The recent editorial about pets’ role in our lives incorrectly associates changes in B.C.’s family law with how our relationship with pets has supposedly evolved over the last century. However, who a pet should go to during a separation is very low on the list of needs for pets and does nothing to shift their status as property.
Sadly, our anthropomorphizing of pets has commodified and objectified them more than ever. There are now over 16 million pets in Canada, a symptom of a broken system, not a success.
While the author points out that dogs and cats used to have a more utilitarian function in society, it would be a mistake to claim this has changed except for the context of their use. As we have transitioned to more urban communities and they have lost their independence, pets’ functions have been expanded more to providing companionship.
One need not look further than the large uptake of pets during the pandemic. People craved attention and emotional engagement to cope with isolation, so adopted or bought, sadly, more cats and dogs. Once the pandemic ended, there was a mass dumping of these so-called, “pandemic pets.” Their purpose served, disposed.
It would also be an error to correlate our change in perception of pets as “family members,” with what the author claims are “…more strictly enforced” animal cruelty laws. In B.C., the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act is enforced by a charity that runs on public donations, the BC SPCA. You cannot do an FOI request on their enforcement activities and there is effectively no public oversight of their operations. If anything, this is where reform is needed.
There are a great number of genuinely selfless organizations and people (mostly women) trying to mitigate the worst of our disposable relationship with pets, but without proper government or social support, it is a Sisyphean task.
Contrary to the author’s suggestion, what we need our legal system to recognize is not how important pets are to people, but that they have intrinsic value without us.