Pet Ethics

Sunday, November 6, 2022
First Aired: 
Sunday, June 28, 2020

What Is It

Many of us, even the staunchest animal activists, usually take it for granted that keeping a pet is morally acceptable. But regardless of how well we treat our animal “companions,” by keeping pets we are declaring ownership and paternal authority over other living creatures, and confining them to our homes. Is there any good moral justification for the keeping of pets? What makes some, if any, animals suitable as pets but not others? Do we have a special obligation to animal companions that does not extend to other animals? The Philosophers fetch Gary Varner from Texas A&M University, author of Personhood, Ethics, and Animal Cognition.

Listening Notes

Ray and Josh open the show with a brief discussion on owning and caring for pets. Ray, who owns a dog themselves, supports owning pets so long as they are properly handled and all their needs are met. Josh on the other hand questions this idea, raising concerns about autonomy and freedom that animals deserve as living beings.   

Ray and Josh welcome the show’s guest, Gary Varner, a professor of philosophy at Texas A&M University. They begin with a discussion on the kinds of relationships we can build with pets and how this applies to the way we treat them or even breed new ones. On the topic of owning pets, Gary describes his personal experience raising a feral cat on the basis of firstly providing a better life for the animal and more broadly maximizing aggregate happiness.

In the last segment of the show, Gary shares one improvement he would make to the world of pet ownership, specifically regarding breeding dogs. Under this program, dogs will still have diversity in appearance and personality while nonetheless being highly suitable for human ownership. Finally, the hosts and guests end the show with some consideration on the topics of euthanasia, adoption, and autonomy.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (3:24): Shereen Adel hears from several pet owners caring for animals ranging from guinea pigs to bearded dragons. They offer insight into the different needs and personalities of their pets. One interviewee, a zookeeper, highlights the importance of researching an animal before bringing it home, supporting the environment and its natural habitats, and understanding the responsibility of caring for a pet before adoption.
  • Sixty-Second Philosopher (45:41): Ian Shoales reports on the vast, ever-increasing diversity of animals now kept as household pets and support animals. He also describes the ways humans have impacted animals – using them for entertainment, food, or friends – and vice versa – pets reflecting the personalities of those who own them.



Ray Briggs  
Do we really have the right to own our fellow creatures?

Josh Landy  
Are there some animals that should never be kept as pets?

Ray Briggs  
Is it okay to de-claw a cat or to clip a bird's wings?

Comments (4)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, November 18, 2022 -- 5:54 AM

Humans have domesticated and

Humans have domesticated and cared for animals for a long time. This post is about pets, not animals we work or eat. That said, domesticity is a state created and fostered by us for the benefit creatures we call pets. It is a responsibility pet keepers take seriously, so much so that medical care for our domesticated friends is a lucrative business for veternarians. Is there a morality connected to pet keeping? I suppose so. Responsibility, in this sense, extends to kindness and love. So, supposing we were to outlaw pet keeping, on account of some imagined morality around their freedom, their rights of autonomy? What would that obtain?
Many, if not most domesticated pets would die if they were summarily freed. A few, mostly cats, would go feral and survive for a time. In any case, the abrogation of keepers' responsibility would erase most altruistic intention. Those who refuse to consider this are missing a key point---if they don't keep pets, ignorance of facts may never cross their minds.

I've read and agree to abide by the Community Guidelines
Daniel's picture


Wednesday, November 23, 2022 -- 5:06 PM

Whose minds, the pets

Whose minds, the pets themselves or those who don't own them? How does the problem of other minds figure in the problem of domesticated animal-ownership? Isn't it the case, for example, that if it's only after discovery of one's self in distinction from that of another's that the problem arises, and that the "we" precedes the "I" chronologically in development of the individual, that all relationships with apparently sentient non-human beings must be included in the former stipulation? If that's the case, the distinction between pets and livestock is a superficial one. Why should a chicken, for example, not share in the same rights as a poodle? Is it because any restaurant which has "fried poodle" on the menu would fail to develop a strong customer base? Pet ownership in this relation looks like a kind of apology for owning animals for whom emotional response is not socially permitted. Is this one of the facts referred to as unconsidered by those who "miss the point"?

I've read and agree to abide by the Community Guidelines
Alyssa's picture


Tuesday, March 12, 2024 -- 10:28 AM

As an advocate for pet

As an advocate for pet welfare, navigating pet ethics is paramount in ensuring their well-being. It involves responsible ownership, humane treatment, and consideration fully trained protection dogs for sale for their needs and rights. Upholding ethical standards fosters a bond built on trust and respect, enriching the lives of both pets and their human companions.

I've read and agree to abide by the Community Guidelines
mdogsw's picture


Tuesday, May 28, 2024 -- 11:23 PM

Curious about the cost of

Curious about the cost of neutering your dog at PetSmart? Head over to Mdogsw and check out this informative article for all the details: petsmart spay and neuter cost

I've read and agree to abide by the Community Guidelines