Nine per cent of British pet owneds love their animal more than their children. Photograph: Getty Images/ iStockphoto
More recently, however, several countries have moved to change the legal status of animals. In 2015, the governments of Canada and New Zealand recognised animals as sentient beings, effectively proclaiming them no longer property( how this squares with New Zealands recent war on possums is unclear ). While pets remain property in the UK, the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 stipulates that pet owners must provide a basic level of care for their animals. Pets are also property in the US, but 32 countries, as well as Puerto Rico and Washington DC , now include provisions for pets under domestic violence protection orders. In 2001, Rhode Island changed its legislation to describe pet owners as protectors, a move that some animal rights proponents lauded( and others criticised for being nothing more than a change in name ).
Before we congratulate ourselves on how far we have come, consider that 1. 5m shelter animals including 670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats are euthanised each year in the US. The number of stray dogs euthanised annually in the UK is far lower 3, 463 but the RSCPA tells investigations into animal brutality cases increased 5% year on year in 2016, to 400 calls a day.
Can I stick my puppy in a car and take him to the veterinarian and say: I dont want him any more, kill him, or take him to a city shelter and say: I cant keep him any more, I hope you can find a home for him, good luck? tells Gary Francione, a prof at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey and an animal rights proponent. If you are able to do that, if you still have the right to do that, then they are still property.
Crucially, our animals cant tell us whether they are happy being pets. There is an illusion now that pets have more voice than in the past but it is maybe more that we are putting words into their mouth, Pierce says, pointing to the abundance of pets on social media plastered with witty projections written by their parents. Maybe we are humanising them in a way that actually builds them invisible.
If you accept the argument that pet ownership is morally questionable, how do you put the brakes on such a vast industry? While he was writing his 2010 volume, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, Herzog was analyse the motivations of animal rights activists and whether it was emotion or intellect that pushed them towards activism. One of the subjects, Herzog tells, was very, very logical. After he had become a vegan, shunned leather shoes and convinced his girlfriend to run vegan, he considered his pet cockatiel. I recollect; he looked up wistfully. He said he got the bird, took it outside, let it loose and it flew up, Herzog recollects. He said: I knew she wouldnt survive, that she likely starved. I guess I was doing it more for myself than for her.
Although Pierce and Francione agree that pet ownership is wrong, both of them have pets: Pierce has two dogs and a cat; Francione has six rescue dogs, whom he considers refugees. For now, the argument over whether we should own animals is largely theoretical: we do have pets and devoting them up might cause more damage than good. Moreover, as Francione suggests, caring for pets seems to many people to be the one area where we can actually do right by animals; persuading people of the opposite is a hard sell.
Tim Wass, the chair of the Pet Charity, an animal welfare consultant and a former chief officer at the RSPCA, concurs. It has already been decided by marketplace forces-out and human nature current realities is people have pets in the millions. The question is: how can we help them care for them correctly and properly?
If the short history of pet ownership tells us anything, it is that our attitude towards animals is prone to change. You see these rises and autumns in our relationships with pets, says Herzog. In the long haul, I think petkeeping might fall out of fashion; I think it is possible that robots will take their place, or perhaps pet owning will be for small numbers of people. Cultural tendencies come and go. The more we think of pets as people, the less ethical it is to keep them.