Pets are remarkable creatures. They are:
Animals are not best served by imposing all the elements of modern life upon them. All the principles about genetic context, medical dangers, and preventive care apply equally well to pets. Our choice to live unhealthily is a crime against our own person. To impose such unwise decisions upon others-children and pets-who have no real options, is an even greater crime.
Although pets are often treated like surrogate human infants, that is not what they are. If we pamper them with modernity we will condemn them to the cruelty of modern-living diseases. Obesity, cancer, allergies, arthritis, dental diseases, and the like, ravage modern pets just like they do their owners. Such preventable conditions are essentially absent in wild populations.
Pets deserve our understanding and respect. They are not what we are. We may be superior in our factories and at our computers, but they are superior in their tool-less senses and intuitive skills to survive in nature. Life for them is meant to be challenging and interesting. That cannot happen at the end of a chain or on a couch. If they are to be healthy, they must be allowed as much freedom as possible, and we must engage with them every day.
The healthiest place for animals is in their natural setting. But given that we are not all going to release our pets into what's left of the wild any time soon, the onus is upon us to create for them as much ‘wild’ as possible. That would include exercise, fresh air, sunshine, real natural food, fun, excitement, and companionship. If we choose to have a pet, maintaining its life and health is a moral duty.
Dogs and cats are carnivores, retaining all the wild skills we have forgotten. They are intelligent because that's what they have to be to catch prey. If that is not evident, leave your clothes and provisions behind and set out into the woods for a couple weeks’ stay. See if it's easy to catch the food your pet could easily catch if released into the same setting. Their intelligence is one of the things attracting us to them, but it is also something that places demands upon us. Imprisoning people is a severe punishment because of the intellectual and social needs of humans. Imprisoning animals as pets is also a punishment unless we modify their prison with the appurtenances they naturally need.
The right to have pets doesn't mean we should, anymore than our right to have children means we should. We should not bite off more than we can responsibly chew. A pet is not a toy, appliance, or piece of wood to whittle. We don't have the ‘right’ to carve them to our liking with spaying, castrating, declawing, defanging, vegetarianizing, ear cropping, dewclaw removing, and tail docking. (This is not to say that the pet population problem we create may not require a remedy such as neutering surgeries. )
They are not disposable things to obtain on a whim and then cast aside when the novelty wears off or when they become inconvenient or burdensome. This doesn't just apply to dogs and cats, but to all creatures including horses confined to pens where every bit of sod is trodden to dust, and goldfish purchased in a baggy as a surprise ‘for the kids. ’ Just because an animal is different from us is not an excuse for abuse or negligence. How we treat fellow creatures is a direct reflection of what we are inside. Gandhi wisely said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress, can be judged by the way its animals are treated. "
Dogs and cats are a 15-20 year commitment. In that span we are responsible for the needs of a baby, adolescent, pubescent, adult, and senior. Although they grow older, the daily demands upon caretakers are not unlike those demanded by an infant that never grows up. They must be fed every meal, their dishes must be washed, and their potty needs tended to. We must bathe and groom them and perhaps contend with fleas, ticks, and worms. Their nails may need to be trimmed, their messes cleaned up, and any damage they may cause repaired. We must respond to their crying, take them to the doctor, and give them almost constant attention.
Compressed into their years are most of the things we experience in our own lives. They can be ‘good, ’ they can be ‘bad’ (in our terms). They can bring joy, sorrow, fear, and love. They will require doctoring (little, however, if things are done properly), have accidents, and can succumb to disease. We will have to experience their death and perhaps be faced with a choice of whether to cut their pain short with euthanasia. We will suffer greatly at the loss of a wonderful friend.
Having and properly caring for a pet for its entire life is a personal decision because of the commitment involved. Giving pets as gifts to kids or friends is therefore presumptuous and irresponsible. Sending pets off for long stays at caged boarding facilities (the equivalent of human prisons) is not commitment or responsibility either. Yes, this may occasionally be necessary, but it can be a great trauma to pets. They have no idea if you will ever return, and their stay in a pen or cage is not home no matter how well they are tended to by caretakers.
If a pet is obtained to teach the kids responsibility, forget it. No matter how much they plead that they will do all the tending, they won't. Figure on about one or two weeks of enthusiasm for the work of pet keeping at best. Afterwards, guess who gets to take care of the pet.
The point is, the thrill of getting something new, like a car, television, or coat should not be transferred to obtaining a pet. They are not low maintenance and cannot just be set aside when the excitement wanes.
Now then, if you personally decide to shoulder the responsibility, save a life at the same time by getting a pet from the local humane or animal shelter. These facilities are usually filled to overflowing from discarded pets dropped off by people who did not put thought before emotion. (How people can abandon the family pet to such a facility is incomprehensible. It's like putting an innocent person in prison to be executed. ) Demand should not be placed on breeders until there are no shelter pets left. There is already a pet overpopulation problem, so why not help solve it rather than contribute to it?
It is also better and kinder for everyone involved to have two pets. This will decrease the demands to occupy their time since they will enjoy one another's company. It is arguably inhumane (should be illegal) to imprison in solitary confinement a creature designed for the freedom of the wild. A pet left alone in a cage, in the house, or on a chain for extended periods while we go about our interesting work and social life is hardly fair.
Pets are a responsibility, a burden, a worry and a lot of trouble at times. But what they return in guileless love and devotion, and health benefits for their owners, makes the costs one of the best bargains in life.
What we get out of it aside, pet keeping is a serious responsibility that extends far beyond the euphoria of watching the antics of a kitten or puppy. It requires serious commitment as well as the circumstances and knowledge to care for them properly for their lifetime. If that is not possible, then vent the affection for animals by helping at the local shelter or humane society, pet sitting, or volunteering at the zoo.
Another option is to think of animals in terms other than as ‘pet. ’ Possessing animals is not the only way to show affection and concern for them. Become active in environmental actions that restore and protect natural animal habitats. Just observing animals in the wild and respecting them for what they are is love too.
Dr. Randy Wysong is author of Living Life as if Thinking Matters , Solving The Big Questions as if Thinking Matters, several books on health, nutrition, self improvement, philosophy, and the origin of life. He is a pioneer in the natural health and nutrition movement, and is the first to put the creation-evolution debate on rational footings. His blog, books, updates, mind-stimulating content, interactive forums, and FREE thinking matters video-rich newsletter can be found at AsIfThinkingMatters.com .