The Ethics of Pet Ownership and Training Tactics

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There are ethical issues concerning how humans perform the petting behaviors. Starting from the breeding periods before they are born, to rearing, and finally to killing, animals are all dependent on humans, whose actions directly affect their fortunes. In the essay, I would like to convey that keeping pets arouse ethical issues and that humans should minimize behaviors of keeping pets. I will discuss in three aspects - breeding, training and performing convenience surgeries – as I see them the most problematic in petting.

Many companion animals are acquired by breeding artificially in commercial breeding establishments, especially for purebreds and designer breeds. These establishments, or called farms, are often poorly equipped as they want to maximize the profit, resulting in poor welfare. For example, dogs are restrained in cages with lack of exercise. Animals are often densely packed under unhygienic conditions and often without sufficient level of medical care and diet.

In utilitarian views, these breeding facilities are unethical. Animals suffer from adverse experiences as they are in state of hunger and sadness in these facilities and they are exploited. Total sum of suffering is greater than total sum of happiness in these animals, resulting in net amount of suffering. Therefore, it is unethical. However, also in utilitarian perspective, when the animals have positive experiences during the mating process, meaning that they do not suffer, such breeding practice is still ethically acceptable. Yet, it is noteworthy that most of the lives in the establishments are tragic and not worth living at all. In this case, the negative experiences outweigh any of the positive experiences they have.1 Not only do the breeders gain profits, but customers who buy these relatively cheap animals from breeding facilities are also benefited. Yet, the expense to these animals are sufficiently high enough to counterbalance the little advantages to humans. Therefore, in utilitarian views, it is not ethically acceptable.

In rights views, these breeding facilities are obviously violating basic rights of animals. According to the Five Freedoms, which outlines the five aspects of animal welfare, animals should have freedoms from hunger and thirst, discomfort, fear and distress. In the establishment, they are treated badly and exploited, living in an environment having poor welfare for the breeding animals and offspring. Their rights are frustrated. Moreover, the right to express normal behavior is infringed as the breeding animals are often caged. For example, they are refrained from socialization, which is vital for their development and growth, due to expensive labor costs. Animals rights are violated in different aspects and there are minimal rights to be respected. Therefore, such breeding practice in companion is unethical. However, some right theorists also claim that we should have these animals as pet as buying them will prevent the infringement of animal rights like not to be harmed. They will no longer be badly treated by the establishment and such act rescues them from poor welfare. Yet, it is noteworthy that acquiring animals from them will only encourage further artificial breeding, thus more animals are deprived. Therefore, such breeding practice for companion animals is not ethical.

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In virtue ethics, it is also not ethically acceptable. Breeders see the animals as reproductive vessels or tools. Animals are forced to mate and reproduce, for example by artificial insemination with fresh or frozen semen from a selected sire. Such deliberate reproduction for goods of human denies respect towards animals and will not be accepted by someone who is virtuous.

Selective breeding where the breeding farms specialize in breeding pure-bred animals both with and without pedigree. However, there are potential negative effects on animals like having extreme and unwanted phenotypes, increasing chances of having diseases due to lack of genetic diversity and behavioral problems. It is noted that over half of companion dogs are pure-bred in the USA. For example, brachycephalic breed which has shorter skull and upper jaw is more prone to breathing problems. Their health issues are much concerned. In consequentialist views, selective breeding is problematic. There are two situations, one is having pure-bred yet ill animals and another having mixed breeds yet healthier animals.2 According to consequentialists, we should act in ways that better situations are brought out. In the later situation, there is more happiness and fewer suffering to both animals and human who may be unpleasant for the unhealthy animals and shoulder extra medical costs. It can be clearly seen that with human interference, breeding companion animals has aroused ethical problems.

Pet owners tend to train their pets for both altering behavioral problems and doing tricks. There are four means of training, namely positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment and negative punishment. Punishment will be the focus in the following section. In utilitarian views, pet training is ethical. Many dogs are euthanized for behavior problems. For example, in Denmark, dogs having behavior problems occupied twenty percent of all dogs being euthanized, while others were given to shelters. Training of pets can reduce behavioral problems and subsequently reduce the number of dogs being euthanized. Therefore, there will more happiness in animals when they do not need to die. Their welfare is protected. However, it raises a concern that physical punishment such as using shock collars declines animal welfare. Animals suffer when there is use of painful means and there might be negative experiences. Despite the fact that positive punishment is the most useful means to train animals and to substitute any possible euthanasia, forceful punishment elicits negative experiences and causes fear then aggression. It does not result in benefits for both owners and the pets. The suffering counterbalances the happiness. In utilitarian perspective, training using punishment is not ethical.

Rights of pets may also be violated when they are trained. Cesar Millan, who is known for using positive punishment on television broadcast, often makes the animals frustrated and fearful owing to force. Their freedoms away from fear and distress are violated. Some owners also train animals for their convenience, but they neglect the normal behaviors of the animals. For example, some owners train their dogs not to bark but barking is a normal expression of dogs. Right for expression of normal behavior is neglected. Use of pain to drive animal to do or not do certain behavior is incorrect. If animals are kept in wild or feral, their freedoms and rights can be better protected from being hurt or exploited.

It is possible that training and behavioral correction in companion animals harm their welfare and rights. Convenience surgery is surgical procedures on pets to make them more attractive to pet owners, satisfy breed standard or make them live together with owners better. The four main surgeries include tail-docking, ear-cropping, devocalization and declawing.4 These surgeries are not uncommon among pet owners as pet owners are directly benefited.

In utilitarian views, the surgical procedures place unnecessary frustration and pain in the short and long run. All of them result in physical pain which results in disturbed sleep and continuous barking. More sensitivity to pain in later surgeries is also resulted. Complications are likely to occur after surgery after declawing and debarking. The suffering towards the animals are tremendous and they certainly suffer from negative experiences. Some may say that there are benefits to humans, for example, fewer disturbance to owners. However, these are not necessary. The costs brought to animals offset advantages to all parties. Animals suffer a lot from these surgical procedures because their owners can be benefited. It should not be carried out if there are no psychological benefits It is not ethically acceptable in view of animal welfare.

In rights view, it is also not ethical to carry out convenience surgeries. Often, their normal behaviors cannot be expressed normally. They are not capable of doing natural forms of behaviors. Declawed cats are less capable of defending themselves and debarked dogs cannot achieve communication with other dogs. They are deprived of freedoms to express normal behaviors, which in turn makes them more frustrated. More importantly, animals fail to achieve bodily integrity which they could have achieved if they are not owned as pets. Animals have the right not to have bodily integrity intervened and their rights should be respected. In conclusion, the aforementioned practices which are common when human is having pets can be seen harming interests of animals and thus problematic.

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