I've heard this argument a few times. It's pretty rare nowadays for me, but I thought I'd look at it anyway. I cannot speak for all vegans and I am only speaking for myself based on what I have learned.
There are a few parts to this myth that I'll be looking at in this post:
1. The 'ownership' of another being
2. How some animals are designated 'pet'
3. Breeding of animals for human enjoyment
If you're in Australia and considering adopting, I have put together a list of shelters. These ones are no-kill, or attempting to become no-kill as far as I know.
The 'ownership' of another being
Veganism is an ethical stance that is against the exploitaiton of nonhuman animals. This includes 'owning' them. As such vegans tend to see animals in their care as companions, friends, comrades, children and similar. A common label used instead of 'pet' is 'companion animal'. The act of taking an animal into one's home is not about 'owning' an animal and using them as a status symbol, which does happen (Beverland, Farrelly & Ching Lim 2008); it is about helping an animal in need.
Just like you don't 'own' your children, friends or other people that you choose to care for, there is no 'ownership' in this relationship. Yes, the human is in the position of power, but it is up to us to use that power to help and be respectful of our friend's space and needs.
Therefore, I would say that vegans cannot/do not own an animal, but rather adopt/care for an animal.
How some animals are designated 'pet'
In Australia, there are a few different designations or categories that nonhuman animals usually fit into. Some offer a more comfortable life than others. There are pests, native animals, pets and food. If you're a pest you're hunted and killed. If you're a native animal, you're (generally) protected (unless you're food). If you're a pet, you get a pretty nice life unless you end up with abusive humans or killed in an animal shelter or used in a puppy mill situation. If you're food, you're most likely killed early on in life after being used to breed more of your kin.
The animals that are seen as pets are usually treated very well; they are provided entertainment, friendship, food, housing and medical treatment. Some of them are not so lucky, as I've already said. There is no real criteria for an animal to be pushed into the 'pet' category instead of one of the others. There are wild dogs and cats that are 'pests' because they are not domesticated and living in our homes. There are 'food animals' like cows and goats that have become 'pets' because humans thought them special enough, or at least more special than their friends and family who will continue to be killed and eaten.
For vegans, it seems that any animal can be put into the 'pet' category so long as the vegan is capable of looking after them and the animal responds well to being in a situation like this. Usually this requires that the animal is already domesticated, not captured in the wild, and cannot be rehabilitated to join a wild population (that is not destructive to ecosystems).
Breeding of animals for human enjoyment
When you get right down to it, why are we breeding companion animals? Why do people get companion animals? It turns out that it's mostly for ourselves; we are motivated by selfish things like the desire to look after another and get some companionship (Archer 1997; Endenburg, 't Hart & Bouw 1994; Staats, Wallace & Anderson 2008). These are not necessarily bad things, but they do place our needs as the most important thing, without considering the nonhumans that are involved.
There is also the fact that not all animals are treated well. In 2012/13, the RSPCA QLD received nearly 16,000 calls about animal cruelty, a large number of which were due to neglect and people not knowing how to care for the animals properly. That's just one company in one state. There are likely cases that go unreported as well. Imagine how many cases are happening each year over Australia.
I have no idea how many animals are bred for companionship every year, but I can give you a rough idea of how many are euthanased in shelters and pounds around Australia each year due to illness or not being 'adoptable' (accusations from no-kill shelters often get leveled at organisations like the RSPCA about their methods for determining 'adoptability'). Some people also bring in animals asking for them to be euthanased and some have to be euthanased during rescues because they are so injured/abused.
I often wonder how many of these deaths could be avoided if the animals had been cared for and socialised properly, or people had financial support to care for them properly.
These are just the numbers I could find. There are many council pounds without numbers available online. There are also animals who get killed by breeders, out on farms, etc.
RSPCA: 3907 dogs, 3820 cats, 474 'small animal', 247 livestock, 7041 wildlife (2012/2013 Annual Report)
Lost Dogs Home: 560 dogs, 1307 cats (2011/12 Annual Report)
AWL QLD Gold Coast: 606 dogs, 468 cats (2011/12 Statistics)
NSW (included some ACT stats)
RSPCA: 4862 dogs, 9531 cats, 10 horses, 369 livestock, 349 wildlife, 1284 'other' animals (2011/12 Annual Report)
AWL NSW: 297 dogs, 303 cats (2011/12 Annual Report)
Lost Dogs Home: 63 dogs, 97 cats (2011/12 Annual Report)
could not find any stats
could not find any stats
RSPCA: 909 dogs, 2136 cats, 3 horses, 131 birds, 19 fowl, 2 guinea pigs, 58 rabbits, 19 rodents, 3 sheep, 28 native birds (2011/12 Annual Report)
RSPCA: 1973 dogs, 4661 cats, 1858 wildlife, 2268 'nondomestic' (2013 Annual Report)
Lost Dogs Home: 3270 dogs, 8943 cats (2011/12 Annual Report)
GAWS: 283 dogs, 1244 cats (2011/12 Annual Report)
Dogs Home of Tasmania: 558 dogs (2011/12 Annual Report)
*These figures are based on different years and is only meant to be an indicator of how large the problem is. I've chosen to focus on cats and dogs as they are the most commonly exploited and used and thus, euthanased.
It is partly because of this high rate of death that many vegans refuse to purchase animal companions. Another reason is the fact that breeding and purchasing an animal because you 'want it' reduces them to an object of desire rather than a being in their own right. As far as I can tell, there is no reason for us to breed companion animals except for ourselves; they do not fit into the ecosystem, they use resources up, they are killed at high rates and they have a commodity status. At the moment there are too many of them dying, being abused and not being cared for.
This needs to stop. We as a species need to look after the animals that we have domesticated. I believe that they are our responsibility.
A big thank you to my friends for proof-reading my posts.
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