She contended that human affection for our four-legged friends contributes to, or is at least symbolic of, the growing “moral relativism” and “scientific materialism” in American society.
Because the founding fathers expressed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” her argument goes, human beings possess an elevated status over all lowly “other animals.” Therefore, according to Kersten, we should stop treating our pets like humans, for fear of devaluing human life.
Putting aside for a moment the apparent linguistic and historical problems with Kersten’s argument (i.e., the declaration states that only “men” are created equal, which, at the time of the founding fathers, only included white, property-owning men), her argument ignores the legal realities at play. Despite her best efforts, it can hardly be said that household pets (on the whole) enjoy a superior existence to human beings.
Dogs, cats and all domestic animals are considered property under the law. That means humans, essentially, have unfettered discretion when it comes to their pets. Humans can adopt, abandon or otherwise dispose of pets as they please.
Many unfortunate, all-too-common examples come to mind, such as puppy mills, jam-packed shelters and Michael Vick, to name a few. So long as humans don’t transgress the boundaries of animal cruelty, which is difficult to do, household pets have the equivalent legal rights as, for example, a car or a refrigerator. This all stems from the law’s treatment of pets as just another item of personal property.
Adding a cherry to the top of Kersten’s sundae of self-righteousness is her suggestion that treating pets as beloved members of the family somehow undermines our basic American values, which she dismisses as “scientific materialism” that “reserves no special place for human beings.” This argument could not be more off-base.
I believe that the trend toward treating our pets more like humans is a virtue. Treating an animal as you would a human, rather than a car or a refrigerator, demonstrates compassion and empathy for creatures that not only depend on us for survival but love us unconditionally. It shows respect for the dignity of all life. It shows an appreciation for nature and our role in it. It is an enlightened view, worthy of praise.
To be clear, I am not advocating that we give pets the same legal status or rights as human beings. Rather, I am simply suggesting that any trend that treats our pets (and all animals, for that matter) with the respect and dignity they deserve, no matter how strange those trends may seem to some, is a positive one. This trend does not detract from our humanity, as Kersten would have readers believe. It embodies our humanity.
I finish with a quote from the late Andy Rooney that perhaps gleans the reason for the recent trend toward treating our pets more like humans: “The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.”
Brian R. Christiansen, of Minneapolis, is an attorney.