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my Companion Animal?
address the philosophical debate about having companion
animals in the home. I struggle with the idea that I have
adopted cats and now confine them to my home. Although
I love my cats, they are not in my home by choice.
Most domestic animals, such as dogs
and cats, are the result of hundreds, and sometimes
thousands, of years of meticulous inbreeding manipulated
by humans for specific purposes. Special physical characteristics
and personality traits have made certain breeds particularly
amenable to serving human desires. For example, some
animals are suited to guard and defend, others are valued
for their hunting skills, some win awards in contests
and shows, others are esteemed for their warmth and
gentleness, and still others are prized as status symbols.
These animals are not the same stock as their wild ancestors.
They are the consequence of precise, selective contrivance
by humans and, as a result, have become virtually dependent
on us for their care and existence. Hence, there is
no natural habitat to which these animals can return.
Humans have bred and overbred certain
varieties of domestic animals so that many of their
once alluring features have become precursors to crippling
afflictions and deadly disorders. Typically, those that
are not up to snuff at birth are discarded, abandoned,
or killed by crude and brutal methods. The rationale
is that these animals are too expensive to house and
feed in relation to the meager selling price the breeders
Shelters are generally packed with both
rejected purebreds and unwanted mixed breeds, which
are often deemed unsuitable for arbitrary reasons. Making
matters worse are irresponsible "owners" who deliberately
breed their "pets," permit wanton intercourse, or refuse
to have them spayed or neutered. Our cities, parks,
wooded and rural areas are teeming with unwanted animals
who are desperate for food and shelter, constantly exposed
to the harsh elements, and easy targets for predation,
torture, poisoning, highway death, seizure, and confiscation.
The majority of shelters euthanize healthy
animals that have not been adopted within a week or
two. No-kill shelters -- those that house animals indefinitely
-- have limited space, are expensive to operate, and
usually have lengthy waiting lists of animals in need
of assistance and sanctuary.
The decision to take in a homeless animal
is a deeply personal one, and there are many factors
to weigh. Adopting an animal is not unlike adopting
a child -- it is a huge responsibility. Some domestic
animals can live for twenty years or longer, so adopters
must be prepared for a long term commitment. Occasionally
animals require special care, medical attention, medication,
or food. Treatment of certain conditions may be costly,
or food requirements could conflict with a person's
vegan values. Lifestyle, habits, and work and travel
schedules all become important considerations when deciding
to adopt an animal companion.
It is irresponsible and cruel for vegans
to disregard the cries of these animals. A compassionate
perspective calls for aiding them in whatever way we
can. For some vegans this means actively striving to
close breeding mills and the pet stores that support
them. For others it means contributing to no-kill shelters
through donations of money or food or volunteering to
walk dogs, clean cages, and spend time playing with
and giving attention to the animal residents. Many grassroots
animal activist groups have, or would be interested
in starting, a local spay and neuter program which could
be coordinated with city government or animal control
agencies. And, of course, there is always the option
of adopting a companion animal in need.
Some vegans feel that taking an animal
into their home is comparable to imprisonment. The blunt
truth is that they have nowhere else to go. Nevertheless,
most people find that sharing their lives with animals
is a reciprocally gratifying and beneficial arrangement,
one which encourages a deeper appreciation for other
life forms and inspires a unique bond of friendship
and trust that transcends all barriers of language and
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