Examination of the pros and cons of pet ownership from the standpoint of ethics.
Bioethicist Pierce (The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives, 2012, etc.) challenges pet lovers to recognize that animal ownership is definitely a dicey affair; no matter how well loved they are, our pets are essentially being held captives. Arguably, the dogs and cats we consider family may be happy to live with us and would not choose to be free, but for a caged bird or a goldfish in a bowl, the situation is less equivocal. Pierce notes that children are fascinated by animals while still infants, and their relationships with their pets can play an important positive part in their lives, deepening their ability to empathize with and take responsibility for others—with the proviso that they learn to treat them as companions with complex needs rather than merely objects for their entertainment. The author also reminds us that pet ownership is a big business. The pet industry encourages pet ownership, by shaping “a cultural narrative in which pet keeping is part of a normal and happy life,” in order to merchandise the sale of the animals as well as “cages, tanks, foods, toys, veterinary products,” and more. People are encouraged to bring animals into their homes without considering their responsibility to provide them with food, shelter, exercise, and play. Pierce points to the failure of many owners to provide access to adequate veterinary care and the existence of animal shelters filled to capacity with unwanted, abandoned animals. The author reminds us that the animals we love and treat as companions “are denied nearly all of their natural behaviors, not to mention their freedom.”
A thoughtful book that should spark debate, with the author stressing that bringing a companion animal into one’s life is an ethical commitment that should not to be taken lightly.