Newcastle Herald: Jeff Corbett; Oct 21 2012
The furore about the RSPCA’s live-or-die temperament test for dogs appears to be about the injustice of, among other things, awarding death points to a dog that chases a cat.
No one, by the way, has mentioned the injustice suffered by the cat used to test a dog’s response.
But behind the outrage over the temperament test that dooms 3000 dogs a year in NSW’s RSPCA shelters is a bigger issue, one that has been building since unwanted dogs were shot behind the ear and kittens were drowned in sugar bags.
Do we have the moral right to kill a dog?
Euthanising a dog is not covered in the question, because euthanising is seen as putting a dog to sleep to ease suffering, not as killing, and we say a dog’s owner has a moral obligation to spare its suffering.
And Max the pointer looking out warmly from the front page of this paper last Wednesday was clearly not suffering, and the RSPCA makes no bones about the reason it killed him at its Rutherford shelter. Max failed, it says, the temperament test, and the distraught protests of a former carer led to Max gazing into the eyes of every Herald reader last week.
And Herald readers responded in droves. Beneath their outrage was the question of whether we should kill dogs, and inevitably that leads to the question of whether the community, and the RSPCA, has a duty to allow dogs to live their life and, again inevitably, to support them living that life.
Everyone accepts that we have an obligation to provide for our dog, and the reason is that we accept that obligation when we take ownership of the dog. But that obligation applies only when they’re alive.
If the transition from life to death is painless, as I’m sure it was for Max, then we have not failed to meet our responsibility.
Unless, that is, we see dogs as having a right to life, as we see humans having a right to life. And increasingly we do, and we do because increasingly we see dogs as fully fledged members of our family, as having human-like qualities.
Killing a person is not acceptable even if it is a painless death, because we believe a person owns his life and thus has a right to that life, and many people seem to believe now that a dog owns its own life, even if a person owns the dog, and thus the dog has a right to that life.
We seem to ascribe human-like rights to pets in many ways, and we’ve just had an instance of that at my home. We have two cats – Tilly, who you may recall did a sterling job of mending her broken leg, and Molly, a ragdoll – and a month ago my wife acquired a third, Missy.
The only consultation with me was a photo sent to my phone so that I wouldn’t be so noisily shocked when I arrived home from work. Well, it became clear that Tilly and Missy couldn’t live together happily and so one had to go, and my wife was horrified when I suggested, mischievously, that since Missy was prettier we should move Tilly on.
Tilly, she pronounced, was here first and so she had the greater right to the house. Of course neither cat had rights, not even rights we so foolishly ascribe them, but Missy duly went. No, not to the RSPCA.
It is this relatively recent notion of a dog and a cat having a right to life that seems to fuel the increasing number of dog and cat rescuers, even if the rescuers don’t express their motivation as protecting the animals’ right to life. These people take doomed dogs or cats into their home while they search for a permanent home for them, and I know that often the cost to these people financially and in time is considerable.
Why don’t we see pigs and cows as having this right to life? Because, you may say, if we didn’t breed them they wouldn’t exist, but the same applies to dogs and cats. Because, you may say, we breed farm animals to eat, but the reason we breed an animal must be irrelevant to any rights – we see humans as having the right to life regardless of the circumstances of their conception.
Yes, it is inconsistent and silly, but it is an attitude becoming a new force.
One day we’ll require the former owner or government to provide for abandoned dogs until the end of their natural life.
Should former owners be forced to pay dog support for their abandoned dogs?