You Can Kill Your Pet

Gary L. Francione
5 min readMay 24, 2019
Helena Lopes on Unspalsh

Emma, a healthy dog, was brought into a shelter in the U.S. State of Virginia on March 8. Her human companion had passed away and there was apparently no one else to care for Emma. Although the shelter could have easily found a new home for Emma, who was a Shih Tzu (of the sort pictured above), they just held her because whoever brought Emma to the shelter did not have the authority to sign her over to the shelter.

So Emma remained at the shelter until March 22, when the executor of the dead woman’s estate came to the shelter and stated that the deceased had left a directive that Emma was to be killed and cremated , and that her ashes were to be placed in the dead woman’s coffin.

And that is what was done. Emma was killed. Notice that I did not say that she was “euthanized.” Euthanasia is when death is for the benefit of the being who is killed. If, for example, an animal is suffering from cancer and no longer has any quality of life, killing the animal would be described as an instance of euthanasia. But Emma was healthy. It was not in her interest to die. She was not euthanized. She was killed. She was cremated. Her ashes were placed in the casket of the dead woman and buried.

Many people find this to be outrageous. Emma was a healthy dog. What could possibly explain why it was alright to kill her?

The answer is simple: Emma was the property of the dead woman. The dead woman was her owner.

Most of us think that animals matter morally. That is, we reject the idea that animals are just things that have no moral value.

But the reality is that, despite what we think, animals are just things as far as the law is concerned. That is, they have no intrinsic or inherent value; like all other property, they have only an economic or extrinsic value. They have no value except the value that we, their human owners, accord them.

As property owners, we have the right to accord our pets a high value and treat them as loved and cherished members of our families just as we have the right to accord them a low value and use our dogs as little more than living burglar alarms or our cats as mouse catchers. As long as we provide minimal food, water, and shelter to the animal, we may treat the animal pretty much as we choose. We cannot inflict physical…

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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.