Ah, the words every parent dreads and almost every kid utters at some point; ‘Mummy, can we get a puppy?’
It doesn’t sound too drastic on the surface but when you try to fit the concept of a family pet into an ethical vegan lifestyle, we begin to see the problems it poses. Do we teach our children to respect non human animals by sharing your home with one (or more!) or do you live by your principles and refuse to treat an animal as property?
If we consider the most basic definition of veganism, it involves eschewing ALL animal exploitation and surely when we domesticate an animal and keep him or her as a form of entertainment it falls under the banner of exploitation?
But life isn’t always black and white and welcoming an animal into your home is one of those shades of grey; there can be many benefits to introducing a fur child into the family.
Learning how to love and respect
The most obvious is teaching your children a healthy love and respect for all creatures. This of course comes down to how you treat your companion animal. Obviously your fur baby is your responsibility but that doesn’t mean the kids can’t help with basic care. Be careful, however, that your children respect the animal’s needs. JoJo the hamster lives with us and I’m careful not to let my eldest son drag her out of bed when she’s sleeping; playtime is on her terms! In doing this, I hope to teach him that we have to place equal value on the animal’s desires. A ‘pet’ is not a living, breathing toy but an extra sibling who deserves the same respect we would give a human friend or relative.
Another bonus to having animals in your home is to help your children make the connection between loving all creatures and not eating/hurting them. Personally my veggie journey began shortly after getting my first ‘pet’; Frisky the bunny. Oh, I just loved that bun, I was smitten from day one. I decided I could no longer eat meat after seeing other rabbits in the supermarket while on holiday in France and I knew that if I was so horrified at the thought of eating a rabbit, I couldn’t justify eating ANY species of animal. In this, welcoming a pet into your family home can be a fantastic educational tool as we explain to our children that we would no more eat a pig than we would the family’s puppy or kitten.
The more astute among you will have picked up on the fact that so far the only benefits here are to the human members of the family.
So have we returned to the realms of exploitation here or do the animals themselves get anything out of the relationship?
Thoughts on benefiting the animals
If I’m being completely honest, I do have my doubts about my fur babies. As much as I love them I’m aware of the hypocrisy of having them. I spend a great deal of time talking about campaigning until ‘every cage is empty’ yet here I am with three ‘caged’ animals in my care.
Admittedly they’ll never end up in a stew and the bunnies get the run of the house most of the day, yet it’s not the freedom I would wish for them. On a daily basis I wonder whether I am simply perpetuating the pet industry; yet another cog in the animal exploitation machine. Then I remind myself of the tiny cage Sid was living in while in the shelter. He had no space to hop or binky and although the room was filled with other rabbits, he was separated from them; permanently alone.
Now he lives in our converted garden shed with his girlfriend Stevie (also a rescue bunny) – he has company, he has space and he is safe. Sure I could release him into the great outdoors but as a domestic rabbit with no experience of living in the wild and with just one eye due to an injury he sustained before we met him, I don’t think he’d last a day.
I’ll never know what they think, if and how desperate they are for proper freedom but I hope that they are happy to be a part of our family and that they feel protected and safe.
As for the kids, I just have to hope that when they are older, they are wise enough to see the difference between a caged hen destined for KFC and our own much loved rescue animals. I hope they’ll agree with me that this is one instance in which it’s ok to be a hypocrite.
Tips and advice:
1. Really think about what a companion animal needs in terms of care. Do you have the time to devote to making him or her happy? Do you have the time to take a dog for daily walks or the room to keep a house rabbit for example?
2. Consider the financial aspects. Food bills are one thing – you can budget for this – unexpected vet bills are another matter. Can you really afford this?
3. Think about the type of companion animal that would be most suited to your family. If you have lots of noisy kids tearing up the place, a nervy guinea pig would be a bad choice.
4. Consider that just because an animal doesn’t look perfect, he or she may still be perfect for you. Our rabbit, Sid, has only one eye after a traumatic start to life. I worried that his injury would make him nervy or more jumpy than usual and as such, unsuitable for a family with young children. He’s an absolute dream though and gets on extremely well with the kids. It would have been too easy to bypass him as not being ‘good enough’ but he’s one of the friendliest rabbits I’ve ever known!
5. Adopt in pairs. While you and your family are great company indeed, adopting two animals of a kind will have fantastic advantages for both you and your companion friend. It will give you some peace of mind knowing that even when you are away your animal friend is not alone and it will give your animal friend a peer companion to play and interact with in ways that no human can.
6. Most importantly, please, please, please never buy a companion animal from a breeder or pet store. There are so many animals in rescue centres and shelters – they are bursting at the seams and unfortunately not all of them operate under ‘no kill’ policies – that would make a wonderful addition to your family. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that an animal needs to be a baby to make a good companion. All of my fur babies were adopted from a rescue centre, already fully grown adults.
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