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Why We Probably Shouldn't Have Pets (Sorry)

02/03/2016 5:43 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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It's true. No one can resist a puppy. Just try and say "no" to a pair of melting brown eyes, a wet button nose, and the epidermal equivalent of a blanket. It's impossible. No, really: human + puppy = involuntary servitude. That's just maths. In fact, I believe it was Einstein who first said: "God be damned, if a puppy wants a bite of your sandwich, it will get one. In the pad of its paw we are."

Yet, as time passes, for many, that puppy sadly becomes less adorable, less endearing, and -- dare I say -- it, less lovable. The honeymoon period of puppy love starts to wane, and the strains of commitment and responsibility begin to take their toll. The sad truth of the matter is that many of us know someone who has abandoned a pet due to "behavioural issues".

Unlike a romantic break-up, however, a separation between a pet and its owner can prove fatal, at least for the furry counterpart. Indeed, out of the 127, 304 animals that RSPCA received during the 2013-2014 financial year, 37 965 were euthanised. The previous cycle, 43 256 were killed. If applied to humans, this would be termed genocide. Why then do we have such extreme double standards for the pets we supposedly love?

By virtue of our passivity, we are complicit with a system that frequently abuses, exploits and kills thousands of domesticated animals every year. Indeed, the commercialisation of animals within the pet industry has, over time, bred an insidious competitiveness between breeders to produce cuter, smaller and more bizarre permutations of domesticated species.

As Darwin noted, however, man-made species variations are invariably inferior to those produced via natural selection, since humans routinely focus upon enhancing external aesthetics rather than important internal features (e.g. organs). The damaging results of this practice are evident. Today, dachshunds commonly suffer from spinal-related illnesses, pugs are all but synonymous with breathing problems, and golden retrievers frequently fall victim to cancer.

On the owner-end of the spectrum, power is the key issue. Every instance of our pet's socialisation is facilitated, or inhibited, at our discretion. Our ability to remember, rather than their hunger, dictates when and if they will eat. Even their bowel movements are, to varying degrees, dictated upon our terms. This total control over our pet's lives renders them entirely dependent upon us, which, as we know from the human equivalent of this relationship dynamic, is demonstrably detrimental.

In fact, this year the market for 'pet pills' in the US is expected to skyrocket to $9 billion , with more and more first-world owners opting to medicate their pet's neuroses rather than altering aspects of their lives that are likely to be causing these behavioural disturbances. Anecdotally, a friend of mine who worked as a carer for a 25-year-old man with severe Asperger's disclosed that he ended up caring more for the man's dog (which exhibited exaggerated symptoms of his owner's disorder), than the actual man himself.

Whether it be a lack of 'love' or too much of it, the skewed dynamics of contemporary pet-owner relationships appear to be problematic at best, and cruel at worst.

My family has had several pets over the years, so I do not negate my own culpability in perpetuating this problematic system. Some of our pets have come from pet shops (known distributors of animals from factories which routinely overbreed and deprive animals of bare necessities). Others have been adopted.

Although I can confidently say, as I'm sure most can, that we've looked after our pets, I can't help but look at my 14-year-old dog; a dog that, like so many others, cries when my parents leave the house, experiences anxiety when strangers are around (often choosing to retreat upstairs), and mostly spends her days moving from one part of the house to another; and ask myself, is this what love really looks like?

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