We kill animals, insects, bacteria, plants, and more without remorse or care. No tears are shed for the wanton slaughter of insects or the mass extermination of trees. Every season we harvest our genetically engineered (or selectively bred) animals and plants. No one has nightmares over the death of a spider who was stepped on; a casualty of coincidence. And I don’t see media decrying the abject domestication and persistent war against dangerous and helpful bacterium. As every day we wash our hands at the sink we are obliterating countless cellular and complex organisms.
For the most part I kill living things with glee and enjoyment. I go to the trendiest restaurant for new methods of boiling lobster alive or skinning some exotic plant in a fabulous new way. I pay good money for this experience.
There is a line drawn here, between those organisms worthy of our attention and those who are merely tools for our survival. A pig is a tool for our survival, whereas a dog is worthy of our attention. One can be consumed, another cannot. As we become wealthier we are afforded the privilege of caring about the ethical treatment of our enslaved mammal (or plant) friends. But it has gone even further. It has gone beyond just the method in which we kill them or even if we should consume them at all.
Our treatment toward animals has become more decedent and more meaningless. At least with meat we are fulfilling some nutritional need. At least when I kill a head of cattle I can say, one life sustained another. But other forms of animal slavery are more perverse. That is, using animals as a fashion accessory tailored to our pleasure.
We selectively breed dogs and cats to produce certain physical traits that we find appealing. I want a dog which can withstand the cold, has a mild demeanor, and looks cute. Regardless of the health consequences I trend forward. I want it to be massive, an agile swimmer, and very strong. I do not care if it only lives on average for 10 years, I want to genetically engineer a Newfoundland so that I can use it as a tool to rescue drowning humans in the freezing Atlantic Ocean, or just as something fun to play with.
Dogs, like any consumable product, are rated on scales of dependability, fur quality, demeanor, intelligence, and much else.
A popular dog breed (say a golden retriever), with a healthy genetic lineage can fetch a top sum when purchased as a puppy.
My point here is that very few humans actually need dogs. Sure, there are a few tribes around the world who use them for hunting. Sure, the blind can use them as a guide around busy streets; or the emotionally unstable can use them as trusted friends. But for the vast majority of people, dogs serve no purpose other than our amusement.
As a trend, humans manipulate the world around them. From plants to animals, we selectively breed things to fit our needs and ensure our survival. The almond was not a food item our ancestors just found on the ground, it took thousands of years of unconscious selective breeding and harvesting to produce the modern almond (the wild variants are still toxic). Dogs and cats are no different.
Humans, as masters of our environment, manipulate and change the world around us. We build massive dams, construct houses, build roads through woodland, and exterminate animals on a whim. But, there is a trend building in popular culture, about the evils of our desire to manipulate those around us.
We cannot just build a dam in a river without thinking of the environmental consequences.
We cannot simply clear cut a forest (in the United States) without plans of rejuvenation and nearby territory for the animals to disperse.
Our shared attitudes about the world around us are changing as we become more interested in preserving the natural order, rather than conquering it. Like a bloodied general conquering a new empire, his opinions of his subjects begin to soften as his power is assured; inching toward compassion.
We are moving beyond saving trees or lakes. We are beginning to say, you know, maybe not torturing birds before we consume them for dinner would help me sleep better; but we must acknowledge the reality, as long as we can use animals to save human lives, they will be subject to scientific experiments and cruelty. We are not this far yet.
But our next step, if we can move beyond that, is that we will no longer accept enslaving other animals to fit our unending desire for control and pitiful attempts at companionship. The purchase of pets will be seen as a cruel and archaic practice, made by a decedent and careless humanity. There will come an age in our life time when we look back at our care of domestic pets and say this was wrong. But it will only happen when we are wealthy enough to afford it.
Like most politicized citizens, I plan on doing nothing about it. I will let the tide of animal ethics wash over me once it reaches critical mass and say onto my grandchildren “I always held these opinions, but did nothing about it.”