Is the 'Keeping' of Pets an Ethical Issue?

Posted by Samantha Bubar

If you share your life with pets, you probably consider them family.

Most people who have pets often talk about them as family members. But how ethical is it to actually "keep" pets?

Jessica Pierce, a bioethicist, recently published the book, "Run, Spot, Run The Ethics of Keeping Pets," which essentially outlines her ideas of "keeping" pets. Pierce is no hypocrite, sharing her home with some pet companions as well: a cat, two dogs, and a fish. But she does have some issues as to how people actually care for their animals.

Here are her complicated thoughts on the ethics and morals of keeping pets as told to Barbara J.King.

Pierce isn't anti pets.

To clarify, Pierce isn't against pet-keeping. She is simply advocating for proper care and keeping of animals in her book. The most common pets, dogs and cats, aren't necessarily her main concern, although there are some aspects of dog and cat care that she finds shocking.

For example, while 9 out of 10 families consider pets family, nearly 30 percent of these pets never receive veterinary care. Not even the minimum yearly check up. The $50 billion a year pet industry seems more tailored to the owners than the pets.

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While some pets really are treated as family, others are susceptible to a host of pet-keeping problems. In addition to no vet care, pets experience solitary confinement, high cancer rates due to poor food quality, bestiality, and less-than-humane euthanasia procedures.

While Pierce states that these things do happen, she isn't condemning those that have pets. She's simply trying to advocate for better, more knowledgeable pet care. The pet care industry markets animals as fun and easy to care for, and downplays the amount of commitment it takes to raise a pet.

Pierce aims to raise awareness about the ethical dilemma.

Pierce laments;

"You can buy an animal for less than you can buy a new pair of shoes."

This makes it easy to underestimate the commitment and seriousness of the decision to bring an animal into your life. It makes consumers think that pets are disposable.

Pierce aims to raise awareness of how big of a task pet-keeping really is. She finds the purchase of reptiles, amphibians, hamsters, and small mammals more problematic than the keeping of dogs and cats.

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Reptiles in pet stores, for example, are kept in poor conditions, and are "manufactured" for sale. They are bred, transported, and housed in less than ideal situations before they even reach stores. This leads to very high mortality rates.

The pet industry seems to ignore mentioning the difficult needs of the exotic pets they sell in their stores as well. Most exotic pets' needs aren't always easy to meet within the walls of your own home.

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Pierce is especially passionate about keeping wild animals, stating that:

"Solitary confinement of human prisoners is considered a violation of basic human rights, yet this is essentially what we do to some of our pet animals."

Keeping pets like this means that they are often lacking the social, mental, and physical stimulation they need to survive.

Cats are an entire different complexity.

She also touches on the complexity of the indoor vs. outdoor cat discussion, describing it as "vexing." She argues that each cat is different.

Some cats do very well as indoor cats for their entire lives, while other cats do just as well outdoors, or with a combination lifestyle. Outdoor cats are at a higher risk for getting injured or becoming prey, while indoor cats in the wrong environment suffer from behavioral problems and obesity.

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The ethics of "keeping" animals remains controversial. Pet owners love their pets very much and, whether knowingly or unknowingly, still don't provide proper care. But most all pet owners are advocating for the proper treatment and research of the pets we all love.

Check out Jessica Pierce's work as a writer and a bioethicist on her website.

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Is the 'Keeping' of Pets an Ethical Issue?