Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Public service announcement for commercial dog breeders

Moral relativism is a philosophical term that says that there are no such things as universal moral truths and that morality is solely dependent upon the society that creates it. Let's take capital punishment, for example. In some countries, like China or Iran, capital punishment is widely accepted by the state and by the populace as an ethical and just way of dealing with convicted criminals. Here in Canada or in, say, Sweden, capital punishment is not practiced and the majority of the populace would say that is a good thing. Then you have somewhere like the United States which isn't all that united on this particular issue with some states busy filling up body bags while others just incarcerate for a very long time. Everyone thinks their own practice is morally right and everyone thinks differing practices are morally reprehensible.

I confess. I am a moral relativist. I don't believe there are any universal laws when it comes to ethics. I don't believe there's some cosmic cop out there who says we must treat people or animals or anything else on our dear old planet with a certain level of dignity and care. I don't think the universe actually gives a damn about what happens to any creature, if it lives or dies, suffers or flourishes. Look what happened to the dinosaurs. Did the universe shed a big moral tear for their mass extinction? I doubt it. The universe yawned and then went on and created and wiped out countless more species. As it might very well do with our own (unless we do it to ourselves first).

So, when I examine my own morality, I don't pretend it's based on any universal truths because as far as morality goes, the universe is about as caring as that rock sitting in my front yard. Even though I think I'm a reasonable and logical person, I understand that my morality isn't based on "truth". It's based on feelings. Yikes. I know. If we all went around dictating morals based on emotions, wouldn't this world be in a huge mess? Yes and that's why the world is in a huge mess and I apologize for my contribution to that mess.

Though I don't believe that any morality I hold sacred is the "right" morality, I do know it's the one that works for me. This means that when I impose my moral vision on someone else's behavior and find it less than appealing, it isn't me saying that I am right and the other person is wrong. It's simply me saying, I am against him. I don't like what he is doing. In some cases, I detest what he is doing. It's abhorrent to me. It's a feeling.

Which brings me to commercial dog breeding facilities and their place in a subjective, ever-changing, moral landscape. First, let's look at the spectrum of human/dog relationships. Let's put at one end a place like Toronto, for example, where for the most part, people treat dogs with a certain amount of care, some even considering them to be part of the family. At the other end of the spectrum, we'll put somewhere like Shenyang, China where I once lived for a year, and saw such things as three workers at a university, publicly and in broad daylight, tie a dog to a tree and repeatedly jab it with a pocket knife, making it cry in agony until it bled to death. Obviously, the societal mores concerning dogs between these two places are separated by a wide gulf. Along this spectrum, the societal mores that allow commercial dog breeding facilities to exist and to even flourish, lie somewhere in between.

Of course I'm using the term "commercial dog breeding" because the on-line community has been told in no uncertain terms by a small claims court judge that we are no longer allowed to use the other term anymore in describing certain businesses. But regardless of what any small claims court judge determines and regardless of what commercial dog breeding facilities want to call themselves these days, they still are what they are.

These businesses fail to realize that it's not the naming of their facilities that they need to be worried about. It's what they do. Public attitudes are changing towards the raising of dogs in a manner similar to livestock. Sure, the businesses may be legal and/or unprosecutable in some provinces and, sure, they can call themselves what they want, call themselves Smoochy Poochie Heavenly Happy Farms if they want and sue everyone who disagrees with that term, but the businesses still are what they are.

Thirty years ago, growing dogs in an environment where they spend the vast majority of their time in cages or pens with very limited human interaction, no healthy levels of exposure to the outdoors and few introductions to varying mental stimuli may have been okay, but now, not so much. It's no longer just a matter of physical health, though of course that's still a major concern, it's also a matter of psychological and behavioural health. It's bad enough when an individual is found out to be denying a dog a decent living environment through carelessness or neglect but when it's a business purposely doing it for profit, the distaste is even stronger. These commercial dog breeding facilities are flying in the face of a changing public attitude towards the proper treatment of animals. More and more people are loathing the idea of supporting businesses, from solely-for-profit breeders to certain live animal selling pet stores, who would treat a possible future family member as a mere commodity, valued only for its money making potential.

None of this makes any sense, of course, to someone who has little or no empathy for dogs in general, for someone whose morality doesn't swing that way. For them, dogs will always be viewed as simple property, easy to acquire, easy to dispose of, easy to sell and make a profit from (well, easy if they can take the heat of people talking behind their backs, writing about them, calling them all sorts of nasty names). These newfangled ideas surrounding the care of dogs must seem totally alien to them. To talk to them about a dog's quality of life must sound ludicrous, clownish. It would be like talking about the quality of life for a chair.

So when someone points a finger at them and accuses them of moral outrages against what they consider to be a mere commodity, of course they must think that's a ridiculous insult and of course they must feel wronged but in this morally relativistic world, where there are no absolutes, it's not that they've been wronged. It's that they've been left behind. Society, at least certain segments of western society, are moving along to a different place on the moral spectrum. We've become more tolerant of some things and less tolerant of other things.

Businesses that engage in the profit driven, manufacturing of dogs, will need to change their business models, and not just the name of their type of business, to something more palatable. More and more people are speaking out against them. More and more people are offended by them. More and more people will one day push society along to the point where present day minimal standards of dog care in a commercial dog breeding facility will no longer be tolerated, morally or legally.

The ever changing nature of moral relativity in our society really must suck for the ones who end up holding the slimeball bag. Such is life.


Anonymous said...

I guess there's a reason why the Golden Rule is built into every major religion in one form or another.

That we don't always live up to those ideals, in our treatment of our companions in creation, our fellow humans or the earth, is unfortunate and maybe a downside to having "evolved" to our anthropocentric position at the top of the heap.

There is always karma...

Fred said...

I just hope karma is more effective at meting out justice than our legal system.

Lynda said...

A good friend of mine once said "When I die, I'm going to become the Karma Distribution Queen".

I think if dogs no longer become "property" in the judicial system's eye, then maybe that would be a good start.....

Anonymous said...

Well, Fred, I guess we could become vigilantes if karma doesn't work. Besides, having a (hybrid) Batmobile would be really cool.

Anonymous said...

Do you think that the "Factory Farming Industry" is financing much of the resistence to change for companion animals because they know that they will be next to recieve the spotlight?

borderjack said...

I think I deleted my comment by accident (so forgive me if this is repetitive - I'll try again)

The factory farmers are a HUGE lobby. They have consistently been behind blocking any proposed changes to remove animals from the property provisions of the criminal code (incidentally, by claiming that the changes would negatively affect their industry, don't they just admit to the cruelty of their methods? Anyway...) And who do we have in power? PM Harper and his cronies - the Stockwell Days and Preston Mannings and their ilk - have their base in alberta and the west. As long as they're in power, we have NO chance of changing the code. The factory farming lobby has too much $$$ and influence. Even when I was last involved with this when the liberals were in power (circa about 2003 or 2004?), it was the alberta farming lobby (and also the maritime lobster industry [because the provisions, they argued, captured the live boiling of lobsters]) that cried foul.

So I keep praying for Karma to HURRY UP! What's taking her so long???

Anonymous said...

Many commercial breeders in my area make use of 'brokers', who ship in litters and sell them from a home setting. This is just another decptive ploy to avoid changes to the industry. One of my issues has always been that commercial enterprises such as pet stores have never been called on the fact that they do not 'label' their dogs which would identify the source. Why can't I know if my local 'Puppy Palace' uses commercial breeding facility for stock. Why am I supposed to take the word of of the store employees that this dog was purchased from nameless 'local' and 'reputable' breeders. If dogs are property then why is the 'Label of Goods Act' not applicable?