Monday, July 28, 2008

Pet Theft as Confusing as Pets

A few weeks ago someone asked me if I was "one of those animal rights people". My initial reply was "yes", because at the time I thought that answer would piss her off more than a reply of "no". But as I've thought more about it? I'm not sure where I fall. I'm stuck in a duality of acknowledging the need for responsible pet ownership (picking up one's dog's poop) while also ceaselessly bitching about how fucking stupid it is to subject one's self to a situation in which one must pick up poop. Needless to say this article by Kim Campbell Thornton about pet theft has not helped the situation.

First of all, the article itself is incredibly shitty as evidenced by it's method of establishing fact:

Police reports don't make a distinction between pet theft and other property theft, so there's no way to pinpoint the exact number of stolen pets each year, but anecdotally, officers say that pet theft is increasing this year.
Anecdotal evidence? AWESOME! Next to hearsay and conjecture, anecdotal evidence is my favorite kind of evidence! But do not think that simply because anecdotal is this article's preferred evidence type it will have no hard facts or statistics:
In the first five months of 2008, the AKC noted three times as many dog thefts as the year before. (The organization tracked 30 from news reports and customers; the entire year before they only recorded 10.)
Whoa! Thirty pet thefts? That's a fucking epidemic! What possible reason can there be for such an astronomical increase in pet thefts?
Sometimes people steal a dog simply because it’s a cheap or easy way to acquire one, especially in a tanking economy.
And here we reach the point at which the discussion springboards into a rant.

The premise of the article, or one of the premises of the article, is that the "tanking" economy of the U.S. has driven some people to pet theft. Except stop and think about that for a moment. Either people steal pets because they cannot afford to buy them OR people steal pets so that they can sell the pets. But how are either of those sensible when "tanking economy" is the motivational force? Oughtn't pet acquisitions be decreasing rather than increasing in a tanking economy? Why would either thieves or the customers of thieves place upon themselves the financial burden of pet ownership if the economy is in the shitter? It doesn't make any sense!

The answer may be that pets are wholly contradictory. It's the sentiment one finds in that odd recognition that one must care for and foster the well-being of a dog but at the same time recognize that it's a fucking dog. It's the problem of creating a hierarchy of owners and pets (note how the first quote referred to pets as "property") while also knowing the problems which result from speciesism. It's the duality and self-contradiction found in the reaction to this quote:
Two armed men forced their way into a Los Angeles home last year, ordered the family of four to lay on the floor and stole four Yorkshire terriers puppies and one adult dog.
That situation is hilariously tragic and tragically hilarious. Yorkshire terriers stolen at gunpoint? That is fucking hilarious and incredibly depressing when one recognizes how that puppy theft had to impact that family of four.

Pets are odd. Pets exist in an odd legal limbo by being both property as well as something more. Pets exist within an odd ethical limbo by being alive yet members of another species. Pets exist in an odd social limbo by being both non-human and members of our families. Through a mixture of empathy, anthromorphism, and objective analysis we've managed to create this self-contradictory view of pets which really doesn't make a damn bit of sense. But we embrace it anyway.

29 comments:

_J_ said...

Also, 24 dead ducks found in Capital Reflecting Pool. Is that funny or sad? I don't even know anymore.

_J_ said...

I think my problem may be the same problem I have with Christianity.

If one want to be a Christian then one needs to read Leviticus and do what it says. But no one ought to do what Leviticus says. So no one ought to be a Christian.

In the same sort of way if one wants to own a pet one needs to fully commit their self to providing the best possible life for that pet. But no one ought to do what is required to provide the best possible life for that pet. So no one ought to have a pet.

Or maybe one need not provide the best possible life but rather provide an adequate life. But that is hardly ideal...so why would it be allowed?

And that goes into the whole crafting animals to suit our needs and sort of half-assing pet care. Which pisses me off but maybe it's ok but sometimes it's not.

BLARG!

Roscoe said...

In the same sort of way if one wants to own a pet one needs to fully commit their self to providing the best possible life for that pet. But no one ought to do what is required to provide the best possible life for that pet. So no one ought to have a pet.

That's a bit of a strawman, isn't it? I mean.. It SOUNDS correct. But replace pet with wife, or significant other, or the like.

Again, noble sounding, but.. does it really hold up? You're arguing for subsuming the personal identity and needs to entirely dedicate yourself to another's benefit.

And.. yet.. doing so for another person isn't feasible, or even sensible. Why are you expecting it for a pet?

Roscoe said...

I think part of the problem you're facing with your struggles is your utter discounting of the pet as an active element.

(Likely becuase you can't quantify it)...

You're treating the concept "pet" as someone when you try to define what a person's responsiblities to it are, but as something when you try and discuss the why of a person holding responsiblities to the pet.

kylebrown said...

When you talk of pet ownership, you always speak of it only in reference to the pet. It's needs and the requirements of the owner. You discount, however, the positive effects pet's have on their owners.

There is a form of symbiosis that goes on between people and their pets. The pets act almost as a parasite upon their owners, but it is a desired parasite much like a bee is to a pollenating flower.

There have been multiple studies showing how pets positively effect both the physical and mental health of their owners.

You try to rationalize everything from a cold, lifeless stance, and in doing so, you neglect the positive effects that pet ownership can have, and denounce it as stupid because you view it only through mechanically, analytical eyes

_J_ said...

"But replace pet with wife, or significant other, or the like."

When I do that people get mad. I'm happy to argue that "fully commit their self to providing the best possible life" is the sort of thing required for any endeavor be it pets or spouses or significant others or babies. But the results of that line of thinking piss people off something fierce.

"There have been multiple studies showing how pets positively effect both the physical and mental health of their owners."

True. Dogs and Cats offer companionship. There are plenty of studies which indicate that fish are relaxing hence their inclusion in waiting rooms and the like.

The problem is this view of pets/animals makes them subservient to human beings and so their utility and use ought to be primarily considered from the human perspective. "What can this being do for me?"

Which, again, is fine. But then we have to articulate why Michael Vick ought to be punished for fighting his dogs.

It's the taunt disparity between what is accepted and what is not. Not everyone can own a ten acre farm so obviously we can't require that all dog owners raise their dogs on ten acre farms. But then what is acceptable, what is not? And we skirt these lines trying to find a happy medium making sacrifices on either side so we arrive at some half-assed middle ground.

Cat litter is a great example. Clumping cat litter is bad for cats, but it is socially acceptable to use it. Ideally we would not use materials which cause respiration problems or digestive problems should the cat ingest it. But those materials would create a far more significant financial burden so, fuck it, we'll just sell tidy cat.

kylebrown said...

I understand the problems those specific issues, but you are often times labeling, as a blanket statement, pet ownership as ludicrous on grounds that we subject ourselves to the responsibilities of taking care of our pets.

'The problem is this view of pets/animals makes them subservient to human beings and so their utility and use ought to be primarily considered from the human perspective. "What can this being do for me?"'

You missed the part where I mentioned that it is a symbiotic relationship. My dogs aren't subservient to me, as much as they give me what I want(companionship), and I give them what they want(food and companionship) and all of our lives are improved as a result.

_J_ said...

"You missed the part where I mentioned that it is a symbiotic relationship."

The question I would ask is if that sort of relationship, or at least the feelings that relationship manifests, are available elsewhere. Or if that feeling can be removed entirely.

Kind of like how we tell a teenage girl to get a kitten rather than get knocked up if she wants to act on her maternal feelings. Take that idea and play it out. Instead of a baby get a kitten. Or instead of a kitten how about a fish? Or how about a doll? Or how about you just take care of yourself and remove the need of some other being entirely?

I have a difficult time articulating a justification for the breeding of animals for companionship. The situation has gone beyond a symbiotic relationship and rather these animals are produced for our use.

I was watching a MSNBC Lockup special this weekend, and one of the segments covered some inmates who had tamed a gopher. The gopher was digging about their prison yard and they took it food, spent time with it, and trained it so that it would seek them out and allow them to hold it.

I can appreciate that relationship of two independent beings coming together for a common end.

But when we effectively manufacture dogs and cats and fish and birds and rodents for the end of producing a feeling of companionship? I think that is a failure on our part to recognize what these creatures fundamentally are. So dogs and cats become sentient plush toys rather than beings unto themselves.

That's the issue the "pets" concept plays into. We're manufacturing these creatures and sublimating them from what they are to these idealized little companions who shit in a specific box and eat a specific food and who can be packed up and transported to new locations if our will deems it necessary.

I don't think animals are that.

Back in "the day"? Domesticated animals had utility in the tasks they performed. We could justify their domestication by making an appeal to our own well-being. But we don't require animals anymore to haul rocks or cart our assess across the country. So is it sensible to continue this task of domesticating and taming and manipulating them?

I think that conversation is tricky. But I think the primary fact we have to acknowledge is that domestication is something we have done and these creatures did not and would not exist apart from our, effectively, creating them.

What do we do with that?

kylebrown said...

Most people don't need pets for utility, but they still provide a use to us, through simply being a companion, in which both sides benefit, and no, we can't find that relationship elsewhere. An inanimate object can not reduce our blood pressure simply by touching it, another person can not offer the undying loyalty that a pet can offer, nor can we expect another person to dedicate themselves to us the way a pet would.

The thing you miss is that both sides in most pet/owner relationships benefit. There is exploitation on both sides. A pet gets a safe, comfortable lifestyle with food and water supplied to it, while the owner gets a loyal companion.

I will also have you note that, in the case of dogs, they have evolved to be our pets. Most evidence points to dogs initiating the relationship many millennia ago, that eventually led to this symbiosis.

_J_ said...

"A pet gets a safe, comfortable lifestyle with food and water supplied to it, while the owner gets a loyal companion."

But the thing did not exist independent of us and approach us as a result of its own actions. It was manufactured for that end.

We can't justify pet ownership with our providing a home and food and water for the being if the being was created by us to serve the role as a creature which relied upon us for its existence.

Yes, dogs and cats can provide companionship. Yes, we can take care of them. But we're manufacturing them as being which require that care. We're not two entities approaching one another. Dogs and Cats are mass-produced for the end of our taking care of them.

"I will also have you note that, in the case of dogs, they have evolved to be our pets. Most evidence points to dogs initiating the relationship many millennia ago, that eventually led to this symbiosis."

That's tricky.

Yorkshire Terriers did not evolve to be our pets. They were bred to be ratters. We manipulated them, as we've manipulated most domesticated breeds.

I won't deny that at some point in history human beings and dogs (be they wolves or coyotes or some form of canine) "approached" one another and found utility in that relationship.

But that's hardly what occurs now.

We're not breeding teacup yorkies for their own good. We're breeding teacup yorkies because people want to own a teacup yorkie.

That's my problem. We're not two species approaching one another on equal grounds and establishing a relationship which is mutually beneficial. Humans go to teacup yorkie breeders and buy teacup yorkies which are bred for the sake of providing teacup yorkies to those who want them.

It is a terrific jump of logic to go from "humans and canines of antiquity found a mutually beneficial relationship" to "westminster dog show". They're two fundamentally different things.

One is preservation of two naturally occuring species. The other is the industrialization of producing animals for our own enjoyment.

Yes humans and dogs/cats/whatever get something out of human beings taking care of them. But those particular beings were created for that end by human beings.

kylebrown said...

So you think we should just leave dogs by the wayside and let them fend for themselves in the wild, though in most cases we have bred out of them the ability to live in the wild naturally?

_J_ said...

"So you think we should just leave dogs by the wayside and let them fend for themselves in the wild, though in most cases we have bred out of them the ability to live in the wild naturally?"

Ideally? I think we ought to stop breeding dogs and cats and fish and etc. for the sake of being pets. I don't think that we need to breed dogs and throw them out windows. I think we need to stop breeding dogs and cats and etc.

Take care of the ones we have, certainly. But don't open-endedly take care of these animals in a manner which fosters the pet and veterinary industry and so prompts the continued breeding of these animals.

Just phase them out.

That's an ideal, by the way. Given humanity's addiction to fucking with things I doubt that it is at all realistic to expect us to stop domesticating animals to serve as pets.

kylebrown said...

So run them into extinction because they no longer serve a need?

kylebrown said...

Obviously regardless of the situation when people find they can exploit it for their own gain, it will happen, which is the case with puppy mills.

I just think you diminish the worth of pets because we fail to have the perfect relationship with them. Of course as humans we fail to do everything perfectly but yet we keep on doing it. Maybe we should just phase ourselves out...

_J_ said...

"So run them into extinction because they no longer serve a need?"

That's an improper way to phrase it, I think.

The extinction of teacup yorkies is not equivalent to the extinction of, say, pandas. Human beings manipulated various breeds of dogs the result of which was teacup yorkies. That manipulation occured for the sake of creating a dog with utility for humanity (killing rats) and once rat death was no longer required they were socially phased into glorified purse decorations.

If we removed all of the Zebra Muscles from the Great Lakes we would not phrase it as "extinction" of Zebra Muscles given that, bluntly stated, Zebra Muscles are not supposed to be there, their existence within the Great Lakes is the result of human activity.

Teacup Yorkies are like Zebra Muscles. They're not supposed to be there.

_J_ said...

"I just think you diminish the worth of pets because we fail to have the perfect relationship with them. Of course as humans we fail to do everything perfectly but yet we keep on doing it. Maybe we should just phase ourselves out..."

I think the larger problem I have is how one-sided the exchange is.

You know how Mark got a Golden Retriever without really thinking things through, how he embraced the notion of "getting a dog" since that's what people do and so purchased a dog without considering the needs of the dog? You know how he just keeps the damn thing in a cage because that's the most convenient relationship to have?

You know how the people with whom I work wanted a dog because "it's so cute" and so are keeping a golden retriever in an apartment? You know how they don't have a yard but convince themselves that they wuv him enough to compensate for him living his life out in an apartment?

That's what I have a problem with.

We're not cave dwelling beings seeking out animalistic companionship to achieve the common end of co-existence. The dogs which exist today have been bred and industrialized to be glorified plush animals. That's all they are.

Animals and humans do not meet on common ground. We go to a store and buy a kitten or we go to a pound and pick out a puppy. In the small sense? Yeah, we're helping out a particular animal when we give it a reasonably suitable home.

In the bigger sense, though? We've created an entire industry and system to sustain these animals which cannot exist on their own, lest they become feral. We've manufactured all of these breeds of dogs which serve no real roll except to be glorified plush animals.

It's entirely selfish on our part. And, yes, a particular golden retriever is behooved by a caring family with adequate means to sustain it. But that golden retriever only exists as a result of humanity manufacturing it.

So it's really not a co-dependent, symbiotic relationship. Maybe in a particular situation we can argue it to be. But in a larger sense? Golden Retrievers as a breed exist as a result of human manipulation. Their continued existence is the result of human beings breeding and manufacturing them.

Clownfish and Anemone have a symbiotic relationship in that one benefits from the other. Dogs and cats and humans? Humans made dogs and cats as they presently exist in their domesticated breeds. That's not clownfish and anemones. That's us playing god and subjecting our bastardized amalgamations to our will.

_J_ said...

I don't have a problem with the domestication of animals for the sake of consumption. Pigs and cows and chickens being bred and raise to make num nums? Awesome, fine. Veal? Delicious.

The problem is when we enter into these wonky ethical discussions of Michael Vick goes to jail for fighting dogs but Asshole Mc Buttfuck can buy a golden retriever and keep it in a cage and that's fine. We can't indiscriminately kill dogs, but when they get old and start shitting all over the place we can euthanize them.

We need to respect and form lasting relationships with our pets, but when we move or can no longer care for them it's entirely acceptable to dump them off at a pound and pay the $100 or so deposit.

It's that whole middling bullshit faux respect we maintain for these things we've bred to be sentient plush toys. We can't fight them but we can keep them in cages. We can't abandon them but we can drop them off at the pound.

Go into a Pet Smart and stare at a cage full of cats. Go into a pound and just stand and stare at the rows of cages full of dogs.

Then tell me that pets and humans have a symbiotic relationship which behooves both parties, that domesticated animals and human beings both have rights and approach one another on equal footing.

kylebrown said...

I abhor seeing the endless supply of homeless pets essentially on death row. Don't get me wrong, that is a problem, but you discount the health benefits of having a pet, that is what makes it a symbiotic relationship. There are mounds of studies and proof showing that people who own pets live happier, healthier lives. They still serve a purpose.

_J_ said...

"There are mounds of studies and proof showing that people who own pets live happier, healthier lives. They still serve a purpose."

Of course pets are in some ways beneficial to the humans who own them. If they were in no way beneficial no one would own one.

"Beneficial to humans", however, is not significant enough justification for the situation. If it were then Michael Vick need only provide evidence that he in some way benefitted from his dog fighting, which he did, financially.

There has to be more to it. Perhaps, then, we change it to be "benefits human beings with only minimal pain inflicted on the animals". Alright, but then we're just using the animals for our own gain and inflicting upon the situation an arbitrary guideline for what constitutes "justified" use of an animal. We can lock them in a cage but not beat them? We can feed them substandard food but not starve them? We can abandon them to a pound but not abandon them to the street?

The problem is that the entire situation is approached from our own perspective. Human beings benefit from the relationship. So we craft a system of rules by which humans can benefit and the suffering of particular animals is minimized yet not completely removed.

kylebrown said...

Your stance is hypocritical. Feign compassion for suffering pets and direct it at all of pet ownership, while offering a solution of what amounts to specicide. You can't have it both ways.

Every time you accept either beneficial side of the relationship you conveniently ignore the other beneficial side, which is why it can be defined as a symbiotic relationship.

_J_ said...

"Feign compassion for suffering pets and direct it at all of pet ownership, while offering a solution of what amounts to specicide. You can't have it both ways."

I do not think there is a contradiction. We remove suffering by removing the source of suffering. A teacup yorkie which is never born cannot suffer.

So we stop producing animals which, if born, will simply be engaged in a crapshoot between either living in a cage or having a loving home. If there are no more domesticated cats and dogs then there will be no more domesticated cats and dogs to suffer.

Stop breeding them. Take care of the ones who are alive. And in 15 years when all of the domesticated dogs and cats are gone? Problem solved.

kylebrown said...

Ok lets direct this same argument towards humanity:

So we stop producing people which, if born, will simply be engaged in a crapshoot between either living in a broken home or having a loving home. If there are no more people then there will be no more people to suffer.

Stop breeding them. Take care of the ones who are alive. And in 100 years when all of the people are gone? Problem solved.

_J_ said...

Exactly.

_J_ said...

That was kind of snarky.

I think it sensible to attempt to care for the domesticated cats and dogs which presently exist. But I think it also sensible to phase out the domesticated cat and dog industry. I do not think it sensible to continue the propagation of domesticated cats and dogs simply because people like cats and dogs.

"I like it" is not a sensible justification for anything be it dog walking or cock fighting or pedophilia. We have to consider the well-being of those cats and dogs IF we are obligated to consider the well-being of cats and dogs per the Michael Vick sort of situations and the general laws having to do with animal abuse.

We can abandon any sort of regard for the well-being of cats and dogs. But then we have to allow people to set cats on fire and fight dogs. It's just consistency.

When we consider the well-being of cats and dogs? We need to actually consider their well being and not just craft situations of adequate care. We need to place requirements on care, feeding, bedding, etc.

Except if we start to care, if we engaged in bettering the lives of these animals, we have to appreciate and assess their well-being in an overall sense of the species not just our own thoughts on a given species.

Does it make sense to breed greyhounds given the requirements of that breed? Does it make sense to breed dalmations given the stupidity of that breed?

Unless, of course, the problem with Michael Vick is not based upon a concern for the dogs but rather it is a concern for Michal Vick going against the accepted use of dogs.

kylebrown said...

Stop using such a hypocritical standpoint that wanting isn't justification for doing anything. That is your ultimate fall back point and it is so frustratingly hypocritical it is sickening. Everything we do in our modern society we do because we want to.

Philosophy, art, video games, television, streets, air conditioning, internet, blogs, there is no justification for any of these by your own admission, yet they exist and I don't see you calling for the phase out of any of these.

_J_ said...

"Everything we do in our modern society we do because we want to."

The motivation may be "want", but that is not the scope of the conversation. Pedophiles "want" to fuck children, but we invoke other "wants" which conflict with that particular "want" to discern the "oughtness" of child fucking.

The same is true of roads and internet blogs and air conditioning. That's pretty much any debate...conflicting "wants".

When we look at what to do we have to look at all of the "wants", not just one particular "want", and go from there to establish a sensible course of action.

That's why I'm saying "want" is not a sensible justification for pet ownership. We have to look at the entire situation rather than just one particular desire. It's the same with anything else.

_J_ said...

"want" is motivation not justification.

kylebrown said...

then what exactly defines justification?

_J_ said...

"then what exactly defines justification?"

Justification is primarily concerned with compiling reasons for the rightness or correctness of a belief or action. Those reasons will be conditional and contextual depending on the context and conditions of the particular conversation. We could look at the coherence of a given belief or action when compared to other beliefs or actions, we could rely on empirical observations, we could rely on emotional arguments, etc.

In a way, justification can be thought of as the act of trekking along the path towards being correct. We start with a statement, such as "I want to own a pet", and then attempt to move that statement towards "correct", "justified" and away from "incorrect", "unjustified" on the invisible scale of correctness in our heads.

With the pet example, the foundation for its being correct cannot be "I want it" given how coherence works. If "I want it" is sufficient justification for an action, if "I want it" is sufficient to make a belief or action correct, then God exists because people want God to exist, pedophiles can fuck kids because they want to fuck kids, Hitler was correct because hitler wanted to kill Jews, etc. This is why "want" is insufficient for justification: it fails the coherence test.

What would be a justification?
We could say that mutual benefit justifies pets. The problem is that this is nested in particular situations, one dog/cat and one person/family. If we abandon that particular view and adopt a wider scope and assess the entire pet industry, including veterinarians and pounds and PetSmarts and feral animals and Bob Barker, then we see that, really, the pet industry not only consumes massive resources which would be better spent on other things but also creates suffering in the animals who do not have homes. If our justification was "mutual benefit" in a particular setting this fails when we take the all encompassing view of the situation. Humanity does not benefit from pets any more than the species of animals we have created benefit from living in cages in apartments or scrounging for food on alleys.

Yes, we could ignore the larger scope and concentrate on particular situations. But then, what of the particular animals without homes? What of particular animals euthanized due to their not being wanted? What of homeless domesticated particular animals wandering streets and neighborhoods living off scraps until they slowly starve to death? Do we just ignore those particulars and focus on the warm and fuzzy particulars?

Yes, the pet industry provides some instances of mutual benefit between a pet and an owner. But it provides far more waste and suffering to a plethora of other animals. Not to mention particular situations of puppy maulings.

Of course, we could always just redefine the context of justification and go with "it is legal so it is justified", but then we have to start talking about justification of laws. And that's a fucking headache.