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The pet-keeping debate

Should animals ever be kept as pets - or are we simply exploiting sentient individuals for our own convenience and pleasure?

Pets are often referred to as “companion animals” and broadly speaking OneKind believes that a human and an animal can have a positive, affectionate relationship which is mutually beneficial.  We therefore support the responsible keeping of appropriate domesticated animals as pets, so long as their physical and psychological needs are fully met.

From the human perspective, it is widely understood nowadays that children who grow up with pets learn good lessons for life, such as empathy and responsibility.  Well cared-for and well-loved animals can enjoy a good life, and can certainly benefit from their relationship with humans.

However, there are too many situations where an animal derives no benefit from being kept as a pet by humans.  Some animals - “status dogs”, for example – are acquired and traded more as trophies than as friends. In some homes, pets are neglected or even ill-treated.

There are significant concerns, too, about the exploitation of animals in the commercial trade, with too many animals seen as commodities whose main purpose is to fetch a good price.

Examples of this include the trade in puppies and kittens, bred in puppy farms where the needs of the mothers and their babies are neglected, and the young animals are often sold on through dealers. 

Pedigree breeding can lead to the exaggeration of hereditary traits, to the detriment of the individual. Think of the notionally attractive but unhealthy dogs with eye problems, inherited heart and respiratory conditions, skin conditions, hip and elbow dysplasia, bone tumours and hereditary deafness – all connected with increasingly specialised breeding.  OneKind (then known as Advocates for Animals) was one of the first organisations to highlight these issues in its groundbreaking report The Price of a Pedigree (PDF)

Breed standards have improved since then, but now there is a growing trend for unusual combinations, from Labradoodles to Yorkiepoos (also known as Yoodles).  Their parents may be pedigrees but as crossbreeds they are not registered with any breed society, leading to a lack of regulation.

Think of the cats bred for “folded” ears that develop skeletal abnormalities as a result of the genetic manipulation, or the short-legged “Munchkins” – appealing to some collectors but at risk of birth problems so that some kittens may not even be born alive.

Many exotic species are unsuited for domestic keeping.  Think of the snake that suffers burns lying too close to the heat lamp or the iguana that grows to two metres long and becomes a source of fear in the household, rather than a companion. What benefit do they derive from being kept as pets?

The converse of all this is that there are thousands of animals in rescue centres around the UK, all needing good homes, and OneKind always recommends anyone thinking of acquiring a companion animal to consider this option first.