July 15, 2009

Rights in a Dog’s World

As I am preparing to embark on a long-overdue move from Washington, DC to Northern Virginia, I have been in the market for an affordable dog friendly apartment in the hopes of satiating my weakness for canines. I have also begun researching dog adoption agencies and the stories that often accompany many of the adoption candidates are often shocking and almost always heartbreaking.

Throw in Razib Khan’s recent piece and I find myself dwelling on the question of animal rights, and in particular dog rights. Whereas the chicken slaughtered to fill a bucket of KFC is as dumb as a rock (perhaps not?), man’s best friend seems to elicit a strong emotional reaction from most people, especially when discussing their abuse. Todd Steinberg has argued convincingly that animals have no legal rights, writing:

Though some may find dogfighting to be barbaric and uncivilized, that is no reason why the practice should be outlawed. Currently, there are thousands of businesses whose purpose is to raise animals, slaughter them, cut them into manageable pieces, package them, and ship them worldwide. There are advertising and marketing operations that aim to increase our consumption of animals. Television networks regularly feature people who demonstrate their ability to cook animals in novel ways so that we do not grow bored of their taste. These people learn their techniques from schools built for this purpose and some of the graduates write books about the art of cooking and eating of animals.

So if one believes that fighting animals is barbaric, then certainly eating them is just as barbaric if not worse. Some people believe it’s inhumane to use animals for any purpose, whether it be for food, clothing, shelter, milking, sport, burden, service, companionship, exhibition, or experimentation. If we were to take the position that animals have equal rights, then no human has more rights than any other animal. We couldn’t make any distinction between an elephant and a nematode for if we did, we’d quickly revert to a system where humans are more equal than cows, and cows are more equal than chickens. For a system of animal rights to work, humans could only do what they wanted to do so long as they weren’t infringing on the rights on any other animal.

Despite this, the desire to string up those that abuse and abandon dogs is overwhelming. Like a man who sleeps with his best friend’s significant other, perhaps the abusers of dogs are condemned to a special layer of Hell outside the bounds of man’s law.

I’m not sure if God has a spot in that layer picked out for Michael Vick. But if he did, I’d understand.

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