People's Thoughts on Pets, Zoos, Species Subservience, Conservation, etc.?

Without making it personal, the idea of animal captivity changes culturally throughout history. Two hundred plus years ago, animals were reliant on transportation, protection, food, and entertainment. In semi-modern society, we saw the rise of circuses and zoos. By the next century, we see the rise of activists thinking for the well-being of animals. These ideas drove businesses to the ground starting the circuses, then SeaWorld and zoos are next on the list.

On a personal level, I believe as long as the animals are cared for, they should be ok. I went to the Oregon Aquarium last October and we had to pay double for emissions because of Covid. I had no problem paying for it because the quality of care is directly linked to the profit from tourism. If there is no profit, there’s no financial stability to make sure these animals are well taken care of.

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Rather a loaded question, and you seem to telegraph your thinking by using the term “subservient”, but I’ll bite.

Are domesticated dogs (sticking to a singular example) truly a part of their “family” of humans? While I am unaware of any research study on the topic, I can speak from anecdotal experience of some 60 years. Yes. They are part of their families. (Of course, it could be a relationship anywhere along the spectrum from intricately involved and mutually beneficial, to manipulative or abusive–not unlike the spectrum of all human relationships.)

Dogs have personalities, both individual and on the breed level. Some are highly devoted and loyal, others will go home with whomever appeals to them at the moment. They have their own individual likes and dislikes. Over tens of thousands of years, they’ve evolved and adapted to live within the human sphere. At the same time, humans have complex relationships with their animals, both to meet certain physical needs, as well as emotional support.

I have a Labrador Retriever (Woody) who is my constant companion. Because I am hearing impaired to some extent, he alerts me to movements and sounds of which I’d otherwise remain unaware, an invaluable service rendered when I’m out in the field at night doing moth research, or at home anticipating the UPS man. He’s there when I’m having a bad day, to keep me from staying inside my head to my own detriment. On good days, he’s a part of the family plans. In return, he gets two meals a day, three orthopedic memory foam beds, numerous toys, daily runs of at least three miles, and a considerable amount of fetch time. His medical care is a certainty, while mine is sometimes set to the side. I’m not an overly emotive individual, but we get along well. He’s one in a long line of companion animals I’ve had in my life.

Subservient? Let’s see. I get up in the morning, not when I want to, but when Woody does. My first action is not a cup of coffee, but to let him out, then feed him. When I would rather stay at my work in the afternoon, instead I am taking him out for his exercise, 365 days a year, regardless of the weather. I could buy something nice for myself, or a $20 allegedly indestructible toy for him–you can imagine who is the winner. When he tore his CCL, I drove 500 miles round trip to a veterinary surgeon and spent $4000 for the surgery. When he did it the second time, I researched alternative therapies rather than subject him to a repeat of the extensive pain and healing, spending hours, weeks, and months doing physical therapy, and he is now the picture of health. (And before you think I’m an isolated individual who focuses solely on her dog to the exclusion of anything else because she’s pathetically lonely, no. I’m married, the mother of four, grandmother of four, and rather busy.) All I ask from Woody in return is that he exist in my home and not pee on the carpet, or chew my shoes–neither of which he does. I suggest that I am the subservient individual if one must be designated so.

I’m not alone. Any veterinarian can attest to the depth of relationship people can have with their animals, and the extent to which both thrive because of it.

The subtext here seems to be the suggestion that it is time to end this relationship; I think it’s a little late to stuff that one back in the bottle, unless someone is suggesting we summarily render every domestic dog on the face of the planet sterile and allow them to die out. To allow them to revert to a feral population is patently absurd and would be cruelty in its highest form.

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In fact I’m kind of confused by different ideas you listed, so this answer will get more structurized with time.
As others stated, dogs and some other animals living in groups and having a strong hierarchy in those groups are in fact parts of the family. If dogs barks on someone it doesn’t know it’s not a reason to not have a dog. Dogs were domesticated for food, but they can do muc more, that’s why they’re so popular, plus people care more about animals they think that are more “intelligent”, though general public has medium sense in that question and tend to not like anything that is “too dumb”. Dogs know their place, they want to get attention from family leaders, though subservient is a wrong word, even fully working dogs are just doing job, not worse than a human guard (and we don’t call people so). Other than that pets have longer lives than their wild relatives, so they definitely agree for living in houses, cages and terrariums as long as human who owns them cares for them properly. We spent so much to keep our guinea pigs healthy that I would never guess before, spending real days with ill ones, exhausting morally and physically, it feels situation is reversed.
Pets are not kept for conservation, pets’ species are thriving. In very rare cases, like extincting amphibians, they can be pets and can be used to save the species. Zoos do some conservation now, but even then almost everywhere we see animal cruelty, small cages, stone floors, I’m ok with zoos as long as they do everything what is needed to give animals proper life.

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Personally, as long as the zoo is respectful to the animals, and it is for wildlife rehab, not entertainment, I am ok with it. For pets, I believe that cats should be kept indoors at ALL times. It will kill many, many birds, and a coyote will eventually kill it. Not blaming the coyote, by the way. Dogs are fine as long as they are kept on leash. A coyote I found had 3 broken legs and a scar on its lip due to dog attack.

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There are legit medical studies showing many health benefits provided by animal companions, such as cats and dogs, etc.

Dogs* are still a very valuable deterrent to crime. The neighborhood watch officer who addressed our community listed dogs as the #1 best way to keep thieves out of your house. Even a small dog barking can deter a thief from breaking and entering. For people without dogs, The officer even recommended getting a remote sensor to play a barking dog recording if someone approached your house.

As for zoos, that’s a very broad topic. Many zoos and aquariums do good work, others maybe not so good.

The nature center I worked at had “animal ambassadors”. While most of the animals were small phlegmatic species (amphibians, insects, etc.), we had a few larger species like snakes, an opossum, and birds of prey. These were often injured wildlife that could not be rehabilitated well enough to survive without human help. The animal curators worked with them to get them comfortable with their roles. (Our facilities needed approval from Fish and Game. The certification was not easy to get; and the requirements included knowledgeable, trained curators to provide animal care and staff training and provisions for regular veterinary care.)

I do believe our presentations helped children come to understand that animals are real “beings” and not animated novelties. So many suburban/urban children have such little exposure to wildlife that having an interaction where they see and learn about a real animal can make a big change in their outlook and how they value nature.

*PS I guess I should say something about cats… my opinion is cats should be indoors whenever possible. They are wonderful, caring beings when socialized early to indoor living. That said, I have known of outdoor cats who were awfully good at catching rats. Sadly, they also go for birds, which are not invasive, non-native pests like rats.

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So what about eating animals? I am vegetarian, almost vegan. If you eat chicken or beef or lamb, I don’t want to hear you complaining about people having pet dogs, or the existence of zoos.

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With exotic animals (anything not domesticated), private owners should stick to animals that can be captive-bred or sustainably caught, and that do well in an enclosure. For example, I used to keep captive-bred poison dart frogs. They’re small, so they do just fine in a suitably set up enclosure, and they’re easy enough to feed if you culture wingless fruit flies and dust the flies in vitamins. Provide light, live plants to clean the waste, proper humidity and temperature, and there we go. It’s basically an aquarium, or a zoo exhibit. The animal is decorative, you don’t make any effort to play with it or treat it like a house pet.
Some bolder lizards and snakes (bearded dragons and ball pythons, for example) can be kept in a way where you keep them in a suitable enclosure, and occasionally interact with them. Heck, some fish are interactive, though they of course have to stay in the enclosure. There are a decent number of exotic animals which can be kept this way and live perfectly good lives. Many fish, some reptiles and amphibians, plenty of invertebrates, and a few small mammals like mice. Let’s call them “box exotics”.
Box exotics are why I’m not in support of banning ALL exotic animals. But there are certainly plenty (foxes, alligators, etc) that should be left to zoos, or in the wild. The average person simply can’t give them a good environment as a pet, and people who want them tend to want them as pets. Now, if someone converted their backyard into a proper alligator enclosure, that’s another thing.
A notable exception to “private owners shouldn’t have any exotics except box exotics” is birds used in falconry. Falconry does not involve a bird of prey as a household pet. When done properly, it means a good quality of life for the birds involved. Since falconry involves releasing birds to fly around on their own, it pretty much has to be done properly- otherwise they’ll leave.

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I have no problems with zoos or exotic pets, as long as the animals are well cared for.

Remember that zoos are extremely important for conservation - captive breeding has saved many species and organisations like the Wildlife Conservation Society and San Diego Zoo Global have done much for wildlife conservation.

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This is true to a large extent evolutionarily as well. How are dogs doing compared to wolves? Donkeys vs. wild asses? Cattle vs. aurochsen? Domestic vs. wild camels?

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Domesticated animals as pets? Fine, if cared for well. Especially if they’re species that have been domesticated for millennia.

Zoos? It is currently impossible for certain species to avoid extinction in the wild. We wish it weren’t true, but it is. Many zoos are helping preserve them. Accredited zoos have a place. And in order to pursue that goal, they have to provide additional entertainment, to bring in the money to support conservation. That’s just real. And zoos do have some educational benefit and some opportunity to help people form emotional links with wild animals. So I’m all for accredited zoos, though with a bit of ambivalence.

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I would like to add that I don’t think an animal being in captivity purely for human entertainment is necessarily a bad thing. Not if that animal is being properly housed, and has a good quality of life. An animal in a (good) zoo or a (good) pet exhibit is an animal which has a constant supply of nutritious food and clean water, whatever temperatures and humidity it does best in, enough space and enrichment to fulfill its needs for those, and a level of veterinary care that no wild animal will ever get. If it’s an animal that’s being bred, its offspring will go to similar homes. That’s a pretty good deal.
Even if all zoos did was provide entertainment in the form of happy, healthy, sustainably collected animals, there’s nothing wrong with that. And they do a lot more than entertainment.

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@haemocyanin11 You do ask some interesting questions and there’s a lot that could be said. This is probably not going to be one of my shorter answers but I’ll do my best.

Subservient is an interesting word in this context. It fits with the Biblical notion of humans having “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” which is the foundation of attitudes and laws regarding ownership and use of animals in so-called Western cultures.Other cultures have different views, some even more rigidly utilitarian than the dominant model in Western systems, others more egalitarian in their view of relations among species. Among North American Indigenous cultures the belief that humans and other organisms are persons in a community with roles and responsibilities to each other is widespread.

My own views are not straightforward. I understand that we are part of a web of life that nurtures and sustains us in various ways, including by providing us with things to eat. I grew up hunting and fishing. I still own guns but haven’t hunted in decades. I still occasionally fish. I also understand that as humans we are what ethicists refer to as moral agents; we have a sense of right and wrong and we are capable of measuring our behaviour against those concepts.

I believe that our relationships with other living things should be predicated on respect for life and that respect extends to the things (like clean water, clean air and clean soil) on which other things depend. Respect includes respect for the dignity of other living things and a willingness to resist the tendency to disrespect creatures whose essence is radically different from our own. I believe that callousness toward suffering, whether it be human or animal, is wrong. To kill something to eat or to defend life and home is not wrong but to kill for pleasure is. I feel the same way about dragging fish around on a hook for fun and then letting them go.

As a kid I was always bringing stray things home. I currently share a house with (in addition to my wife and son) two dogs and three cats, all of them rescues. They bring me immeasurable pleasure by virtue of their unconditional love (talking about dogs here), their individuality, their intelligence and their companionship. They don’t have hard lives but they also don’t get to do whatever they feel like either. From where I sit it looks like they have a pretty good deal.

I dislike zoos. Most of my reasoning is similar to Henry David Thoreau’s reasons for disliking museums - their displays are hollow shells of the real things. I’ve worked with wild marine mammals and I really don’t like aquaria that put them on display. Anybody who would take a killer whale or a beluga from the wild and put it on display in what amounts to a largeish swimming pool is clueless at best and that’s a charitable read. Yeah, some zoos take a role in captive breeding of endangered species. They also provide the social context for grotesques like Joe Exotic to do what they do. And let’s be clear, the captive breeding business is a relatively new thing for most zoos and largely an effort to repair a really tawdry reputation earned over many years of displaying wildlife in appalling conditions. Some are definitely better than others. Captive breeding is needed in some instances but the standard model sucks.

I eat some kinds of fish, some kinds of invertebrates, haploid versions of some other kinds of vertebrates and dairy. Mostly I eat vegetables (I have a thing for curries). I pay a lot of attention to where things come from. There is no single reason but dislike of factory farming is on the list. I’m not dogmatic about it; I’ve been offered meat dishes by Indigenous elders and eaten them rather than appear ungrateful (I would not know what muskrat tastes like if I hadn’t). It’s just a personal choice.

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Having lived in Ecuador for a while, the story about the amphibians there is just so sad. Some species only seem to only have survived up to now, because scientists and conservationist went into the wild and collected as many species as possible before the chytrid fungi erraticated them. Some are only alive in the lab now. At the moment, plans to release them again in the wild seem hopeless. But loosing hope is no solution. Maybe at some point CRISPR or protein-Switches or whatever will provide a solution to prepare those species for being released. Until then, I think it is good, that the world did not just watch them die, but tried something, even if it means keeping them.

…Similar stories can be told for other species/animal groups.

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I was vegetarian for a while, but with three small kids I didn’t want to impose my beliefs on them. I ended up making two or three dishes for each meal, so decided to stop. I now live with a confirmed carnivore, and I’m not going to sway her. So, practicalities!

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I am fundamentally opposed to the idea of species subservience. I would expound further, but i now have to get ready for church. Maybe on the way i’ll drop off my taxes.

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“Having dominion”. I think the concept of dominion has always been misunderstood. I believe Jesus showed us the true example of dominion when he washed the feet of his disciples. i.e. although they called him “master”, his responsibility as master was one of a caretaker over those under his dominion. An example he set for them (and us) to follow.

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This is a mile off topic and I hesitate to get into a theological discussion, however interesting and central to arguments about the place of animals in culture and the law, but for the sake of clarity:

  1. Dominion means to have power over but it is anyway a translation and;
  2. The original Hebrew text is variously translated as let them have dominion over, let them rule over, let them subdue and rule over, etc.

There have been arguments about the precise meanings of this and other Biblical passages about animals since the early days of the church. For example, Francis of Assisi had a well-developed theology concerning animal souls that was much less absolute about these things than the prevailing orthodoxy that has been in place since Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas incorporated the Aristotelian hierarchy of living things into a Christian Great Chain of Being with humans below angels and everything else below humans. Aquinas was unequivocal that animals were “enslaved” (his description) for the use of humans and that interpretation has prevailed largely unscathed through Schism, Reformation, Enlightenment and everything else thrown at it until very recently. It is the Thomist view (as Aquinas’ theology is referred to for some reason) that is enshrined in the legal frameworks for dealing with animal welfare in most, if not all, Western nations.

On the other hand, I like your idea better.

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Cape Town is currently locked in a Thomas versus Francis battle about our problem animals which are getting in the way of development. ‘We’ prefer to replace fynbos and baboons with must have more vineyards.

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I watch Jack Hanna and he is a big part of Columbus Ohio’s Zoo where they do rehab and keep animals there that can’t go back out in the wild. They teach about these wild animals in hopes, as many zoos, rehab facilities, etc., do, that all people of all ages will learn and come to respect and do all they can to keep the wildlife we have. Last year we lost 3 billion birds. That’s just birds! We think we’re at the top of the food chain and smartest…oh no!
As far as fur family, it is NOT just a perception. If you’ve had pets like I’ve had, you’d know. I still “see” them and feel them around me. They are amazing.

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Ever since I went vegetarian, I find zoos too depressing. None of them provide the animals with enough room.

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