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Companion Animal Ethics: A Special Area of Moral Theory and Practice?

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Abstract

Considerations of ethical questions regarding pets should take into account the nature of human-pet relationships, in particular the uniquely combined features of mutual companionship, quasi-family-membership, proximity, direct contact, privacy, dependence, and partiality. The approaches to ethical questions about pets should overlap with those of animal ethics and family ethics (and, for veterinary issues, with healthcare ethics), and so need not represent an isolated field of enquiry, but rather the intersection of those more established fields. This intersection, and the questions of how we treat our pets, present several unique concerns and approaches for focused examination.

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Notes

  1. This paper will not consider companion animals that are also kept as utility animals (e.g. assistance dogs or as assisted therapy) or farmed (e.g. dogs farmed for meat in some countries) or the use of ex-pets in research or population control of unowned animals, although these topics may be related contingently and conceptually.

    Nor will it consider animals farmed in domestic smallholdings or “hobby farms”.

  2. Pets are a subset of the set of nonhuman animals (ignoring the possibility that we are someone’s pets). This subset is not biologically defined, insofar as ‘companion animals’ is not a category that maps onto any biological clade. While many are within mammalia, squamata and the paraphyletic group of fish (particularly Actinopterygii), pets can come from all animal groups, including amphibians and invertebrates.

  3. This paper does not explicitly consider inter-specific sexual acts, which constitute another range of human-pet relationships that requires norms and laws

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the Jeanne Marchig Trust and Hong Kong SPCA for funding a public lecture on this topic.

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Yeates, J., Savulescu, J. Companion Animal Ethics: A Special Area of Moral Theory and Practice?. Ethic Theory Moral Prac 20, 347–359 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10677-016-9778-6

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