Are We Oppressing Our Pets?

One of my older posts, “Why Pet-Ownership is Oppressive but Necessary“, has been getting a lot of traffic lately after being posted on some forum. It’s attracted a few comments on said forum, generally derisive.

Since this topic is liable to sound ridiculous to many and irrelevant to others, I thought I might try to clarify the point, as well as looking at a couple of comments and the way that they exhibit exactly what I’m trying to talk about.

I should start by being clear on ‘oppression’. When I call pet-ownership ‘oppressive’ I don’t mean that pet-owners are going around plotting evil things to do to their pets. I don’t even mean that life as a pet is necessarily worse than life in the wild, since it sometimes brings greater security. I certainly don’t think people are bad for having pets (I have some myself). I’m just stating the factual character of the relationship.

What I mean is that the relationship between an owner and pet is characterised by the control of one by the other, one having no adequate way to articulate their needs and hence finding their life dictated on terms alien to them. For example, it is decided for the mouse whether it will live in a cage or not, and how often it will come out. It has no way to express how often it wants to come out, how much space it needs, how it feels about any of this. So the parameters of its life are set by someone else, who only takes the animal’s feelings into account on their terms, when the owner happens to be aware of them.

I think this is problematic. I don’t think there’s a much better alternative right now, but I think in the long term we should aim for co-existence with animals on a different basis. For example, in planning a town, if we think there will be dogs living in it, we need to find out how dogs relate to space, to other dogs, to other humans, to territory, etc., and we need to design the town from the ground up with them in mind. We can’t design everything simply with humans in mind and then throw non-humans in as an add-on.

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