Banning pet shops to save the pets
Every year in America, five million cats and dogs are gassed to death or lethally injected with sodium pentobarbital in these shelters. The word ‘euthanasia’ is a grotesque euphemism. There is no mercy in these deaths. Most of the animals are healthy, rambunctious, and young. They die terrified, and they die pointlessly: very few are vicious; most are capable of forming deep affectionate bonds with humans. This is what happens — what really happens — every day in these shelters. The links are graphic and upsetting. They’re also reality.
Concern for the welfare and dignity of animals is not confined to nihilist Leftists such as Peter Singer or local totalitarians who seek to regulate pets out of existence. Have you read Matthew Scully’s immensely moving, immensely disturbing book Dominion? A completely conservative case can be made, should be made, for treating animals with mercy and respect. Animals are not ordinary commodities, they are living creatures, and they feel pain and fear. No one need suggest that a kitten’s life is morally equivalent to a human’s to observe that something is terribly wrong when we casually dispose of one much as we would the butane in a Bic lighter: that is the mark of a callow society, a cruel society. It does not speak well for us that we kill millions of sentient, sensitive animals every year through grotesque, painful methods such as gassing and heart-sticking. Pet stores are one of the main reasons we do this.
Yes, snakes eat rodents. Yes, tigers eat gazelles, and yes, nature is savage and cruel. That doesn’t mean we need to add to the misery. They have no choice but to be beasts: We do. If air conditioning is the mark of an advanced civilization that has elevated itself above the State of Nature, even more so is the mercy we display toward animals.
This is a compelling argument, I think, and one that we should take seriously. Obviously people would still go elsewhere to buy pets, but maybe more people would also go to puppy rescues (where we once found and adopted a beautiful little puppy) or human societies and save some of these animals from senseless death. Shutting down puppy mills and other animal mass-producers. I know this might go against the libertarian grain, but then again I find that questions of life often do. And perhaps they should.
Life and liberty are anything but mutually exclusive, but there is certainly a tension between the two, whether we’re talking about abortion, slavery, or the pet trade. These are not easy questions, and they don’t have easy answers packaged neatly in comfortable ideological wrapping paper. If there is a market solution to this problem, perhaps it needs to be nudged along. Could a temporary ban be coupled with some sort of new standards for pet sales including requirements that pet stores and shelters coordinate efforts? I think there are a number of solutions to make this work, but something certainly does need to change. Whether a ban is the right ticket is a harder call, but it’s a start at least and a good enough time to have the conversation.