Should we stop keeping pets? Why more and more ethicists say yes


“It is morally problematic, because more people are thinking of pets as people … They consider them part of their family, they think of them as their best friend, they wouldn’t sell them for a million dollars,” says Dr Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University and one of the founders of the budding field of anthrozoology, which examines human-animal relations. At the same time, research is revealing that the emotional lives of animals, even relatively “simple” animals such as goldfish, are far more complex and rich than we once thought (“dogs are people, too”, according to a 2013 New York Times comment piece by the neuroscientist Gregory Berns). “The logical consequence is that the more we attribute them with these characteristics, the less right we have to control every single aspect of their lives,” says Herzog.

Does this mean that, in 50 years or 100 years, we won’t have pets? Institutions that exploit animals, such as the circus, are shutting down – animal rights activists claimed a significant victory this year with the closure of Ringling Bros circus – and there are calls to end, or at least rethink, zoos. Meanwhile, the number of Britons who profess to be vegan is on the rise, skyrocketing 350% between 2006 and 2016.


Should the ivory trade be legalized?

Ivory has been widely used in a variety of decorative and practical uses by for thousands of years. Some ivory producing animals, i.e. elephants, have been hunted almost to extinction because of the demand for their tusks. The global trade in ivory is illegal though you can still buy ivory products in some countries. When trade is made illegal, often the price of the goods increases which creates stronger incentives for illegal trade and poaching. Some argue that a legalization of the international ivory trade would increase the incentive to raise elephants to feed the market thereby increasing the overall number of elephants.

There are economic debates about whether this approach would even work but this debate raises some interesting ethical and moral debates. Let’s assume for a minute that legalizing the trade in ivory would result in less poaching and more available animals since people would have an economic incentive to breed, raise and take care of these animals. In this case, is it still ethical to allow the ivory trade?

This question pits the consequentialist way of thinking against a deontological approach. Is the favorable outcome of more animals worth the cost of commodifying endangered species’ lives? Or is the moral principle that we should protect these animals at all costs outweigh the potential benefit of legalizing the market?

The question cane be broadened to include Rhino horns which have monetary value because some people believe the horns have a variety of medicinal uses.

Below are some articles to help you think through the debate.

Legal market will curb poaching

“However, the ban caused a vertical split in CITES, with one side demanding that the trade be declared legal and the other saying that legalising would be fatal for African elephants, which are the source of most of the illegally traded ivory in the world. The issue is likely to come to a head at the 17th Conference of Parties of CITES to be held at Johannesburg, South Africa, from September 24 to October 5. CITES is under pressure to devise innovative methods to allow ivory trade while ensuring elephant conservation.”–53564

Debate: Would a legal ivory trade save elephants or speed up the massacre?

“Whether or not legal sales of otherwise illegal products will undercut harmful black markets is a classic question in economics. It seems to have worked when the US repealed the prohibition of alcohol and legal booze flooded markets previously dominated by bootleggers. It’s less clear whether it is working in places that have experimented with legalising marijuana or prostitution. Will it work for ivory? This question pits two sets of economic theories against each other.”

Legalizing ivory trade won’t save elephants, study concludes

“Is killing elephants—legally—the best way to save them? The controversial idea will get a hearing next week at a major conservation meeting in South Africa, where elephant-rich African nations will renew a push to scrap a long-standing global ban on ivory sales and replace it with a limited legal trade in tusks taken from carefully managed elephant populations. A legal market, they argue, will undermine the poaching that is depleting herds and provide a financial incentive for protecting them.”

Why Does a Rhino Horn Cost $300,000? Because Vietnam Thinks It Cures Cancer and Hangovers

“The weird thing is that the surge in Vietnamese demand is fairly recent. Though rhino horn elixirs for fevers and liver problems were first prescribed in traditional Chinese medicine more than 1,800 years ago, by the early 1990s demand was limited. Trade bans among Asian countries instituted in the 1980s and early 1990s proved largely effective in quashing supply, with some help from poaching crackdowns in countries where rhinos live. Meanwhile, the removal of rhino horn powder from traditional Chinese pharmacopeia in the 1990s had largely doused demand. In the early 1990s, for instance, horns sold for only $250-500/kg (pdf, p.85). And only around 15 rhinos were poached in South Africa each year from 1990 to 2007.”

‘Miracle on the Hudson’ legacy: 70,000 slain birds

What does this article say about how we value the lives of animals when compared to the lives of humans? This article points out that many birds have been killed to keep people safe but these methods have been ineffective. What if they had been effective? Would they have been justifiable then?

“An Associated Press analysis of bird-killing programs at the New York City area’s three major airports found that nearly 70,000 gulls, starling, geese and other birds have been slaughtered, mostly by shooting and trapping, since the 2009 accident, and it is not clear whether those killings have made the skies safer.”

Are cage free eggs more ethical than regular eggs?

As people have become more concerned for the welfare of farm animals, new farm practices and terms have become increasingly familiar because of consumer demand. Free range, grass fed, cage free, cruelty free, in addition to organic among many other terms dot the food landscape. What do these terms all mean? More importantly, do these terms give us a sense of humane, more ethical treatment that is not true?

What happens if practices that we think are better for the animals are actually worse? Is there an ethical way to consume animals or animal products? If so, how do we determine it? Below are a few articles about the topic of cage free eggs.

Eggs That Clear the Cages, but Maybe Not the Conscience

“Aviary-raised hens had less foot damage but dirtier feathers. One of the main causes of death among hens, hypocalcemia, or low blood calcium levels, was most prevalent in aviaries.

“Conditions for workers and the environment were also worse. Ammonia concentrations, dust levels and particulate matter emissions were higher in aviaries than in conventional battery-cage systems.”

The Insanely Complicated Logistics of Cage-Free Eggs for All

“As it turns out, going cage-free requires much more planning, money, and logistical engineering than the seemingly simple notion of setting some hens free would suggest. Ironically, this massive supply chain overhaul stems from consumer demand to return to the egg-producing practices of our pre-industrial past, but without undoing all the positive benefits of scale, affordability, and safety that were achieved through industrialization. It actually took farmers a really long time to figure out how to put the bird in the cage—and it’s going to take a while to figure out how to get it back out.”

Are Cage-Free Eggs All They’re Cracked Up to Be?

“Giving hens the simple ability to move around prevents many of the worst health problems associated with battery cages, Shapiro says, by strengthening brittle bones and allowing them to act on their natural instincts to roost and forage.

“But in these large, industrial aviaries, the birds “don’t typically go outside,” says Shapiro. And letting a flock of birds roam within a closed, confined aviary presents its own concerns. A three-year study produced by a consortium of egg providers, academics, and advocacy groups found that aviaries had nearly twice the death rate of caged systems. Most of the difference had to do with aggression between the birds and outbreaks of cannibalism.”


Massachusetts Voters Could Have Egg on Their Faces

“But laws also must also ensure that livestock operations can continue to operate. Imposing needless, costly, counterproductive, and unconstitutional burdens on our nation’s livestock farmers will harm consumers, farmers, and animals alike.”

Is All Fur Bad Fur?

When considering the ethics of hunting and wearing animal skins, how do we balance our society’s ethics with the traditional practices of indegenous communities that rely on hunting and wearing animal skins? This issue connects to both ethics and indigenous knowledge systems and is an interesting case to examine how we can balance the ethics of different communities and whether we can come up with a defensible way to find balance.

“But an amendment to the Marine Mammal Act of 1972 exempted “Indians, Aleut, and Eskimos (who dwell on the coast of the North Pacific Ocean) from the moratorium on taking provided that taking was conducted for the sake of subsistence or for the purpose of creating and selling authentic native articles of handicraft and clothing.””

The New Case for Hunting Hunters, tree-huggers, and animal welfare advocates should be allies.

“In the absence of people, nature would establish its own balance among species. But having shaped (and disrupted) the natural environment so extensively, humans can’t very well wash their hands of responsibility for what happens when certain species over-expand. Hunting is one way to keep wildlife numbers in check, for the good of people, plants, land and other animals.”