May 26, 2017 10:15 am

COMMENTARY: Animals deserve respect, but they are property — not people

To ban euthanizing healthy pets would set a concerning precedent for how animals must be treated in other areas, argues Andrew Lawton.

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My wife says my love of dogs — signified by the look of longing I get whenever I see one — borders on “pathological.” So, what I’m about to say is not for lack of love of animals, I assure you.

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A Canadian Press story this week sparked a great deal of outrage by revealing that healthy pets are sometimes put down for no other reason than the owner no longer wanting them. While upsetting, these killings of convenience aren’t banned by statute or veterinary regulations.

Animal Justice executive director and lawyer Camille Labchuk, who is a great advocate for her cause, said this is similar to a parent deciding they no longer want a son or daughter.

“If a child is in a situation where the parents can no longer care for that child, whether the parents have financial issues, mental health issues, or they die, the government steps in and the state supports that child,” she said. “Why we wouldn’t do the same thing for vulnerable animals is beyond me.”

I wasn’t familiar with the phenomenon of unjustified euthanization before reading the CP piece, and even since, I’ve yet to learn of a rash epidemic sweeping the nation. Not only did the vets cited in the story say the situation was rare, but also that many of their colleagues wouldn’t fulfil an owner’s wishes in those circumstances.

Even so, the vast majority of respondents are pushing for the practice to be legislated out of existence, which couldn’t happen without redefining what pets are under the law, which is property — exactly how they should be classed.

To ban euthanizing healthy pets would set a concerning precedent for how animals must be treated in other areas.

Animals already elicit enough double standards from humans. To most people, dogs and cats are different from raccoons and squirrels, just as we view lions and elephants in a different light than chickens and cows.

Some animals are beloved pets; others are meals. Many are merely vermin while a select few are regarded as majestic creatures.

All are living beings, but we set arbitrary boundaries around how each should be treated. As humans, I maintain this is our prerogative. How else could we justify eating meat for pleasure if not for an inherent right to decide that animal lives matter less than our own? (I say this as someone slated to judge a Ribfest later this summer.)

Most animal rights activists view human slaughter of animals as inhumane. But, after watching a recent National Geographic Channel marathon of Animals Gone Wild, I can assure you it’s far more brutal when animals kill each other.

READ MORE: Euthanasia down, adoption up at animal shelters across Canada: report

If we say a human can’t put down a pet dog or cat without a good reason, will we extend the same guidelines to a farmer who owns hundreds of cattle and horses? Is a barn cat that gets rid of your property’s rodents a pet or a tool? How about those countries where dogs and cats are routinely killed for food? We’ve all seen stories of three-legged puppies who survived abuse, or even lame cows with artificial hoofs. So how injured does an animal have to be before you’re justified in euthanizing?

These questions may make you uncomfortable, but that only underscores how difficult it is to draw a line differentiating pet and non-pet animals that isn’t rooted in emotion.

Most animals are acquired by either purchase or simply being claimed — either one gives the human owner complete control.

For many people of faith, that dominion of mankind over other living creatures goes back to the book of Genesis.

Beyond the philosophical and ethical questions, there is also one of enforceability. If a human has callously decided he/she no longer wants to fulfil the commitment made when adopting a pet, they’re faced with three options: adoption, euthanization or abandonment.

With many rescue centres and shelters at capacity, pet abandonment — which seems far crueler to most domesticated animals, whose survival instincts have been bred out of existence, than euthanization — is a real concern.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia group welcomes dogs rescued from American ‘kill shelters’

In my family, we’ve always viewed the dogs as part of the family.

Pets are more like family heirlooms than family members, however. They have an emotional significance setting them apart from other belongings, but at the end of the day, they are owned entities.

Your pets are not your children, nor are you their parents. This designation doesn’t take away from the emotional connection, shared memories, and painful loss that come with pet ownership. But it is still ownership nonetheless.

If you lose the right to make decisions as an owner of something, you eventually lose the right to own it at all.

With pets, this would be a desirable outcome for the Rutgers law professors who published an essay last year calling domestication of animals “torture,” arguing pet ownership is no different than “human chattel slavery.”

The case for that claim comes from the same place as Labchuk’s push for tighter restrictions around pet euthanasia.

Vets should refuse to do it, and animal lovers should open their doors to rescues, but the reprehensibility of killing an animal for no reason is a moral wrong, not a legal one.

Andrew Lawton is host of The Andrew Lawton Show on AM980 London and a commentator for Global News.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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