Science deputy news editor Grimm (Journalism/Johns Hopkins Univ.) looks at the pros and cons of granting citizenship to our pets—a far-out idea, to be sure, but one gaining traction with some on the fringe of the animal rights movement.
At issue is the evolving status of the cats and dogs who have traveled a long road with our species, from camp followers in our hunter-gatherer days to treasured family members today, helping to shape our civilization while being themselves transformed. “Nearly a third of all Americans and half of all singles say that they rely more on their pets than on other people for companionship,” writes the author. They fill the void in our lives “created by technology and our disintegrating relationships,” and we spent a mind-boggling $55 billion on them last year, up 2.5 times from our expenditure in 2000. This state of affairs is reflected in the growing number of laws protecting animals from abuse and the efforts of animal rights activists to shut down puppy mills, stop the confinement of chickens in factory farms and abolish the use of animals for medical experiments. While some advocate direct action, others support the Animal Defense Fund, which models itself on the NAACP and draws an analogy between our treatment of animals and the treatment of black slaves—a comparison that some may well consider offensive. The ADF is taking legal cases that give them “a shot at chipping away at the property status of animals,” and animal rights litigation is becoming a recognized legal specialty taught at leading universities. Grimm also reports the views of opponents of the ADF, who question putting animal abuse on par with child abuse, veterinarians who object to frivolous malpractice suits, and other critics. He does not subscribe to giving animals citizenship, but he does believe “that the quest for inclusion defines us all, animal and man.”
A challenging notion that fails to adequately address the implicit downgrading of our broader responsibilities as citizens.