23 Nov 2014

Should Vegans Keep Pets?


I've debated with non-vegans many times in recent years, and one of the stand-out comments to me is: If you're vegan and you have pets, you're a hypocrite. This argument is particularly popular in debates about the ethicality of zoos and similar institutions in which wild animals are kept captive (i.e. Seaworld). Apparently, according to the people who use this argument, keeping domesticated animals as pets (or companion animals, as some call them) is directly comparable to keeping wild animals in zoos - a practice opposed by many vegans.

"There's no better way to show compassion to someone than to offer them your unconditional love and care."

I've had companion animals in my life since I was an infant, and I have always considered them part of the family. I care for, love and cherish my pets as I would a child. I'm sure many other vegans will agree with this sentiment. Companion animals can bring joy and happiness to any family - but should vegans exclude themselves from this kind of relationship? Personally, I don't think they should. To put it succinctly - in our current society, there is nothing non-vegan about keeping domesticated companion animals.

Keeping wild animals captive in zoos is not comparable to keeping domestic animals at home. The reason for this is fairly obvious - domestic animals and wild animals are vastly different. The domestication of animals such as cats and dogs is a sad reality, but an unavoidable one. These previously wild and independent animals are, as a result of human interjection, now largely unable to care for themselves. Unlike wild animals such as lions and deer, almost all domestic animals remain in a consistently juvenile state. Domestic animals are almost completely reliant on their humans for food, water, shelter and medical care. Zoo animals, on the other hand, have not been domesticated. They are not designed to live under human care as domestic animals are. That's why the two situations are not comparable.

"Keeping wild animals captive in zoos is not comparable to keeping domestic animals at home. The reason for this is fairly obvious - domestic animals and wild animals are vastly different."

When left to fend for themselves, domestic animals typically have very limited lifespans. Homeless animals face starvation from food shortage, exhaustion, disease, severe weather conditions and abuse from passers-by. If not picked up and taken to a shelter by animal control (where the animal will likely be killed due to overcrowding), strays rarely live for more than five years. Under human care, they can live three times as long. Survival in the wild (or in suburban/city streets where most abandoned animals end up) is especially difficult for animals that once lived with humans.
Vegans don't buy animals from breeders or pet stores, they adopt them. To adopt an animal, particularly from a kill shelter, is to save a precious life. This is why keeping pets in your home cannot be considered abuse or exploitation. Adopting an abandoned animal into your home is one of the strongest ways to show true love and endearment. Purchasing animals from pet stores or breeders, on the other hand, is strongly discouraged within the vegan community. Many pet stores purchase their 'stock' from farms where animals are over-bred and treated poorly. Similarly, breeding is considered unethical because of the large number of homeless animals awaiting adoption. As they say: don't breed or buy while shelter animals die.


Pets and their humans can have amazing bonds
Most vegans consider their pets to be part of the family and  care for them as they would care for their own children. We do not exploit our companion animals, nor do we restrict them from living free and enjoyable lives. To adopt an animal is to give them a forever home where they will experience true warmth and love rather than the cold, concrete floors of suburban streets or animal shelters.

"Keeping pets in the home cannot be considered abuse or exploitation. Adopting an abandoned animal into your home is one of the strongest ways to show true love and endearment."

If you're a vegan with companion animals and somebody tries to guilt-trip you for your compassionate choice, remember these points. To reiterate - there is nothing non-vegan about providing a loving home for a helpless and dependent animal. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Veganism is all about showing compassion towards all life, and there's no better way to show compassion to someone than to offer them a lifetime of unconditional love and care.