The Pampered Pet: How Far Will We Go?

In Animals, Environment, The Big Picture by Stephen M. Vantassel0 Comments

As a long standing proponent for the consumptive use of wildlife and animals, I am always interested in how the animal rights protest industry argues against trapping, hunting, and fishing. I focus much of my attention on trapping because it is the most vulnerable of the consumptive use sports/activities. Ironically, many hunters foolishly oppose trapping because they think the arguments used against it somehow can’t or won’t be applied against their activities. But I digress.

One of the more emotionally charged and therefore politically useful arguments used by animal activists concerns the potential harm traps, such as footholds and snares, pose to free-ranging dogs and cats. The argument goes like this.

Premise 1. Traps can injure animals caught in them.

Premise 2. Traps can’t distinguish between wild and domestic animals.

Premise 3. Traps are hidden and thus difficult for pet owners to know their location and have their pets avoid them.

Conclusion: Trapping threatens the health/safety of pets and therefore should be banned or severely restricted.

There is much in this argument that is open to dispute and clarification. But let’s, for the sake of argument, concede the factuality and cogency of the argument. I would point out that while this argument is commonly made by animal rights protesters, the argument is incomplete because it contains a hidden and unstated premise. The unstated premise of the argument is that trappers don’t have the right to apply their trade where pets may be injured.

The unstated premise is particularly true in regards to public lands. Animal rights protest industry activists regularly assume that pet owners have the right to let their pets run free in public spaces year round. In contrast, trappers don’t have the right to ply their trade for a few months during the fur season because that activity will pose a potential threat to pet owners who believe that they can’t enjoy the outdoors if their pets are on a leash.

Interestingly, the notion of first use, apparently doesn’t apply to trappers. Boaters and pedestrians have the right of way because they were methods of transportation used long before the advent of cars. Unfortunately, trappers don’t have the same rights, even though they were trapping in lands long before the rise of the ubiquitous pampered pet in the U.S. Ironic isn’t it.

The same holds true for private lands. Pet owners apparently have the right to allow their pets to roam free all over the landscape, even on property not owned by the pet owner. But if the pet is caught in a trap, it is the trapper’s fault, not the fault of the pet owner, who apparently doesn’t have to obtain access rights for his/her pet.

The bottom line is simply this. If the idolization of pets continues at its present pace, then the integrity of our public lands and private property rights is at risk. Pets have significant environmental impacts on the ecosystems of public lands which means that the pet-owner’s class will have rights not available to others. Likewise, private property owners will lose a certain level of control of their property and thereby suffer increased costs as they will be forced to use more expensive means to manage wildlife on their lands. The public certainly has the power to make these decisions. But the decision should be made only when everyone knows the full extent of the effect of those decisions.

Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor of theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity. He specializes in environmental ethics. His book, Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009) explains why an animal rights perspective on animals fails to be environmentally responsible.

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