Living with companion animals has not worked out and it needs to be re-evaluated

Cat and dog domestication scrutinized
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Some people think that it is time to give up our cats and dogs as it is unethical and their domestication not worked out well. It’s time to end it. This would apply to other animals as well. It’s a whopping suggestion. It’s probably entirely impractical seeing as there are probably up to 500 million domestic cats and a similar number of feral cats on the planet across all the countries. You can’t put a stop to that and Covid-19 provoked a surge in pet ownership in the West at least because people wanted companionship during those long lockdowns.

An article in The Guardian states that there are pets in 70% of American households. As I recall, cat and dog ownership rose by about 10 or more percent in the UK after and during Covid. Millions of cats and dogs were added to the domestic animal stock of the country living in people’s homes.

The Guardian article mentions the life of a pet parrot owned by Troy Vetese. Troy feels guilty because he understands that his parrot needs to be entertained all the time and he can’t do it. He believes that she would be happier living a natural life in the forest. I’ve always been flabbergasted by the sight of parrots and other birds in cages inside homes. Intelligent animals confined to a tiny space in a sterile environment. That can’t be right and yet people do it all over the world as if it’s entirely normal.

It is a human-centric viewpoint which brings us to perhaps the central aspect of this discussion namely that people keep companion dogs and cats (and birds) for their company and entertainment. The prime mover in the domestic cat and dog project is people. They run the show. They keep them indoors a lot more than in the past for their companion animals’ safety they argue but the underlying reason is peace of mind for the pet owner. Like I said the domestic cat and dog world is run, managed and instigated by people.

And because people are in charge it goes wrong and it has gone wrong. I mentioned in the first paragraph the fact that there are an estimated 500 million feral cats on the planet. Everyone of those animals is a symptom of human failure in the domestication project. There should be no feral cats. They should all be in homes but because of human carelessness they are not. They live shortened and often miserable lives in the urban environment. Unless they are looked after by those wonderful ladies who operate TNR programs. TNR feral cats sometimes live lives that are better than those of domestic cats.

But the argument against cat and dog domestication is that people have screwed up. If we can’t do it properly, we shouldn’t do it at all. Perhaps the only perfect example of cat domestication was the very first domesticated wildcat unearthed with their owner in a grave in Cyprus. At that stage in the history of humankind, about 10,000 years ago, there are no feral cats and just one domestic cat. It has been downhill since because of the human’s propensity to screw up things.

Some people think that PETA, the animal-rights non-profit organisation, think that cat and dog domestication should be abolished but they are wrong. They don’t want to end cat and dog domestication and they don’t want to confiscate beloved well cared for companion animals. What they want is for people to take more responsibility in their relationship with companion animals. And this can take many forms such as reducing the overpopulation through more rigorous spaying and neutering.

I would like to briefly comment on spaying and neutering of cats and dogs. It is necessary. But the operation does point to the lopsided relationship between humans and animals. We don’t spay and neuter babies when they are born. That would be a ridiculous suggestion. It would be a cruel suggestion but we remove the reproductive organs of cats and dogs with aplomb without any concern whatsoever about its ethics.

We are desexing the animals making them in between female and male. It’s meant to improve their lives. But actually, it improves our lives. Like I said it’s a human run system. I argue that the male domestic cat is feminised in their appearance by removing their testes because of a lack of testosterone which gives the cat that masculine appearance which I love. All neutered male domestic cats are, in my view, slightly feminised in appearance and behaviour. That’s a consequence of cat domestication. I would argue that it’s another symptom of its failure but I guess most people wouldn’t agree with that.

To return to PETA, they see a lot of problems with cat and dog domestication. There is too much breeding of cats and dogs. Set against the unwanted cat and dog population which is enormous – as they end up in the more than 4000 shelters in America looking for a home – we have unscrupulous people creating more! We don’t need more cats and dogs. There is an argument to totally ban all cat/dog breeding until there are no longer any shelter cats and dogs. And then we could start perhaps breeding them again under careful control through nationwide regulations.

Yes, I’m discussing stuff in an absolute sense and in a way which will never happen in reality. But this is a theoretical discussion. There is a huge backyard, puppy and kitten farm industry in many countries selling, often, unhealthy and unsocialised animals, which is a very unpleasant negative aspect of cat and dog domestication. Another symptom of failure. These puppy/kitten mills are exploitative and abusive.

Far too many domestic cats and dogs are abused. They are vulnerable recipients of human aggression. When a human is angry and they want to strike out at the world, rather than hit another human they hit the cat or they kill the cat. The cat is a convenient recipient of human anger.

And because there are too many unwanted cats in the world, their value becomes zero in the eyes of many which facilitates cruelty towards them. Some people simply drive over them if they are on the road. Or they throw them away out of a vehicle’s window onto the road. Or they leave them beside the road. The road feature a lot in the world of unwanted domestic cats. More failure which would arguably support the ending of cat and dog domestication.

PETA says that “it would be in animals’ best interests if they were no longer bred to be dependent on humans”. They argue that “humans control every aspect of their lives”. They add that, “Cats yearn to scratch, climb, perch, and play. But they can’t satisfy these natural desires unless the people they depend on give them the opportunity to do so and they often don’t.”

I agree with that. And the problem is exacerbated by the move towards more full-time indoor cats. Domestic cats are becoming captive animals as if they are in a zoo and the environment which they are held captive is no better than a zoo in Pakistan; a sterile concrete place. I’ve deliberately singled out Pakistan because they have a bad reputation for the quality of their zoos.

But it’s true, too many people do not satisfy their cat’s natural desires and instincts. Jackson Galaxy, the well-known American cat behaviourist and television personality (and author), in his book Total Cat Mojo refers to the “raw cat within”. This is the wildcat under the surface of the domestic cat which needs to be satisfied. All domestic cat behaviour is that of the wildcat. But people see their domestic cat as a family member and a fluffy, friendly creature to decorate their home and entertain them. But they are living with a top-line predator anatomically designed and created through millions of years of evolution to kill animals. People forget it and it results in relinquishment to shelters or simple abandonment by the side of the road through a misplaced expectations and misunderstandings.

PETA remind me of other aspects of our relationship with companion cats which frankly disgusts me. The topmost gripe that I have is cat declawing. An utterly barbaric and unjustified and unnecessary brutal operation on vulnerable kittens to remove the distal phalanx of each toe of each forepaw for the convenience of the owner because they don’t want their luxury furniture being scratched. It’s ridiculous and if there is one symptom of domestic cat failure it is declawing.

Declawing cats is reducing a sentient being, a beautifully evolved predator into a fluffy plush toy. It’s modifying the cat’s anatomy to suit the human. If a human is frightened of a cat’s claws, they should not own a cat. Just don’t do it. Steer clear of them. You can’t and shouldn’t modify cats like you modify a car or a computer. But that’s how some people think about it and there are many millions of declawed cats in America. Each one is a failure in cat domestication. Each one is a beacon of disaster in this project. There is no greater signal of the failure of cat domestication than declawing. And it takes place in the country where domestic cats are the most popular.

The average cat owner does not want to read about what I’m writing here. They hate the idea of questioning cat and dog domestication. They don’t see it as anything other than a positive thing, a success. In many instances it is a success which brings me nicely to Nathan Winograd, another very well-known animal advocate in America.

His argument is that when it comes to cats and dogs, they chose to live with us. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement. He’s right in that the first domestic cats were the results of a mutual agreement. The cat wandered into a farmer’s yard in Syria somewhere about 10,000 years ago and hunted the mice and rodents on that farm and in return the farmer enjoyed their companionship and so a relationship was formed which flowered into cat domestication on a huge scale. To quote Nathan Winograd:

Dogs and cats want to live with us, chose to live with us, and should live with us given all the benefits humans bestow upon them, our proven potential for ongoing improvement, and our remarkable capacity for love.

Nathan Winograd

He’s written a book about it with his wife called Welcome Home. He adds:

Unlike other relationships between humans and animals, our relationship with cats and dogs is built primarily on mutual affection, not exploitation. Indeed, the relationships are decidedly one-sided, with humans doing all the work and animals not expected to do anything other than grace us with the pleasure of their company. Moreover, varying degrees of dependency exist in every relationship, including between people. When these relationships are based on love and built for mutual benefit, they aren’t necessarily wrong. Indeed, they are often necessary and beneficial.

Winograd

He argues that we can never end human-animal relationships. As I understand it, what he is saying, is that if we ended cat and dog domestication we would end up in some other relationship with some other animal. Perhaps realistically it wouldn’t be some other animal but cats and dogs again. The point is you can’t end cat and dog domestication. Winograd would argue that it is a natural development. It is now deeply embedded into human society. On that basis, what we can do is to improve human performance in the unwritten contract between cats and dogs and people.

But the problem, there, is that humankind won’t improve their performance and so will go on accepting all the bad things I’ve referred to. Nothing will change and indeed it might get worse because the human population is still growing rapidly on continents such as Africa. With more people there are more cats and dogs and therefore an increased opportunity for animal abuse. Negative thoughts I agree but I would argue realistic ones.

There is a theoretical argument for the ending of cat and dog domestication as illustrated but it won’t happen. The argument I would have is that we’ve turned the project into a failure through human neglect and negligence.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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