Dogs have an important place in our society. They are often considered full members of the family and are treated with love and respect. Some owners cook for them and many have a very strong relationship with their four-legged companion. But some critics say that keeping pets against their will is ethically problematic. Is this true?
In ancient Rome, slaves were non-free people, living under the domination of a master. Considered as property, they could nevertheless enjoy a certain consideration. Domestic slaves, as long as they did not rebel, could probably hold an important place in the family. Accountants and doctors were often slaves. Over time, Roman slaves gained increased legal protection, including the right to file lawsuits against their masters.
Our pets are also unfree people. They are restricted in their movements and interactions with the outside world, often only being able to go outside when they are allowed. They depend on us for food, water, health and well-being. Legally, they are "owned" by their masters, who can buy and sell them and who have the power of life and death over them. Over time, the rights of the masters have been limited and there is significant legislation against animal abuse.
It is difficult to imagine what our society would be like, if we decided to give dogs the same rights as humans: freedom, protection against abuse, right to vote, property, ... Since they can't express themselves as we do, how can we make sure that their rights are actually respected? And if dogs had rights, why not rabbits? Is it moreover possible to respect the rights of rabbits while respecting the rights of foxes?
The ancestors of dogs were wolves, which are efficient predators. Dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, and many breeds of dogs have been bred specifically for their appearance and personality, rather than for their ability to survive in the wild. They have become very dependent on humans.
Certainly, there are examples of dogs that have gone wild again and survived, such as stray dogs, feeding on trash and finding shelter in abandoned buildings. There are also the dingoes, the wild dogs in Australia. They are believed to have arrived on this continent about 4,000 years ago in the company of humans and returned to the wild.
It is likely that in the absence of humans, some domesticated dogs would succeed in their return to the wild, but that the vast majority of our pooches would not.
Most pet owners care for their pets with love and respect, and do their best to make sure they have everything they need to be happy and healthy. In fact, it is safe to assume that dogs cope well with most of the stresses of their situation, develop a very strong attachment to their master, and would be unhappy to be separated from them.
Concretely, treating our dogs fairly means taking responsibility and ensuring that they can fulfill their basic needs: socializing with other dogs, running free when possible, exploring the outside world, having a healthy, balanced and varied diet, and receiving love and affection. If we are aware of their needs and desires, we can give our pets a happy and fulfilling life, and enjoy their precious company in return.