"After working in rescue for many years" a friend recently confided "I sincerely believe that not everyone should own a dog."
And after working in a shelter for battered women, I suppose one might form the opinion that not everyone should get married. Not much of a revelation there. After working for child protective services, one might form the opinion that not everyone should have children. No epiphany there, either. After working in a hospital for many years, one might conclude that life is filled with doom, gloom and misery. But of course, such biased viewpoints are never accurate or balanced.
We cannot deny basic human rights based on the actions of those who abuse such rights.
True, some people don't give the proper consideration to dog ownership prior to making their decision. But probably, the majority of owners DO. And should the basic rights to ownership of animals for everyone be denied due to a few bad apples?
Owning an pet involves a good deal of responsibility. When you own an animal, you have a moral obligation to provide food shelter, care and kindness. We even have laws in all 50 states requiring humane treatment of animals; laws that forbid neglect and abuse.
The AVMA further delineates their proposed markers for "Responsible Pet Ownership" which includes such recommendations as keeping your pet for its entire lifetime, limiting breeding to help ease "overpopulation", and other debatable concepts. Of course, the AVMA recommends:
"Providing preventive (e.g., vaccinations, parasite control) and therapeutic health care for the life of pet(s) in consultation with, and as recommended by, its veterinarian."
Humans have the right to refuse to seek medical care if they so choose. I suppose if we exercise that option for our animals, then we are not "responsible". In the eyes of the AVMA, in this case, we don't deserve to have a pet!
Never mind the blatant conflict of interest in the recommendations by so many veterinarians for yearly vaccinations and monthly parasite managment treatments.
Another factor to consider when positing "responsible pet ownership guidelines" is that we may be projecting our own values about pet ownership onto others. We may forget that not all dogs are destined to function as pampered companions. Is it unreasonable to expect dogs to work as service animals for the disabled? What about keeping packs of dogs for hunting, or using dogs for herding, or having an outdoor guard dog?
Then there is the admonition for "socialization and appropriate training for pets." But what if the dog's purpose is to protect the owner? Perhaps the owner doesn't WANT their pet to be social and friendly to any Tom, Dick or Harry. Many breed standards call for an "aloof" quality. Again, the purpose for which some "pets" are kept can vary. That does not make the owner "irresponsible."
But put aside the AVMA's responsible pet owner commandments for a moment. Let's examine how responsible we as a nation have been in regard to pet ownership.
There are over 78 million owned dogs in the US, and over 86 million owned cats. There is also an unknown number of feral cats, and a minute number of unowned, stray dogs. Of the 156 million pets in the US, and the many millions more feral cats that exist, a small fraction of animals, estimated at 6-8 million, transit through shelters each year. Less than 4%. considering a significant number are feral ownerless cats, WAY below 4% of the owned animals in this country.
That means that over 96% of animals in this country are owned in a responsible manner.
Each year in the US, there are 17 million people who will adopt a new pet and haven't decided exactly where to get this new pet from. And there exists an estimated 2-3 million adoptable pets in shelters who are killed. There are 17 million households available to absorb 2-3 million shelter pets. To prevent their deaths, all that would be needed is to effectively use some creative marketing skills. Yet even if every adoptable animal was adopted, we would still need 14 million more pets each year.
Yes, Virginia, we CAN adopt our way out this problem. It has happened in many communities already; communities where the shelters are empty and need to import dogs from other area and even other countries. I'd say as a nation, we have proven our responsibility. We've heeded the call to adoption and emptied many shelters in the process. We are responsible enough to deserve to count pet ownership among our basic rights.
Yet our cultural zeitgeist remains one of sanctimony toward pet owners. We are regularly subjected to lectures about our "obligation" toward our pets as though we were a nation of reckless kindergartners.
Those 14 million households deserve their pets. Pet ownership - it's a right, not a privilege!