Upcoming Talk: “Doing Right by Our Animal Companions”

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The Department of Philosophy, as part of the Philosophy Colloquium, invites you to attend to:

by Katherine Wayne (Queen’s University)
Time: Thursday, January 22, 2015 at 4:00pm
Location: Watson Hall, Room 517
Title: “Doing Right by Our Animal Companions:  Does Preventing Reproduction Make for Bad Care?


It is often taken for granted that a strong drive to reproduce is a basic feature of all animal life. Given this assumption, ongoing frustration of this drive should be recognized as generally bad for animals. Yet it is also taken for granted that some sexually reproducing animals (including most companion animals) are correctly subjected to routine sterilization, with the aim of preventing their reproduction as well as curtailing sexual behaviours. In fact, agreement to sterilize one’s companion animal is generally a criterion of adoption eligibility and encouraged by veterinarians.  Apart from work with a narrow focus on reconciling the practice of sterilization with a non-speciesist animal rights paradigm, the deep tension between these assumptions has received little attention in debates concerning the appropriate treatment of companion animals and in the animal ethics literature more broadly. I submit a proposal for how to interpret the human duty of care to companion animals in regards to reproduction. Having taken on direct responsibility for our companion animals, it hangs on us to set in place conditions for their flourishing and to encourage their responsible citizenship within the polis. I suggest that because nothing need be lost in terms of flourishing opportunities when a companion animal is prevented from bringing new beings in the world, and because such prevention may indeed supply individual flourishing opportunities as well as offering new avenues for contributing to the flourishing of others, good care for companion animals may be compatible with preventing them from reproducing. Nonetheless, justifiable preventive efforts will include significant qualifications. It may be callous to remove companion animals’ opportunities to pursue activities associated with reproduction that do contribute to flourishing, and it is certainly callous to prevent reproduction in a way that instrumentalizes one’s companion animal or is harmful to them.