Category Archives: Abolition

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




Recognizing a Blind Spot

There is a huge blind spot for many of us when it comes to discussing the rational end of domestication of animals and what happens next because we are only able to imagine the end without the vision of the new culture (Read next Gaining Vision).

Many of us see the end of domestication only as a sort of totalitarian abandonment or mass extermination of certain species, a kind of apocalyptic mayhem. Who wouldn’t shudder at the thought of the billions of domesticated animals simply being sent to run amok, or genuinely worry about how they would fare if no one cared for them?  Of course, simply opening cages, doors and gates is not a responsible action in the redevelopment of culture without domestication.

Often, we can only see our own loneliness in a world where domestication ends, so we resist ending it. We  have a deep seated habit for personal companionships with some animals, enamored and enabled by their dependence on us and our dependence on them to the point that we cannot imagine life without a dog at our heels, a cat in our laps, or a horse in the field, to name a few of our favorite fetishes.

Our entire social and economic system is based on thousands of years animal exploitation and could not be dismantled in one fell political swoop or all at once by any means save perhaps cosmological catastrophe. This makes it seem altogether insurmountable. Plus a majority of people appear to see no problem with the way things are and form another possible obstacle. Let’s be level headed, we know that such a shift will require and endure a period of transition.  This should not prevent us from seriously approaching the end of domestication of animals.

For anyone concerned that the end of domestication is untenable let’s consider that humans – as anatomically evolved as we are today – emerged about 200,000 years ago. Domestication didn’t get a foothold until about 190, 000 years later.  Homo sapiens have survived far longer without domestication than we have lived with it. Today’s rate of demise of the planet’s ability to support humanity in its current domestication driven way of life suggests that we won’t  live much longer with it either.

With only about 5000 years of recorded history, first hand contemporary accounts of life before domestication of animals are not available.  The written records, especially from the last 2000 to 1500 years up to today – whether biased official historical presentations, commercial and political propaganda along with personal observations in correspondence,  literature and other commentary –  outline and, in many instances,  highlight the detrimental disturbances and misfortunes of the practice of domestication.

From the devastation of wild life, to the decimation and enslavement of indigenous populations to the desecration of land and water sources to disease to war to wage slavery, to the torture of the animals, ill-fated dietary habits and more, they are all replete with connections to the earliest pastoralists.1  Is this something we honestly want to preserve?

Since we today only know a world built on domestication it’s not surprising that a popular argument it is that is natural and justifiable and even worthy of celebration and honor.  We pick and choose single issue symptoms  as the problems of the human condition or animal welfare, ignoring the festering unjust source of so many of our conflicts, domestication of animals.

A large census of us have been convinced that our lives are better, more convenient, more enjoyable with domestication.  Yet, none of us has lived without the influence, direct or indirect, of the oppression, inequality, unfair competition, scarcity, desperation, brutality, conflict and fear that are ready side effects of animal domestication.  How can we really know that our lives are better from domestication than they could be without it?

Sure, for some few there are great riches and power to be had in this system, for some number more there is an achievement of arrival in to a contrived lauded standard of living. Many more dream for a costume of such fashionable happiness,  perhaps not understanding that it doesn’t necessarily include freedom or security.  And regardless the amounts in our bank accounts, many of us still suffer some form of impoverishment, whether by abject discrimination and oppression, disease, or as lack of empathy and emotional or spiritual destitution. All of these are symptoms of the manifestation of the domestication of animals.

If so many of the ills of society can be linked to the domestication of animals – not to mention the grotesque torture of the animals themselves or their subjectively restricted and dependent lives as property – doesn’t it make sense that ending domestication would be a priority in our aim for restoring  well being to the planet?2


1. David A. Nibert,  Animal oppression & Human Violence: Domesecration, Capitalism and Global Conflict,  2013, Columbia University Press

2. Recommended reading:

Gary L. Francione and Anna Charlton

Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach 

Eat Like You Care: An Examination of the Morality of Eating Animals

The Abolitionist Approach