Ethics Observations On Scott Adams’ Cat

Car relaxing

This issue was brought to my attention by Ann Althouse, who has a weird fascination with Scott Adams, the “Dilbert” cartoonist who emerged in 2016 as a “Trump whisperer,” much to his benefit and infamy. Adams recently tweeted,

cat tweet

This, in turn, prompted the predictable responses from people outraged at how Adams chooses to spend his own money, as well as the puzzled “it’s just a cat” crowd.


1. From an ethical standpoint, this situation is remarkably tricky to unravel. Saving the life of anyone and anything is ethically admirable, and a sacrifice to save a life cannot be easily criticized. Yet our ethical priorities hold that human lives are more valuable than non-human lives, hence the desperate and contrived rhetoric insisting that unborn children do not qualify as human lives. Is there any question whether Adams’ $20,000 could save a human life, and perhaps more than one?

2. But Adams has no duty to use his money to save anyone at all, unless we take the extreme altruistic position that all human beings have a duty to all other human beings that extends to paying for their welfare.

3. He does, it can be persuasively argued, have a duty to save his cat because he undertook the responsibility of caring for the animal in exchange for perceived love (I dunno…cats) and companionship. “Caring” may or may not imply extraordinary means. “Animal Planet” related the story of a man who jumped into the water to fight off a bull shark that had attacked his rat terrier. The Marshalls ended up spending over $12,000 in cancer treatments for Patience, our beloved English Mastiff, though if that amount had been presented to us as a lump sum rather than creeping up on us over time, we may not have made the same decisions. Or we might have—we loved that dog. Just as Scott Adams loves his cat.

4. Was the money “worth it”? How do you measure that? Could I use that money now? Boy, could I. Was it worth it to Patience? Well, it bought her another year in which she led a fairly normal life, and an extra 15% of her life at that point. I don’t know. If John Lennon was right and love is all you need, I can honestly say that I loved that dog more than I have loved all but a few human beings. Does that make saving one more year to have her in our lives “worth it”? Is anyone qualified to answer that question but my wife and I?

5. The general rule on Ethics Alarms is that the complaint, “How dare you spend your money the way you want, when you should spend it the way I want?” is disrespectful and presumptuous….

6….but there are limits, where the brain goes into lock-down and one cannot help but be shocked and disgusted. This is especially likely to occur when the incredibly rich individual engages in lectures about human rights and the redistribution of income while maintaining a multi-million dollar palace and three private planes.

7. It’s a separate issue, but why would Adams tweet this to the world? Is it virtue-signaling to cat lovers? Showing off, as in “Look at me! I’m so rich I can spend $20,000 on my cat!”? A deliberate attempt to spark a controversy (I almost wrote “dilbertarate”)?

8. Finally, is all of the above equally relevant if the amount is $100,000? A million dollars? Why wouldn’t it be?

15 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On Scott Adams’ Cat

  1. As long as the money is spent ethically, he is free (in our country so far) to spend it the way he chooses to. Now if he were spending the money to hire a hitman that would be a different case.

  2. What about the cat? Maybe it is it’s time and prolonging it’s decline isn’t humane or ethical at all, even if you can. What is it’s quality of life post surgery?

  3. If I had to choose between buying groceries or a vacation and vet bills the vet bills will win out every time. I know because I have. Despite the conventional wisdom of dog lovers, cats can be as loyal and affectionate as dogs. Once you take on the responsibility of an animal you are obligated to provide the care you can afford allowing for all other contractual obligations. As for what is “humane” for its post surgical life my experience with geriatric animals is that they know when their time is up and they stop eating. However, my experience also that they fight to live when not in pain. Euthanasia for financial reasons is no different than throwing cats in a bag and drowning them. Simply rationalizing euthanasia due to cost as humane can be merely a abdication if the promise you made when you brought them into your home.

  4. My guess this was a naive share of a frustrating moment. He noted the cost because it was frustrating, and noted he’d pay it because he didn’t want a Twitter fundraiser in his cat’s honor. Social media makes you stupid, so he didn’t consider negative backlash for saving his cat’s life.

    • That is my assessment, as well. He was commenting on the high cost of treating pets, but didn’t want people to think he was soliciting funds.

  5. Of course Adams has the ethical right to spend his money on his cat, as he he would if instead he had bought some awful piece of art or diamond encrusted IPhone to show off his wealth. It is none of our business and almost offensive to pose the question.

    We probably wouldn’t spend that sort of money on heroic surgery for our cat, unless we could be convinced it was truly in her interests, rather than just us being self indulgent. Surgery is inevitably stressful. At the end of their lives our beloved cats have all died peacefully at home in our arms, thanks to our wonderful vet. They have all dozed off apparently pain and stress free. We have of course been devastated.

  6. Can’t find the link, but back in the day Henry Kissinger brought his dog, at considerable expense by private jet, to the renowned U.W. Madison School of Veterinary Medicine for cancer treatment.

    Though an irredeemable Dog Person, I completely understand Adams’ (whose unapologetic Lefty Bashing I especially dig!) decision.

    Back when I had more hair and less money, I provided geriatric care for my through-the-backyard neighbor’s Golden (Hannah)…um…after the neighbor, at the 14 years + Hannah’s insistence (moving into my house because it had fewer steps in-n-out), became my SO and subsequently my wife.

    Without getting into particulars, it was tough; knowing the inevitable yet powerless to alter its course. Deciding to put her down was nearly as gut wrenching as the actual act.

    Though we never had to make that decision for our dear departed Hurley, I know what we’d have done.

  7. Over twenty years ago my favorite horse Sunny Boy (a palomino) contracted an aggressive and untreatable bone cancer and had to be put down. He is buried here on my property and has a well-maintained marker that I made myself. I think often about the many hours we spent riding trails or just noodling about my dad’s cattle farm. He was the only therapist I ever needed. If there had been treatment available, I would have spent every discretionary cent I had to save him. Adams can spend whatever he wants on his cat and will hear no criticism from me.

    • Mrs. OB and I had dogs for over forty years. We had to put down our last two dachshunds, one after the other at ages 13 and 17 respectively. As you get older, it’s harder and harder to say goodbye to pets. We’re off dogs now. No mas. Anyone who has never enjoyed an affinity with dogs and cats has lived a deprived life.

      We spent 9,000 2001 USD trying, futilely, to save one of our then current dogs, Snoopy (best dog ever) from having gotten into some rat poisoning. C’est la vie. Was I shocked by the bill? Hell yes. But what are you going to do? Stiff the vet?

    • Jim,
      You truly understand the bond between a person and a non-human companion. Those who say the pet is “just and animal” has never experienced such a bond.

  8. I have a good friend who is a vet and retired relatively early in his career. I was shocked knowing how much he loved caring for animals and his reason was that he got tired of dealing with the humans that were part and parcel of his practice. It was not because he dislikes humans but how pet owners have changed in the last 20 years. This is coincident with the increase in treatments available for animals–complex treatments, previously only available to humans, and the end result is that these treatments are very expensive. The unintended consequence of making these expensive treatments available to pets is that when they don’t work as hoped (as often happens in the case of human treatment) the owners become enraged and accusative. He told me that when there was no option and animals had to be put down, the owners were resigned to the fact that they were doing the best they could for their beloved pet. Now, not so much. So he now spends his retirement filling in at the vet hospital to cover days off and vacations. He’s much happier because he’s able to focus on the animal and his interaction with the pet owners is at a much more tolerable level.

  9. Adams, who describes himself a ‘left of Bernie’ but with the ability to do maths, was quite aware that there would be those who would give him flack over this. He did it as a teaching moment, just like most of the rest of the stuff he puts on his Locals and Youtube casts.

    I always(ish) watch his presentations, usually on Youtube, but I also subscribe to his Locals platform where he does extra training segments. He is usually worth the listen – even when he comes up with occasional really stupid ideas! Scott Adams and Jack Marshall, my never miss thought provokers!

  10. Given that most household pets live about 1/7 as long as humans, their owners will have to face tough choices when a pet falls ill, is injured, or is reaching the end of its natural life. The question is not so much the cost as it is the quality of life after the veterinary intervention. I’ve seen paralyzed dogs strapped to doggy wheel chairs that seemed to enjoy every minute of extended life. The pets can’t make those choices for themselves, but most pet owners end up doing the right thing.

  11. I work in the veterinary space. I hear the stories all day long. I also put my beloved Bichon of 15 years down a little over a year ago. Barely out of the hospital parking lot, I had to pull over I was sobbing so hard. I get it.

    My take on the $20K: absolutely it’s his to spend as he wishes. That $20K went back into the economy in numerous ways: from vet techs who use their paychecks to pay for daycare, to the Patterson rep who makes a living selling medical equipment, to the vet himself/herself who pays the BMW mechanic, to the groomer who’s saving for vacation. How is spending $1 or $1M unethical? When the rich spend, they are supporting the livelihoods of others in exponential ways. (Not to mention that many are philanthropic. When I get to experience world class, live theater at The Guthrie here in Minneapolis, for $65 a ticket, I am forever grateful to the Dayton family, i.e Target.).

    People need to mind their own damn business. And yes, I’m cranky today.

    • THANK YOU!!! MY take is much the same…it’s my money. How I spend it is up to me and me alone. I’m not cranky, just stubborn. And, I really don’t care what anyone else thinks.

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