When Will We Achieve No Kill?

I received as a Christmas gift the book Disposable Animals – Ending the Tragedy of Throwaway Pets by Craig Brestrup. I’ve only just started it but already I’ve come across a concept I wanted to discuss regarding who is to blame for the killing of shelter pets. So pull your chairs in a circle book club members, turn to page 17 and read along with me:

“The truly guilty, being the source of the problem, are those who choose to have animals without choosing to do so in a morally responsible way. That way would be to recognize the value inherent in the life of an animal and to actively respect it, to take charge of its reproduction, to recognize that to take in an animal is to take on a relationship of commitment for his or her lifetime. When we achieve that vision, the killing simply stops.”

I try very hard to keep my mind open when I come up against ideas my brain hates. On the one hand, I can hardly disagree with the idea of people owning pets “in a morally responsible way”. (While we’re at it, how about everyone consuming the Earth’s natural resources in a morally responsible way. And raising children in a morally responsible way. Etc.) But on the other hand, I have to ask if there is one widely agreed upon morally responsible way to own pets. I don’t think there is. In fact, one of the tragedies of life is that every one of us believes he is a pretty good fellow all around. (I could say almost everyone if you want to include the rare few who know their actions are evil but choose to be that way.)

If we look at the specifics of the morally responsible way to own pets offered by the author, we are faced with many questions.

  • “Recognize the value inherent in the life of an animal” – This will clearly mean different things to different people. A farmer raising a pig for food will regard that animal as having value, as will a dog fighter regard his dog, and an apartment dweller regard his cat.
  • “Take charge of its reproduction” – In the case of someone who breeds his dogs as often as physically possible for the purpose of selling the puppies – he has taken charge of the reproductive aspects of the animals. Likewise with the owner who neuters his dog before the animal ever reproduces. Perhaps the intended meaning will become clearer later in the book, I don’t know.
  • “Take on a relationship of commitment for his or her lifetime” – Does this mean every owner must keep every pet he takes on, even if his life circumstances change so significantly as to make keeping the pet impossible? If the owner screens prospective buyers and rehomes his pets when necessary, has he failed to meet his moral obligations?

Finally, the conclusion reached by the author “When we achieve that vision, the killing simply stops” seems, at best, unlikely to me. The idea that if we had a utopian society, everything would be swell sounds fine, but how is that applicable to reality? In real life, we will always have a need for shelters. Even if we sprinkle magic moral responsibility dust over all of humanity, we will still need shelters. People move/lose jobs/die unexpectedly. Pets slip out doors and dig under fences. Some pets end up living as ferals while others are born into it. Life is untidy. Just as there will always be a need in society to look after homeless/orphaned/lost children, the elderly and the handicapped, so will we need to look after pets.

And someone will work at one of those shelters and believe it is a “kindness” or a “necessity” to kill a healthy/treatable pet. When we have replaced all of those shelter workers with compassionate people who embrace the idea of no kill, when every community has implemented the No Kill Equation, when we stop blaming the public for the atrocity of killing shelter pets, when we learn to judge less and understand more – then the killing will stop. Not in a fantasy world but in real life. Not in some distant future but in our lifetime. It could happen today. We are a humane society and a no kill nation of pet lovers. Join us.

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