Something Other than They Are

Recently I was involved in a discussion on another forum initiated by a hopeful vegan person asking if there was a humane source for animal based food for carnivorous pets.  My response was that there is not.  Though with great populations of domesticated carnivorous animals who are dependent on humans for food, we are, so far, fraught with choosing the life of one animal over another.

Plant stuffs can be formulated to meet the health and nutritional needs of some obligate carnivore species, namely domesticated cats.  And omnivorous ones, such as dogs, generally cruise easily on vegan diets.   However, should this option fail a particular animal, Gary Francione, esteemed promoter of the grassroots Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights,  explains that in our responsibility to all domesticated species who are already in existence we may succumb to a morally excusable use of one animal for the food of another however morally unjustifiable it remains.  Of course,  the greater goal and where our efforts must go is to the end of domestication all together supported by human veganism. Only then will our moral quandary cease.

The emotional pain of any vegan’s moral dilemma of feeding carnivore domesticates should not be dispelled by a delusion of  so called humane slaughter or happy exploitation up to the point of death of those animals who would be food. Neither of these is realistic.   Not to mention, our emotional suffering is not the problem, but a symptom of our radical error to use animals at all.

A colleague of mine also participating in the discussion commented that the exception of excusable immoral use of some animals for the sake of feeding others brought about the sense that if we care for carnivorous animals who by force  have no choice but to depend on us -and we owe them care – at least we are not expecting them to be something other than they really are.

From this point I have borrowed the topic from that forum in order to expand on some of the demoralizing effects of domestication here.  Though my colleague understands well the importance of accepting any species for its true nature, her comment turns the spotlight on the very foundation of domestication, which  is the requirement that all species in fact be denied of who they truly are in order that we may exploit them for particular attributes of theirs that we calculate as being beneficial to us.

Two common pet species illustrate this well.  Dogs,  which are known in the form of over 300 hundred breeds today, are all related genetically to the wolf.   However it came about for humans to take the step to the ongoing domestication of the wolf for specific human purposes, this artificial selection could be maintained only by killing the ones born who did not display the desirable traits of the service requirements – regardless of whether they would be otherwise healthy and viable animals for life in the wild. In other words,  some of the very traits that make a wolf  who he truly is were seen as undesirable in the domesticated  version. We either killed off possessors of those traits or eventually curtailed those traits that cannot be erased by husbandry by non-lethal punitive measures. Dogs now still suffer this fate.  And the wolf itself is generally scorned by those who keep his natural prey, or the domesticated version of  the now extinct original prey species, as livestock.

What measures will society not take to make sure that dogs will not wander large territories, travel in packs, hunt or kill  what would be typical prey species, vocalize at certain volumes or durations, dig holes,  gnaw things, etc.? All these are traits that make a dog, derived from wolf, who he really is.

Cats, loved and hated seemingly in equal measure, also live in the balance of the whims of humans.   We are thrilled when they hunt and kill rodents, but vilify them for doing the same to birds, while the mechanism and instinct to hunt and kill either is no different. By the way, it’s popular to cite the numbers of birds killed by domesticated cats each year to prove their evil, while never mentioning the numbers of all species of animals killed unnecessarily each year by humans. The former pales in contrast to the latter. We have felt justified to mutilate their feet with claw removal (actually toe removal) to save our furnishings from their natural scratching habit. At the same time we leave them for hours in lonely abandonment because we think their apparent independent habits mean they don’t need attention, stimulation or social life.

For a plurality of species enslaved to our use we don’t want some parts of what makes them who they really are as long as those behavioral characteristics or anatomical features get in the way of our ego satisfaction, ease of use, or the financial bottom line.  Horns, ears, tails, beaks, wings, hair coats, teeth, hooves, whiskers, etc.,  all may be amputated, mutilated or otherwise altered to meet some human desire (sometimes disguised as need), regardless of the adverse effect on the animal.

When we want more of some  behavioral characteristic or physical attribute,  we breed to accentuate those out of proportion to the point of ill health or disability.  We manipulate the living conditions to override biological rhythms to meet our demands or expectations without regard to how it might affect the animal’s quality of life by taking away from her all that would be her natural tendencies.  The health problems of these animals  are usually mitigated only by their early age of slaughter or otherwise shortened life span. Perhaps they become the beacon for a specific campaign to  improve their welfare through regulation during the inescapable servitude of their forced existence, but that never will end the problems.

We may attempt to replicate certain habitat and activity preferences in some cases, but often these are only a fractional mimic of the wild/free life and all are subject to human judgment as to appropriateness or even necessity.  We have to have the time and want to afford them, as well, let alone have the financial wherewithal  to do so.

Of the wild animals that remain undomesticated for lack of usefulness to us or for inability to survive in captivity, they are often assigned the role of pest or trophy, as if their very act of living is annoying or a status symbol to be won.  Pests are regularly adjudicated by capital punishment to preempt any real or imagined danger potential  of their natural habits as they affect humans or other domesticated animals .  Their territories are blockaded by fences and screens – sometimes weaponized with barbs or electricity – or the earth is laced with poison, or set with maiming, if not deadly, traps.

Water is cut off  to them or whole ecosystems are destroyed leaving them nowhere to move and nothing on which to live.  Some attempts on their part to survive within the human development that has overwhelmed them are portrayed as aggressive and hostile offences.  Then, we may just shoot them, blow them up or burn them out.

When we are emotionally and intellectually struck by the immoral unfairness, the inequity, the sorrow and the brutality that comes to domesticated animals and the wild animals subjected to demise as the side effect of domestication our responsibility is not to make the system of domestication easier to live with, but to follow the signs pointing to our mistake and resolve our dis-ease by recognizing  that we can – and ought to – live without domestication.

Non-violent communication with and education of animals living with humans because of domestication is a popular subject recently that deserves attention, but not as a justification for ongoing domestication. More importantly, the inroads into the development of mutual relationships without coercion and use between human and non-human animals are vital for the care still owed to all the domesticated animals already in existence.  A primary tenet of this approach indeed requires that we see all species for who they really are.  Being used by humans is not part of that picture.

Further Reading –

Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights

“Pets”: The Inherent Problems of Domestication




4 responses to “Something Other than They Are

  1. Reblogged this on The Legacy Of Pythagoras and commented:
    An incredibly powerful and useful perspective on the evil of domestication.

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