Do you own dogs or cats as pets? Scientists are urging you to have a rethink as you may be doing something unethical by denying the animals some emotions and their full autonomy.
A recent research into animals emotional lives has cast doubts on the ethics of pet-keeping, according to the findings published by the British newspaper,The Guardian.
The research revealed that the emotional lives of animals, even relatively “simple” animals such as goldfish, are far more complex and rich than we once thought.
“Rats have a sense of empathy and there has been a lot of research on what happens when you take babies away from a mother rat — not surprisingly, they experience profound distress,” Dr. Jessica Pierce, a bioethicist, was quoted by the report as saying.
Pierce said pet ownership is problematic because it denies animals the right of self-determination.
“It is morally problematic, because more people are thinking of pets as people…They consider them part of their family, they think of them as their best friend, they wouldn’t sell them for a million dollars,” Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, was quoted by the report as saying.
“The logical consequence is that the more we attribute them with these characteristics, the less right we have to control every single aspect of their lives,” Herzog said.
Ninety percent of Britons think of their pet as part of the family and 16 percent even included them on the last census, according to the report.
Although some countries such as Canada have moved to change the legal status of animals, ethicists say if people still have the right to euthanize animals then they are still property.
“Crucially, our animals can’t tell us whether they are happy being pets,” the report said.
However, the argument over whether we should own animals is largely theoretical.
Caring for pets seems to many people to be the one area where we can actually do right by animals; convincing people of the opposite is a hard sell, according to Gary Francione, a professor at Rutgers Law School in New Jersy.
That pet-keeping has become a vast industry and has been decided by market forces and human nature, Tim Wass, an animal welfare consultant, told the paper. “The question is: how can we help them care for them correctly and appropriately?”
Herzog said humans’ attitude toward animals will change in the future. “In the long haul, I think pet-keeping might fall out of fashion…Cultural trends come and go. The more we think of pets as people, the less ethical it is to keep them.”