Thursday, September 27, 2012

How Much is that Baby in the Window?

It's a political year, and that's always a danger for a writer. The temptation of course is to exert whatever influence I have in favor of my own (probably not so mysterious) political beliefs.

But I restrain myself to writing letters, signing petitions, making campaign contributions and voting.

Anything else is inappropriate, I think. I do my real work, my proselytizing, in my writing. And if you're reading along, chances are you're in sympathy to the majority of the causes dearest to my heart. But that doesn't mean you're a captive audience or that I am allowed to harrangue you with my political and social views.

So I do try to avoid The Debate.

But I saw a post today where someone innocently mentioned how they resent the term "owned" when it comes to pets. Now...I'm sympathetic to this. Those of us who have loved a dog or a cat consider that creature to be a beloved family member. "Owned" doesn't begin to capture the affection we feel.

But when we try to make the argument that we don't "own" a dog or a cat, that they are equal, we trivilize the battle of humans for equality. Because while an animal has the right to our protection and love and care, an animal is not a functioning member of society. An animal bears no responsibilities. We do not expect it to educate itself, to vote, to bear arms, to...well, let it suffice to say that when we try to make the argument that we cannot "own" animals, that animals are just the same as people, we insult and degrade the battle of those humans who have fought (and continue to fight) for equality in our society.

We also open the argument up wide to those who believe that an unfertilized egg is just the same -- has just the same rights -- as a living breathing child or a living breathing twenty year old--or, apparently--a dog.

And while it's possible that the person making the dog argument does indeed believe that the life of an unborn fetus -- or heck, an unfertilized egg -- is as important as that of his mother, for the vast majority of people in our society, this is not the case. And I think we shall see this proven come November.

In the meantime--though I hate to seem humorless and overbearing about this--it's important that we always consider the long term implications and ramifications of our well-meaning politically-directed comments.


  1. You're right the we don't expect animals to vote, but uneducated and not bearing arms? I question that.

    My aunt is one of a small army of volunteers who train assistance dogs for disabled people. These dogs learn far faster than a human would - long before their first birthday they will understand well over thirty different commands, with spoken and gestured forms of each.

    Also, militaries around the world have long used dogs in military operations, and the DOD now also uses dolphins. Horses also have a long history of military service.

    Of course, there's also a long history of humans owning humans.

  2. Of course, there's also a long history of humans owning humans.

    That is indeed the point. And when we try to pretend that owning a service dog is the same thing as owning a human...well, I'll just leave it there.

  3. Speaking from the other side of this issue as a veterinarian, I am disturbed by the desire of some people to legally change the wording from pet ownership to 'guardian'. While I understand the need for some people to reword their relationship with their pets into something that makes them more comfortable, something that they feel better reflects that relationship, I am really concerned about the legal can of worms this potentially opens.

    What happens when you die? Must you legally establish a new 'guardian' for your pet? Yes, all of us should make arrangements for the care of our pets should something unforeseen happen to us, but is making a verbal agreement with your pet's breeder, your neighbor, or your best friend now sufficient in this newly defined state?

    What if you can't afford a specific medical treatment and opt to choose a less expensive one rather than the 'ideal' one? Or if you decide you don't want to pursue treatment that you feel is unnecessary and would not be of benefit to your pet? Will some legal watchdog group (no pun intended!) now intervene and remove your dog from your household because you do not believe in annual vaccinations but they do?

    The biggest problem might be what declaring yourself a guardian and establishing the rights of a child to pets will do to legal costs in the case of malpractice. To date, you could not sue for more than the value of the dog--emotional pain and suffering of the *owner* could be considered, but not the animal to any quantitative degree.

    It is my belief that this trend, continued in this direction, will result in increasing costs in pet care, and the very animals that we love so much will be the ones that are hurt in the long run as veterinary medicine gets priced out of the range of the average pet owner. I'm seeing this happen now, as the cost of the average vet emergency visit has escalated to the point that people are investing in pet health insurance--which I think will just pour fuel on the costs fire.

    I belong on a lot of dog lists, and this is a very touchy subject. But I feel like saying, "Call yourself whatever you want--just don't make it a legal term."

    So like you, I wish people would consider the ramifications of their well-meaning political actions. I just didn't put it as eloquently as you. :-)

    1. Wow. Sarah, so many interesting points there. Certainly a lot I had never considered beyond the obvious (should be obvious) issue of making sure your pets are provided for in the case of something happening to you.

      You can tell a lot about people from the way they treat animals -- all animals.

      At the same time, growing up I spent summers in ranching country where the attitude toward animals is practical and unsentimental. No one made the mistake of equating owning a horse or a dog with enslaving another human. This is not to say that the attitude toward animals was harsh or unloving. I've seen an old cowboy crying over his equally old horse. And another old man still tearing up thirty years after the death of a dog.

  4. What's terribly ironic is apparently a lot of humans now want to be "owned", figuratively and literally.

  5. An interesting post as always,Josh, but I think that there are very different issues at stake, when we are talking about our relationships with and responsibilities to animals as opposed to all the vexed questions to do with human fertility. Let alone all the questions about the ethical boundaries of research and the even more difficult ones about choosing which foetus to allow to develop to full term, and who has the right to choose, as the possibilities develop the minefield increases in scope and complexity.

    In Britain we have been lucky in having an enormously respected group of people on the HFA (Human Fertility Authority) who have the delegated responsibility of deciding what is and what is not acceptable in a civilised and pluralist society. They have published their reasoning and the vast majority of people are content to accept their reasoning. Although there are people whose beliefs may mean that they disagree with the rulings of the HFA, they are a minority and they are free to live according to the rulings of their conscience, without having a platform for imposing their beliefs on the rest of us. I think the USA has not been so fortunate.

    1. What a fascinating idea the HFA is. Sadly, I agree. I can't imagine even the notion of defining what a civilized and pluralist society is going over well here -- let alone actually creating such an authority.

      Or perhaps I'm getting dispirited after a few months of all that goes along with gearing up for an election.