Some of the more radical vegans among us frown on pet ownership for a variety of reasons. Some take issue with the term and concept of "ownership" and feel that it's the height of human arrogance to presume ownership over another living being. Others point to fact that dogs and cats are carnivores, or omnivores at best, and it is therefore immoral to keep an animal at the expense of the lives of the many others sacrificed in order to feed it. Finally, there are those among us who feel that it's unfair to remove an animal from nature and keep it within the confines of a home, effectively as a prisoner.
Well, my cat Boyeee and I hardily disagree. Boyeee (extra "e" added for emphasis) is more than happy to share his little life with me, as I am mine with him. Boyeee is more than willing to sacrifice the great outdoors, replete with dangers like freezing or oppressively hot weather, cars, dogs and other predators, for what can only be termed: "The Life of Riley." He lounges around all day on his choice of two beds or a couch; each bed fully loaded with warm, comfy quilts or covers and assorted pillows. He has three humans who fawn on his every whim. When he needs exercise, he'll stand where we keep the string and literally yell until one of us takes the string and starts to play with him. When he's hungry, he'll calmly walk over to the place we where give him his food and again yell until we feed him. Every day features a buffet of hard food, soft food, and cat-safe milk. At night he sleeps on a homemade bed lined with thermal material and covers to protect him from the cold.
Is this human arrogance and imprisonment, or is it human compassion, sharing, and goodwill at its finest? Are we sharing our lives and comforts with another living being for his benefit, or are we selfishly satisfying our desire for companionship, fun, or, more ominously, dominance? Is "owning" a pet incongruent with the lifestyle and beliefs of a vegan?
The above questions can all be dealt with in one fell swoop with the realization that the most frequent contact most humans have with animals is with the piece of carcass sitting on their plates. How, then, can they feel compassion and work up the motivation to give up the tastes that they love when they have such limited dealings with these living, animated beings? Owning a pet exposes humans to some very basic and otherwise hard to come by revelatory facts about animals. One of most crucial of these revelations is that animals have a wide range of personalities, each one unique, and aren't the automatons that the animal products industries would have us believe. The distinctive personality traits are often too subtle to discern with just the casual encounter. After all, we are another species and aren't capable of immediately detecting many of these slight differences in temperament or character.
Pet ownership, therefore, can be the first important step in developing a deeper understanding of our nonhuman brethren. Pet-owning humans soon begin to recognize very "human-like" emotions in their pets. Valued human traits such as loyalty, devotion and the capacity to love are clearly exhibited by many of our pets. Even some not-so-valued emotions -- such as anger, depression and loneliness -- become easy to read when we spend enough time with our pets. Our pets also exhibit various levels of intelligence and adaptability, as well as a wide range of activity levels.
Now, of course, no one in the civilized world knowingly eats cats or dogs, so how, you might ask, do the human-like qualities and emotions of our cats and dogs relate to the cows, pigs, and chickens that fill our plates? The answer is that owning and loving a pet often motivates people to learn about other animals and can open people's minds to the possibility that ALL animals have real emotions. As little as non-pet owners know about cats and dogs, they know even less about undomesticated animals. And because our populations are so concentrated in urban and suburban areas, most people have very limited exposure to these animals. "Owning" a pet changes that equation.
So, what is it that pet owners learn when they poke their heads out of the sand?
Here's a very cursory look at what the experts are saying.
"The more research they do, the more scientists believe that many animals have emotional lives almost as complex as those of humans. Those who study animal behavior say the range of animal emotions can extend well beyond rage and fear to include maternal love, joy, and compassion."
From the American Institute of Bio Sciences:
"Current interdisciplinary research provides compelling evidence that many animals experience such emotions as joy, fear, love, despair, and grief -- we are not alone."
From U.S. News On-Line:
"Grief seems to be common in the wild, particularly following the death of a mate, parent, offspring, or even close companion. Female sea lions witnessing their pups being eaten by killer whales are known to actually wail. When a goose, which mates for life, loses its partner, the bird's head and body droop dejectedly. Jane Goodall, who saw the young chimp Flint starve after his mother died, maintains that the animal 'died of grief.'"
But there's "hard" scientific evidence for animal feelings as well. Scientists who study the biology of emotions, a field still in its infancy, are discovering many similarities between the brains of humans and other animals. In animals studied so far, including humans, emotions seem to arise from ancient parts of the brain that are located below the cortex, regions that have been conserved across many species throughout evolution.
From Temple Grandin, Professor of Animal Studies:
"That's one sad, unhappy cow. She wants her baby. Bellowing for it, hunting for it. It's like grieving, mourning."
It's clear from the above scientific research findings and observations that animals have emotions and, therefore, and can be hurt and traumatized just as we humans. The more willing people are to expose themselves to this kind of information, the closer we will get to the cruelty-free treatment of all animals.
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