Is the Domestication of Animals Morally Justifiable?

Gary L. Francione
13 min readMay 1, 2021
They can’t breathe properly but many people think they are cute so it’s okay. Photo by Sneaky Elbow on Unsplash

For the past thirty or so years, I have developed what has come to known as the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights. One aspect of that theory rejects the status of animals as chattel property and maintains that we are morally obligated to abolish, and not merely regulate, the use of animals exclusively as resources. My Abolitionist theory sees veganism as a moral imperative and maintains that if animals matter morally, we cannot justify using them for food, clothing, entertainment, or research as all of those uses assume that animals are nothing but commodities, or things we may use and kill for our purposes.

As part of this rejection of the status of things that exist only for our benefit, the theory also rejects domestication and maintains that, although we have a moral obligation to care for those domesticated nonhumans who are here now, we should not continue to produce domesticated animals to use and kill.

But what about animals such as those species we use as companion animals, or “pets”?

I suggest that that domestication itself presents a serious moral problem for anyone who maintains that animals matter morally and even with respect to animals with whom we may have a more benign relationship.

Although some of us treat our companion animals as family members, some of us do not. But however we treat our dogs, cats, etc., they are property as far as the law is concerned. If you regard your dog as a member of your family and treat her well, the law will protect your decision just as it will your decision to change the oil in your car every 1000 miles — the dog and the car are your property and if you wish to accord a higher value to your property, the law will allow you to do so. But if you wish to accord your property a lower value and, for instance, keep your dog on your property for use as a guard dog to whom you provide minimal food, water, and shelter, and no companionship or affection, the law will protect that decision as well.

The reality is that in the United States, most dogs and cats do not end up dying of old age in loving homes. Most have homes for a relatively short period of time before they are transferred to another owner, taken to a shelter, dumped, or taken to a veterinarian to be killed.

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Gary L. Francione

Gary L. Francione is Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Law at Rutgers University and Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the University of Lincoln.