Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

Some thoughts about companion animals December 13, 2009

I know adopting homeless animals is a contentious issue for some vegans; Vincent Guihan recently pondered this eloquently: Caring for other animals: does the personal adoption of other animals harm the movement?

For the Pits wrote about a man killed by a pack of dogs in Australia. The post talks about the racism & classism often evident when people think about attitudes towards companion animals among POCs/the poor/indigenous people/etc.

I re-read Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation & The No Kill Revolution in America this weekend. I was as moved, infuriated, & shocked as I was the first time around. For those of you who haven’t read the book, another reason why PETA sucks is their hypocritical behavior regarding animal rescue (Nathan has two posts about this).

(& really, PETA apologists, don’t waste your time commenting. Any such comments are prone to deletion &/or mockery.)


4 Responses to “Some thoughts about companion animals”

  1. Joselle Says:

    This is a very timely post for me. I just adopted a dog from the local cat and dog rescue group I volunteer with. My primary reason for having him in my home is because I love dogs. I think that is a problem. A huge one.

    I often get sad when I walk my dog. He wears a harness and leash. He is not free. I see many dogs in the Philadelphia neighborhood I live in who are always in a fenced-in area. They are alone and fenced-in all day. There is one in particular who I visit regularly to nuzzle through an iron fence. I often cry when I have to leave him. But he and my dog are both imprisoned. When I leave the house, I put my dog in a crate (otherwise known as a cage) because he is still very young, not housetrained and would destroy property in the house due to frustration, boredom, fear, loneliness and powerlessness. I hate leaving him in a crate and don’t plan on doing it for the duration of his life but if I don’t do that now, I would not be able to leave the house. Or I just wouldn’t have intact furniture and property.

    Sometimes I wonder if the dog we’ve adopted is happy. He is playful, gives licks, loves to cuddle up, is curled up sleeping right by me. I do love him but he is my property. I could do whatever I wanted to him. I take him to the vet, I give him medicine (probably made of other imprisoned and dead animals), I decide when and where he eliminates, I will take him to “behavior” classes to get trained so that MY life is easier. I even decide when I want to pick him up and hold him. And despite being vegan, I have him, not to rescue him (although I would never, ever buy an animal), but because I “love” dogs. He fulfills my personal interest.

    Prior to being vegan, my lifelong love of dogs was the most defining feature of me as an “animal lover.” I was proud to be a “dog person.” Now that I am vegan, I find it the most distressing aspect. I know domesticated dogs in particular, as well as cats, would die without human intervention. But that is our fault. We brought them into the world, just like we bring in the farmed animals we eat.

    I’ve loved Nathan Winograd’s views I’ve read online but I haven’t read Redemption yet. I don’t know if I will. I’m going through a period where I find veganism very depressing. Not that I am going to stop being vegan but the worldview I now have from being vegan has lately made me feel hopeless and sad. I don’t want to read more right now.

    • johanna Says:

      Joselle, I’ve been thinking about your comment all day. I, too, have very mixed feelings about having companion animals for the reasons you’ve described.

      The conclusion in my head right now (subject to change as always) is that humans created domesticated dogs/cats/etc. We certainly created the problem whereby so many dogs/cats, domesticated to live w/people, are not able to do so (whether it’s b/c of some ‘overpopulation’ issue or shelter mismanagement, as Winograd talks about, or just the fact that people won’t stop breeding animals, etc.). What would happen to my cats if I didn’t adopt them? One of them would almost certainly be dead after having had her time up in the city shelter (& having been listed as ‘aggressive’ on her record). Probably the others would be as well. I think — & this may be mistaken on my part — that the lives they live now are better than if they had died in a shelter. They seem to feel affection for me & be happy about things in life. Of course I am biased & would prefer to believe this…

      This may all be rationalization… I don’t know. What is the other option, then? If we didn’t adopt all these animals? Once I got into a rather heated discussion w/a vegan arguing against having cats if you can’t have them vegan (which… well. Not going to get into that here). Anyway, I asked her if she had a better suggestion than, say, mass euthanasia of cats. And she didn’t.

      I love dogs & cats too. & I can definitely see where this is problematic. But… I think Gary Francione once said that he is a huge dog lover, but if the last two dogs on earth were about to die out w/o reproducing he wouldn’t make them reproduce. Errgh, I don’t have that right at all — but the gist is that, though he loves dogs, he would, if somehow magically given the choice, make them extinct rather than have them in the world & being abused/used by humans.

      To me it seems a bit humancentric to wish them *extinct* — I would say if I could, I don’t know, magically have dogs be separated from the human world? But I get his sentiment. I think… it’s okay to love dogs — they are amazing & beautiful! — but yeah, that to recognize in a perfect world humans shouldn’t really have anything to do w/them. But b/c we have this vast domesticated population of dogs here that need homes — is it too self-serving to say that at least here we are, caring, dog-loving vegans, to take care of them??? I don’t know.

      I definitely go through burnt-out & depressed phases about veganism. There are times when I feel very peaceful b/c of being vegan, & times when all the weight of things that are wrong weigh me down so much.

  2. Thanks for the link! Just to jump into the conversation, certainly, companion animals represent a set of complicated moral issues.

    Having said that, the system at times chooses the basis on which we struggle, and I believe caring for domesticated animals is one of them. As our slaves, we have bred domesticated animals to serve us: for food, clothing, shelter, entertainment and companionship . Insofar as we’ve violated their rights (just by the institutionalized nature of their property status), I believe we owe them a certain restitution, and that includes personhood (aboiltion of their property status) and care if they cannot care for themselves.

    This is fairly normal idea of justice. Let’s say someone assaults me. In most legal systems, that person (if found guilty) is punishable both criminally by the state, and I can sue civilly (in most legal systems) for the violation of my rights not to be assaulted. I think we owe domesticated nonhumans care as a similar kind of restitution. Personal adoption may not be the ideal way to provide them with that restitution (it probably isn’t for many species), but it doesn’t follow from this that we shouldn’t provide them with the restitution that we can.

    Certainly, I think we owe other animals (even those not domesticated) with a certain concern for their well-being the way we would concern ourselves with the well-being of other human people. No one should leave an elderly woman with a broken leg or bird with a broken wing to die out of some sense that we are interfering with a natural process — we’re always interfering with nature in some way or other. We should be careful to try to share the ecosystem with other species, just as we shouldn’t gentrify urban areas and drive out the poor, etc.

    In terms of whether animals are happier being cared for, obviously, I believe it depends on the individual, the species and the conditions of care a great deal. But we shouldn’t always consider what makes an animal happy to be ‘what is good’ for him, her or zir. As with human children, what is good for them may not always fulfill their wishes and it may not always be a pleasurable experience for them, but that makes it no less right for them (e.g., going to the dentist). As care-givers to nonhuiman animals, I believe that we should consider what is good for our companions and let that guide our thinking. The ideal action may not always be possible, but we should do our best.

    Finally, Francione loves his dogs and I love my cats. I think it’s normal (and not just normal, but good) to love others. It’s a system that treats as all as instruments for the accumulation of capital that teaches us otherwise, and then tries to shame us into not loving. Treating another sentient being with love and care, with the dignity she deserves purely because she is unique in the world, because she is precious, because there will never be another just like her, because love is what we owe her, is rarely the wrong thing to do.

    Your colleague in the struggle,

  3. supernovadiva Says:

    i’ve too struggled with this. all i heard on the news for a while during the housing crisis is how shelters are struggling and begging for people to adopt the animals because they’d ‘have’ to kill them to survive financially. i don’t regret taking in 2 kittens found on the street by friends or feeding strays. what other option is there? it’s not their fault that some of them were dumped like disposable property when their families took off. i think since becoming vegan i see animals as living beings now rather than wandering things. i wouldn’t now dump them if they no longer fit my life. like wth my child, i would make choices to fit them in any changes that may come up.

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