I don't hate pets. Not the animals themselves. But I'm convinced that many of us who think we love animals - our pets especially - mainly love the way animals make us feel.
I don't hate pet owners. But I think we too easily slip into treating other animals as means toward our own entertainment and emotional fulfillment. And I hate the culture of pet ownership that encourages us to do this without thinking.
We pay lip service to the needs of pets (we walk them, take them to the vet, pay exorbitantly for their upkeep). But not when it really matters. When our needs come head to head with theirs, who inevitably wins?
Instead of engaging them on their terms, we force animals to fit of the gaps in our lives. Like a bonsai kitty, pressed into a mold for heart-shaped sushi. Collared and neutered and declawed and debarked. In modern cities that are ill-suited for the expression of intrinsic dog-ness and cat-ness.
We can't seem to appreciate nature by simple acknowledgement. We have to go there. We have to own it. We have to own it on our own terms so it's clean and convenient and lives and dies at our behest.
But we're not honoring nature by owning pets. We're choosing one life at the expense of another. We're choosing pets above fellow humans. We spend more on pets in a year than the Gates Foundation has during its entire existence to eradicate poverty and disease.
Raising animals after our own image furthers their extinction in the wild. The more grandiose among us poach parrots and lemurs. More insidiously, we marvel when our children catch turtles and frogs. Taking them home to slowly starve and desiccate. Our cats and dogs make a sport of exterminating local fauna.
Pets are not animals. They are our children who cannot speak and cannot grow up. Upon whom we can freely project our prejudices and gripes and emotional needs without being questioned. This is not what an animal should be.
People are cruel and neglectful and exploitative of other people too. But we can walk away. We can fight back. Our real children will inevitably learn to speak and think for themselves, which compels us to shield them from the worst of ourselves. Pets are children with no rights.
Do I believe that they should have all the rights of human beings? Should Spot be able to sue Bobby for emotional damage? I'm not that crazy.
I surely don't believe that we can or should put all pet owners under surveillance to make sure they treat their animals with respect and humanity. And despite my lingering idealism, I can't envision any awareness campaign that could change our attitudes enough to make pet ownership feel ok to me in this lifetime.
We haven't gotten there with people yet. Peter Singer's "circle of empathy" has a long way to go.
So in the absence of sufficient understanding, respect, and human kindness, and without resorting to outlandish Big Brotherhood, I'm left with only one choice. I have to reject the idea of pet ownership as an ethically tenable, societywide activity.
Organizations like PETA feebly succor the symptom but feed the disease. Instead of those horrible animal shelter commercials starring Sarah McLachlan and Youtube videos of cute cat tricks, I'd be willing to support any measure that makes pet ownership less appealing.
The best way we can love animals is to stay away from them. Please. Help me spread the word.