Our rescue dog Spuds is gradually coming into his own now: after being starved by his previous owner, he finally is secure enough to leave some food in his dish and finish it later. He’s also finding his inner puppy at 2 and a half, which is both challenging for us as he gets stronger, and fun. I honestly don’t know how we went so long without a dog in our home after Rugby left us.
Ann Althouse, whose opinions have been unusually visible on Ethics Alarms today, raised two dog-related ethics issues since we adopted Spuds last month, and since the dog left me panting by running me over hill and dale this morning as I allowed him to run off leash for the first time, addressing them now seems like a timely task.
(As I type this, Spuds is trying to climb onto my desk…)
1. On August 23, Althouse wrote,
Why don’t the people who think you should get a “rescue” dog when you want a dog also think you should get a “rescue” child when you want a child? In fact, isn’t the argument for adopting an older child with special needs even stronger than the argument for adopting an older dog that hasn’t had the advantages of a loving home and careful training? After all, many dogs are euthanized, but we strive to keep all our children alive even when they have terrible behavioral problems. And dogs are kept under the control of owners all their lives, while children become adults and are allowed to move about freely in the world even when they are quite dangerous. It’s therefore especially important to take great care of all of the children who have been born into this world.
People will say that they want their own biological offspring, but what makes you think what you have to give genetically is so wonderful? Dog breeders have much higher standards selecting which dogs to use for breeding. People just decide to use themselves. When you have your own biological children, you’re picking yourself because you are yourself. I’m not saying that’s wrong. In fact, I think it’s quite beautiful, making something out of your own body and the body of a person you love. So I’m beginning to see the answer to my question. When you have your own child, you’re not being a eugenicist, looking for the ideal baby. You’re accepting the randomness of who you happen to be and who you’ve found to love. The baby grows out of that is more like a rescue dog than a breeder’s dog.
I do think Althouse answered her own question., at least the human part. Having a child (or many) with someone you love is part of the human experience, helps bind couples and society together, and is a spiritual as well as a natural biological act. Of course, that description assumes a lot: that the child was planned, that the parents love each other, that they are married, and that there are no known toxic hereditary traits to avoid.
Once the process of having a child becomes a matter of applied science, extreme expense and such things as surrogates, implanted fetuses, egg and sperm donors and in vitro fertilization, the ethics equation changes. My wife and I adopted, and in so doing probably saved our son from a short, miserable life on the streets in one of the poorest regions in Russia. When having a bit of your DNA in a child becomes an obsession, then resisting the adoption option becomes more difficult to defend ethically.
More difficult but not impossible. Just as the first dog we adopted from another owner turned out to have a rare behavioral glitch that caused the otherwise loving Basset Hound to go into a trance-like state and attack whoever was nearest to him ( I still get upset thinking about this tragic episode), when you adopt a child, you’re even less certain of what you’re getting than with your own offspring. Sometimes, you even get legal headaches, when the birth parents appear with various demands.
That consideration is also a legitimate factor in the ethics calculation. The reason there are so many dogs to be rescued is that too many people are idiots, and don’t choose animals that have characteristics that fit their own needs and lifestyle. When they realize what they have accepted responsibility for, they abandon the dog, or as in Spuds’ case, neglect him. (I also get upset when I thin k about that.)
I agree that adopting a rescued dog is an ethical act, but, you know, those pure-bred puppies exist too. If nobody takes them, they’ll end up as rescues soon enough.
2. On August 18, Althouse wrote, in a post about North Korea’s Kim Jong Un ordering that pet dogs to be confiscated in the country’s capital, because keeping them as pets “represents Western decadence,”
It does stoke resentment if the wealthy are keeping pet animals, which must be fed, and the masses of people are hungry. If you are going to ban the pets because of this and confiscate them and kill them, what is the ethical argument for not using the meat?
That’s an easy one. As with the survival cannibalism cases of the “Mignonette” and “The Essex,” which was the inspiration for “Moby-Dick,” it makes no sense to waste a food source if it can save a life, and objections to using it as such because dogs (or people) are special is the Ick Factor at work, not ethics.