal lives in accordance with our own human desires." Pet keeping, it is argued, represents a "false anthropomorphism" in which we seek to "humanise" animals and "regard them as extensions of our own egos" (Linzey, 1976, p. 68). This view was subsequently modified on the grounds that "all loving is in practice a subtle blend of altruism and self-seeking," although "where the interests of animals are entirely subordinated to human emotional needs, we need to beware that we are not involved in a self-deceiving tyranny" (Linzey, 1987, p. 137). According to this perspective, at least some forms of pet keeping are wrong because they are insufficiently symbiotic and fail to recognize the right of animals to their own natural life.


SEE ALSO: Care; Compassionate Love; Environmental Ethics; Grief and Bereavement; Healing; Moral Status; and other Animal Welfare and Rights subentries

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