Pets and People
I haven’t had pets for most of my life. When I was a little girl, we lost two dogs in a row to a busy road outside our house. That was it. We got a cat–who was more-or-less an outdoor cat. And I’m allergic to cats. And as an adult, a hectic work and travel schedule made it seem irresponsible to get a pet.
But I spent the summer living with a dog– a very big dog–a Bernese Mountain Dog, to be exact. And I grew to be very fond of him. I also began to be more sympathetic to arguments on behalf of the moral status of animals. It struck me as indisputable that the dog could experience fear and pain–and could be comforted and calmed down, as well. He was capable of a sometimes faulty but mostly effective form of means-end rationality, particularly when it involved obtaining people food. He was definitely a personality, and a good, loyal companion. His sweetness was an antidote to some of the fire-and-brimstone sermons I was reading.
At the same time, animals are not human beings. Legally speaking, they are property–albeit a special sort of property. But that category doesn’t work either.
If one treated a pet purely as property, one would replace it when the cost of repair exceeded the cost of replacement. That’s not a hard monetary threshold to reach. The medical bills for pets can approach that for human beings –hip surgery, cancer care, etc. can run into the thousands of dollars.
At the same time, such an attitude strikes me as unthinkable–it was this particular dog that mattered to me, not some notion of fungible “dogness.” But. . . if a pet isn’t a human being, at what point does the expense become, so to speak, an “extraordinary means”? In what senses are pets “member of the family” — and I am now convinced they are, and as such are appropriate recipients of loyalty and care?
I’m not aware of any Catholic moral reflections on the responsibilities of pet ownership. Has anyone come across any? I know Lisa Fullam used to be a veterinarian. Have you seen anything, Lisa?