There is no question that we Americans intensely love our pets. And we anthropomorphize them like crazy, giving them internal lives of our own creation. That’s half the fun.
But that doesn’t mean that our cats and dogs are akin to “children.” Nor does it mean that any animal should have rights.
Alas, the pressure to elevate animals to our status–which would be to actually reduce us to theirs–continues to grow in intensity.
For your pondering pleasure, take an interview with David Grimm, author of Citizen Canine, in Wired–for some reason, a reliable fount of anti-human exceptionalism. From, “Dogs and Cats Are Blurring the Line Between Pets and People:”
WIRED: Do you think we’ll develop new social and legal customs for dealing with animals?
GRIMM:..The question is whether there’s some happy medium where we can acknowledge that these animals are not toasters, but not grant them as something as extreme as full human rights.
Maybe we create a new class of nonnhuman rights. David Favre at Michigan State University has proposed an intermediate category of “living property“: dogs and cats could have some rights, even some responsibilities, but legally be like children. We’d have a responsibility to not mistreat them, to provide a basic level of medical care, but not constitutional or inalienable rights.
No! Half way is all the way.
Besides,we already have the moral and legal responsibility to not mistreat or neglect them. That is known as animal welfare, the compliance with which is a distinctly human duty predicated simply and solely on our being human.
In contrast, dogs and cats are not moral beings. They are incapable of assuming “responsibilities.” A guard dog is trained to so be–and we intelligently design them for that instrumental use–but they have done nothing “wrong” if they fail in their assigned task.
A vicious dog is not “executed.” It isn’t a punishment for a moral failure. The dangerous dog will be put down as a matter of public or animal safety, not because he is immoral or has committed a crime by biting a child or killing a neighbor’s dog. We would–and should–never do that to a dangerous child.
The Wired correspondent has interests beyond our pets:
WIRED: So far we’ve talked about animals in our immediate domain. What about extending these ideas to animals on the landscape?
GRIMM: That again gets to the slippery slope that a lot of lawyers are worried about. If we create this intermediate category, why can’t elephants in the wild be living property? If we let cats and dogs in, and open that door, does it open the floodgates? This is already happening. Late last year, the Nonhuman Rights Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of four captive chimpanzees in New York, arguing that they deserve to be legally recognized as people.
You’re seeing a lot of discussions about this. What are animals to us? Whether in the wild, in our homes, or on farms, what’s the appropriate relationship to them? There are very heated passions on both sides. What I find most interesting is that this forces us to confront what it means to be a person.
Aaaannd, here comes the cliché false equivalency between the historical abuse of humans and the way we treat animals:
This is a discussion we had to have 150 years ago as slavery was ending and blacks were considered property. There was a backlash: emancipation was going to put plantation owners out of business. But as a society, we decided that didn’t matter. Acknowledging that slaves were people was the right thing to do.
We’re not yet at that point yet with cats and dogs. But what does it mean to be a person? Who gets to be a person? What kind of rights should you have compared to all the other people who are already considered people?
That sound you hear is my head exploding! It was “right” because the slaves were equally human! “Other people” are considered “people” because THEY ARE PEOPLE! Ow, that hurt.
Animal rights activists believe that once just one animal is accorded just one right, the “species barrier” will collapse. They may be correct in that, which is why the hard line between human duties and animal rights must be maintained–including the crucial moral distinction between us and our beloved dogs and cats.