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Debate: Should humans own pets?

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Should we keep animals as pets?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Alastair Endersby. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


Background and Context of Debate:

The first evidence for human beings living with animals is from 12 000 years ago. Remains found in early human sites show that men had already domesticated wolves and created dogs. This may have been to help them hunt, but they must have quickly come to enjoy their company and affection. Dogs appear to have been with early humans in many different parts of the world. It was the Ancient Egyptians who first bred wild cats 5000 years ago to produce the domestic cats we know today. Other people around the world seem to have tamed many sorts of animals as companions and pets, from goldfish and birds to monkeys and reptiles. It seems a very common human quality to enjoy the company of tame animals. Today pets (also called companion animals) are very common in many countries, especially richer western nations where people have the time and money to look after them. For example, one in every two families in the United Kingdom owns a dog or a cat. But is this right? Is it good for people, for the animals, and for our society to keep animals as pets?

Argument #1


Keeping pets is a bad use of resources. Pets are costly to keep in time, money and energy. As well as the cost to owners in food, vet’s bills and the time spent cleaning and exercising, the cost to society is very high. Dogs’ mess makes many streets and parks horrible to walk in. Stray dogs and cats breed out of control and have to be dealt with by the state. Bites, scratches and illnesses given by animals take up hospital time and money. And the planet as a whole can’t cope with all the food and energy given to just a few pet species.


Humans and some animals can have a special relationship of friendship and care. Keeping a pet adds to the quality of life of both the owner and the animal. The animal receives shelter, is well fed and looked after. It is likely to live much longer than similar wild animals, and will have better health. The owner can enjoy the total love of another creature (with some pets at least). All owners gain from the interest and stimulus which comes from caring for and playing with their pet.

Argument #2


Animals don’t really belong in a human home. We can’t properly meet their needs in terms of exercise, diet and environment, so it is cruel to keep them as pets. For example, dogs are pack animals that need companionship, but they are often kept singly and left during the day. Birds flock together and need to fly free - impossible in the prison of a cage. Burrowing, climbing, swimming or very mobile animals are forced to live unnatural lives in small spaces. Animals are driven to breed but usually are not able to as pets.


Owners work very hard to care for their pets well. Most types of pet have been bred over centuries to live with humans, and could not survive in the wild anyway. They can have rich, interesting lives as pets. Some owners may be uncaring, and some animals are not suitable to keep as pets, but almost all owners are responsible and caring. No one should take on a pet without being willing to spend time, money and effort giving it the best possible life. But if they are willing to do that, they should be able to.

Argument #3


Keeping pets is a risk to human health. Many animals can pass diseases on to people (such an illness is called zoonosis). Examples include salmonella from handling reptiles and amphibians, psittacosis from parrots and bird flu from many birds. Pregnant women risk their babies by handling cat litter. And many people are allergic to pet hair or feathers.


There is very little risk to human health from pets. Almost always simple hand washing and good cleaning will keep both pet and owner safe. Diseases which can jump from one species to another are very rare and almost never fatal. Overall, having a pet improves human health. For example, children on farms and in homes with furry pets are less likely to have allergies. Elderly and lonely people can have better mental health if they share their life with a pet. And walking a dog or riding a horse gives healthy exercise to hundreds of millions of people.

Argument #4


Keeping pets can be dangerous. There is a trend for keeping exotic animals, such as poisonous snakes, spiders, alligators and tigers - there are thought to be 10 000 big cats kept at homes in Texas alone! None of these can ever be totally tamed and safe. Each year people are killed or hurt by such pets - and not just their owners, children and neighbours are attacked too. Even some breeds of dogs, such as pit bulls, can be very aggressive and go for humans.


The vast majority of pets and owners are no risk to anyone. Just because a few nutty people keep unsuitable animals, doesn’t mean keeping pets should be banned. There is a good case for the government stopping people keeping large exotic animals like tigers. Owners could be made to get licenses to keep more dangerous animals. These are sensible steps but a long way from saying no one should keep a pet. In fact, many pets keep people safer. For example, dogs can put off intruders or muggers.

Argument #5


People often fail to look after pets properly. Today we all lead such busy lives that animals can be neglected. Dogs go without walks and proper training, cats don’t get their litter trays changed, fish tanks go uncleaned, etc. Many owners let their cats, dogs or hamsters breed, and then fail to find good homes for the babies. We should not look on animals as a consumer toy, to be enjoyed for a while and then put away. Too often films inspire families to buy pets which are then cast off. Examples include (Teenage Mutant Ninja) turtles, clownfish (Finding Nemo), and breeds of dog (any Hollywood dog film).


Again, just because some owners are bad doesn’t mean no one should own a pet. We totally agree that buying an animal without thinking it through carefully is bad. Welfare laws should be made tighter, so that those who don’t care for pets properly can be punished. People should have their dogs and cats spayed and neutered to stop them breeding. On the other hand, having a pet is great for children. It teaches them to take responsibility for something other than themselves. Caring for an animal makes them more thoughtful about the world and others. It also keeps them fitter, and makes them more dependable.

Argument #6


The pet trade is bad for animals in the wild. Birds and exotic animals in pet stores may have been trapped, often by raiding nests or killing mothers. Usually most of those caught die on the journey to the pet store. For some species collecting for the pet trade may lead to them dying out in the wild.


We agree that animals should not be taken from the wild. But that is no reason to ban the keeping of pets in general. Almost all animals kept as pets are bred specially, not trapped. Most companion animals could not survive in the wild anyway. Either they have been bred to live with people and can’t look after themselves, or their habitat is going and they have nowhere suitable to live.

Argument #7


Producing animals for the pet trade is cruel. There are two reasons for this. Many dogs are born on puppy farms where conditions are bad and individual dogs do not receive the care they should. In some countries, cats are declawed and dogs have their tails docked (cut off) to make them easier to sell - both cruel and painful processes. The other reason is that the whole pedigree (purebred) animal business is cruel. Breeding animals to meet human standards is bad science. Getting the physical features we specially want in a breed of dog or cat means breeding from a small group of related individuals. But small gene pools also lead to a whole range of health problems. For example, boxer dogs unable to give birth safely, german shepherds with bad hips, fearful spaniels, bald cats, etc. Crossbreeds (mongrels) are usually both healthier and more intelligent.


Breeding animals does not have to be cruel and is not a reason to stop the keeping of pets. Cruel breeders should be taken to court under welfare laws, and nasty customs should be outlawed. Only a few pedigree breeds suffer from health problems, but we would encourage people to adopt pets from animal shelters.



  • This House believes keeping animals as pets is wrong
  • This House would not own a pet
  • That keeping animals as pets is immoral
  • Keeping animals as pets should be banned

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