Vet Ethics: Curly questions around wagging tails

A new book by an American author poses some troubling questions for veterinarians and our profession. The book is called Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets (University of Chicago Press). Its author is Jessica Pierce, a bioethicist and writer on animal topics. For example, in Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, co-written with the famous scientist Mark Bekoff, Pierce challenged us to recognize the existence of genuine moral or ethical behavior in the nonhuman animal kingdom. This is a startling claim, because most of us assume that only human beings are capable of moral behavior. Pierce and Bekoff argued that this assumption is contradicted by scientific evidence about animal capabilities.

The challenges in Run, Spot, Run are of a different sort. Pierce aims to unsettle us – including the veterinary profession – with some difficult assertions and truths about pets and our relations with them. Indeed, she thinks there are some very thorny and deep problems inherent in the contemporary practice of pet keeping. Given that most veterinarians deal with companion animals, these claims are worth being aware of. After all, forming close relations with companion animals is really a very modern, historically late phenomenon. We are just starting to reflect on its meaning and implications. Continue reading Vet Ethics: Curly questions around wagging tails

Vet Ethics: Harambe’s death: zooming in on zoos

The shooting of a 17-year-old male gorilla at the Cincinnati zoo after a child fell into his enclosure provoked a huge international reaction. The reaction was comparable to previous outpourings of anger and sadness following the killing of Cecil the lion by an American trophy hunter, and the killing of Marius the young giraffe by the Copenhagen zoo because he was surplus to breeding requirements and not required for display purposes.
In fact, Harambe’s killing generated a variety of emotions and responses. Obviously, people were upset at the loss of the gorilla’s life. Part of this response may have been bound up with the fact that gorillas are endangered. But another key aspect of the response was that gorillas are highly intelligent and emotional animals. Someone who knew Harambe said that he was always thinking. Animals like Harambe, we were reminded, have unique personalities. His killing was called a tragedy and even likened to homicide by some people. Continue reading Vet Ethics: Harambe’s death: zooming in on zoos

Vet Ethics: Man’s dominion and the worth of animals

In his book Animal Welfare: A Cool Eye Towards Eden, the well-known welfare scientist John Webster criticises the contribution of moral philosophy to the question of the treatment of animals and their welfare. Webster writes:

The moral philosophy approach to animal welfare – i.e. based upon our thoughts and values, not theirs – tends to generate broad, bold (and careless) conclusions such as ‘Man has no right to cause any animal to suffer’”.

He gives just two examples of such “moral philosophy”: A book by Andrew Lindsay, a Christian author who has attempted to interpret the meaning of “Man’s Dominion” in a way favourable to animal rights; and the famous book Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. While admitting that he admires and shares a passion for animal welfare with these authors, and is also well disposed towards aspects of Singer’s utilitarian philosophy, Webster claims that their work is not really helpful. In fact, their work is all too easily debased into empty or wrong-headed slogans. Webster holds a view that “Man” rightly and necessarily has “Dominion” over the animals. He broadly favours traditional forms of animal use, like animal agriculture, so long as they treat animals humanely and fairly. Continue reading Vet Ethics: Man’s dominion and the worth of animals

Eagle Post: How To Take Your Dog Just About Anywhere

Tom Donnelly writes on veterinary matters in the USA.

In June, a miniature Yorkshire terrier caused a fuss at a fancy Manhattan restaurant. From a Google review of Altesi Ristorante: “Lunch was ruined because Ivana Trump sat next to us with her dog which she even let climb to the table. I told her no dogs allowed but she lied that hers was a service dog.” Internet discussions said the owner of Altesi, Paolo Alavian, defended Trump. “She walked into the restaurant and she showed the emotional-support card,” he said. “Basically, people with the card are allowed to bring their dogs into the restaurant. This is the law.”
Signor Alavian is mistaken: it’s not the law.

To digress briefly, several years ago in this column, I wrote about the growing trend of people with mental illnesses relying on what are known as therapy, comfort or “emotional support” animals (ESAs) to stem the symptoms of their illness. In New York genuine individuals were challenging landlords in court over rules that did not allow pets in rental apartments. However, such situations set two rights in conflict – the renter’s right to cope with a medical condition and the landlords’ right to control and maintain their property. The New York trend has become a nation-wide trend as illustrated by a recent three-year legal battle in Washington state that involved the federal government, Scrappee Anne, a miniature schnauzer, and her owner Diana Alton a 65-year-old woman who has post-traumatic stress disorder, clinical depression and cannot work. Alton’s landlords required her to pay a $1,000 pet deposit for her apartment. In November 2014 the landlords, Linda and Bert Barber, after incurring $175,000 in legal fees fighting Alton and the U.S. Department of House and Urban Development (HUD), which represented her, agreed to pay a $25,000 settlement to Alton and the government just to end it all. Continue reading Eagle Post: How To Take Your Dog Just About Anywhere

Kiwi Post: Remember When You Were Young

The greatest introduction to any song in the history of man is of course the almost nine minutes of instrumental that kick off “Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, by Pink Floyd. I defy anyone with an ounce of heart to sit through that 8:50 of creative genius without feeling moved.

That’s before the dulcet tones of Roger Waters ask us to ‘”Remember when we were young”. The lyrics are suitably poignant and the whole song is simply a masterpiece. Remember, this was created in an era when we were dropping napalm onto villagers in jungles and building more and more atomic bombs. Not much else from 40 years ago comes anywhere near to being as much value to humankind as this one song alone.

As veterinarians, we like to think of ourselves as scientists. We consider evidence and we weigh up cause and effect. We talk of evidence-based medicine. We argue the science to justify the procedure. Continue reading Kiwi Post: Remember When You Were Young