Joe Biden, the new president-elect of the United States, will be introducing his two German Shepherds Champ and Major to the White House in January. Reportedly, Biden adopted Major from the Delaware Humane Society after reconsidering the ethics of purchasing from breeders. Major will be the 2nd adopted dog to ever occupy the White House, indicating a societal shift to a more compassionate world in which animals are increasingly seen as persons rather than products.
The tumultuousness of 2020 has, unfortunately, opened up this compassion to exploitation. Pandemic profiteers have been hawking animals illegally online, cloaking their operations on social media platforms that have little capability for tracing or accountability. A BBC investigation has uncovered sales of puppies and kittens on Facebook, for instance, many of whom were underage or ill. The Facebook scandal is more than a matter of seller irresponsibility, however. There are fundamental ethical issues with commodifying animals for the pleasure and profit of humans.
The breeding industry supports a relationship of human domination over other animals. Furthermore, it contributes to the production of more and more companion animals despite the reality that millions upon millions of dogs and cats the world over are, at this very moment, cowering in lonely shelters or scrambling for survival on unforgiving city streets.
Industrializing companionship means death and disaster for vulnerable animals. The RSPCA reports having received over a million calls for help in England and Wales in 2019 alone. There is more work than welfare agencies can keep up with. Thousands of healthy dogs and cats are killed every year in the UK as a result. Those hoping to bring a dog, cat, guinea pig, hamster, rabbit or any other animal into their home should contact their local rescue—if it is unable to accommodate, the staff maintains extensive networks that can aid your search. The extraordinary circumstances of 2020 have made adoption more difficult, but purchasing animals from the internet is not a just alternative.
Too many well-meaning individuals will, on one hand, love companion animals like family members, while, on the other, outright purchase them like chattel. Dogs and cats should not be conceived of as lockdown hobbies to be bought online like gardening supplies or musical instruments. They are living persons with interests of their own. Breeding can never be “responsible” so long as we disregard their agency. Nor can it be ethical while so many animals who are hidden from our view are destroyed every day to make way for the new season of designer puppies and kittens.
This story was featured by the University of Kent’s Press Office on November 19, 2020.