By Josie Simon, March 28 2024— 

In a world where over 250 million animals reside in American households, the narrative surrounding pet ownership is often one of joy, love and companionship. However, a darker reality emerges as we delve deeper into the ethics of keeping pets. From physical abuse to neglect, many domesticated animals face challenges that their human companions often overlook.   

Author and bioethicist Jessica Pierce shines a light on the shadows beneath the sunny facade of pet ownership, highlighting the myriad issues that can plague our animal companions. These issues range from punitive training methods and prolonged confinement to lack of autonomy, inadequate veterinary care, and even abandonment. Despite our best intentions, even responsible pet owners may inadvertently cause harm to their animals due to the challenges of meeting their diverse needs in a world designed by and for humans. 

The evolution of pets from working animals to companions has also brought new challenges. Dogs, in particular, are expected to adapt quickly to a world governed by human rules and norms, often leading to behaviour correction methods that can have negative consequences. The pet industry, valued at a staggering $136 billion, plays a significant role in breeding and selling animals to meet the demand for companionship, sometimes at the expense of their well-being. 

This impact of pet ownership extends beyond dogs and cats to include many small animals kept in cages and tanks. These animals, many of whom are wild and social by nature, suffer from confinement and isolation that can mirror the conditions of livestock raised for food. The ethical implications of keeping pets, especially those with specialized needs, raise important questions about the responsibilities of pet owners and the overall welfare of the animals under their care. 

However, the realistic implications of domestication and its impact on native wildlife cannot be overlooked. The Global Invasive Species Database highlights the danger posed by domestic dogs to 200 IUCN Red List species, including 30 classified as critically endangered, 71 as endangered, and 87 as vulnerable. Moreover, feral and outdoor cats have caused the extinction of 63 species of birds, mammals, and reptiles in the wild and continue to endanger many others, including those at risk of extinction. Therefore, domesticating cats and dogs is essential to prevent further harm to other species.

Pet ownership is also a necessary element of contemporary life, with working dogs such as guide dogs for the blind playing a crucial role in providing assistance and support to individuals with disabilities. The deep-rooted bond between humans and animals has evolved to encompass companionship, work, and protection, highlighting the varied roles pets can play in our lives. Nowadays, pets play a pivotal role in offering their human counterparts emotional support, companionship, and a sense of purpose.

While abolishing pet ownership may seem radical, a shift towards fewer pets with better lives is both attainable and necessary. By adopting a more animal-centered approach to pet-keeping, which focuses on enrichment, positive reinforcement, and cooperative care, pet owners can provide their animal companions with a higher quality of life. 

As we navigate the complexities of pet ownership, we must consider the animals’ welfare in our care and strive for a more ethical and sustainable relationship with our pets. By rethinking how we acquire and treat animals, we can create a world where pets are not just property but valued members of our families. 

This article is a part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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