Recently, the Canadian National Assembly passed a bill designed improve the situation of animals. This innovative legislation raises the legal status of domestic animals — like pets and some farm animals — recognizing that they are more than mere things, like a smart phone or toaster oven.
At first sight, this seems to be a rather progressive development, as pets are now defined as sentient beings deserving respect and possessing some level of rights before the law. There are few pet owners — or what we now call “pet parents” — who think of their dog or cat as a mere thing. They are considered family members and Canadian law now seems to recognize this fact.
Yet there is also something disturbing in this development. The property of sentience and the right to proper treatment is, according to the letter of the law, extended to “domestic animals.”
But what about other creatures — animals that, for one reason or another, fall outside this specification? It seems there is a sharp line dividing our dog or cat as a sentient being from many other animals, who will have to be content with being a thing—a mere object we can use, abuse, and even destroy.
George Orwell's pigs, may have been correct: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
We certainly welcome legislation that recognizes the rights of others, like animals and even the environment. But these developments should be based on decision making that is less prejudicial and exclusive.
I’m David Gunkel, and that's my perspective.
- Written in collaboration with Mark Coeckelbergh, University of Vienna