Responsibility

| 22 Comments

I have some things to say about responsibility.

Our foster dog, Bridget, is suffering from a tick-borne virus. It's not (usually) fatal. It's being treated with antibiotics. She will most likely be fine, after a lengthy time-and-money intensive treatment.

However, it seems a bit suspicious whenever a dog who has obviously been someone's pet shows up at the pound and isn't claimed. Especially in smaller towns. The likelihood that the dog was dumped seems much higher. And when the dog has an illness that's expensive to treat, it seems even higher.

In other news, an acquaintance of mine has a lovely pit mix. She's going to give her away, or surrend her to the pound, or have her put down (hopefully not the latter). Why? Because she's "too hard to handle" has "too much energy" and training is "too expensive."

Newsflash, assholes. When you adopt a pet into your life, you are responsible for that pet. Even if it's hard to handle. Even if it's expensive. Even if it's inconvenient. Even if your circumstances change.

I am not planning to have children. There are a whole bunch of reasons for that, but one of the big ones is that I am not sure I'm willing make the kind of sacrifices good parents make. I'm not sure I'm willing to have other people always come first. I'm not sure I'm willing to keep a job I don't like because I have someone to support. I'm not sure I'm willing to wear the same shoes for years, or be sleep deprived, or eat out only at kid-friendly restaurants. And because I'm not sure I'm willing to do these things, I shouldn't have kids.

It's the same deal with pets. If I'm not willing to pay vet bills--even big, nasty ones, and take training classes--even expensive ones that are at inconvenient times, and curtail where I choose to live, and do a million other things, I shouldn't adopt a pet. No pet. Because when you take responsibility for a creature that depends on your for it's life, it's food, it's medical care, everything, you need to make a commitment to see that creature through thick and thin. A bigger commitment than marriage, in my opinion--when you get married, you aren't promising to take care of someone who can't take care of themselves. It's not a commitment "until something more interesting comes along" or "until it gets too expensive" or "until I decide I don't really like this breed after all." It is--or should be--a lifetime commitment. And not just a commitment to do barely enough to get by--a commitment to take care of that pet the way you'd want to be taken care of if you depended on someone else for everything.

There are a lot of relationships in our lives that we can't choose. We have (I believe) responsibility to people that we didn't necessarily sign on for--our parents are an example of this. Those are tough situations, in which we have to do the right thing, even if it sucks for us, and there was nothing we could have done to avoid it. However, most of the things and people and creatures for which we are responsible are within our control--including and especially kids and pets. And if you can't or won't take care of them properly, then you shouldn't have them. Period.

Nobody is a perfect parent, or a perfect pet owner. However, there's a difference between the occasional fuck-up and discarding the creature in your care when the going gets rough. And, as far as I'm concerned, the latter is just about unforgivable.

22 Comments

I mostly agree with you, but I think it's the difference between thinking of animals as and object or a living thing. When I buy a plant and it dies, no one gets mad at me, even though it was living because I OWNED it, and it was mine to do what I want with. Likewise, because people BUY animals, they own them and get to do what they want with them. I think I feel equally in each direction mainly because I have seen a million dumb hippies buy a dog and neglect it, knowing full well the second they bought it that they were never going to treat it right. And that's BS. I am not for needless injuring of animals. On the other hand, many people buy their animals all the luxuries in the world, but keep them locked inside all day. They're not strictly mistreating them, but why buy an animal if you can't let them run outside all day? I am not judging here, I am just saying where does a person's inconvenience for a living object they bought stop? And why if I buy a cow, get tired of it and kill it should that be fine, but a dog not?

For the most part, I agree with you, Grace. I also disagree with most of Jenny's post. I didn't "buy" my dogs. I paid fees to two rescue organizations to help defray the costs they'd incurred in caring for the dogs until I showed up. In any case, pets aren't like a lamp or a new pair of shoes or even a plant, which, last time I checked, isn't a sentient being with a capacity for suffering. When you agree to take an animal into your home, you are agreeing to be RESPONSIBLE for it and take care of it, not subject it to your whim of whether you feel like being a fucking human being where they are concerned on any particular day. It think this is a big reason why "adoption" language now prevails these transactions, esp. in rescue situations, to get away from this mistaken "ownership" paradigm. The need to move away from this paradigm is so necessary that I don't get offended by "adoption language" with regard to pets, even though I'm an adoptive parent of a human and according to some folks I should be insulted. I also disagree that leaving a dog in the house is necessarily abusive, though I do feel extended crating can be problematic. At least one of my dogs is in the house (not in a crate) most of the time. He's a Pyrenees. It's hot in Texas a good part of the year, and he prefers being indoors with the A/C. Indeed, he was surrendered because his previous family kept him outdoors all the time and he was miserable. (Pyrs like to be with their people.) Our other dog likes being outside more, but until we moved to our new home, we kept her inside (again, not crated) when we'd leave because otherwise she'd dig out and be hit by a car or get lost. (For some reason she hasn't tried to escape the new yard, so it is no longer an issue. As long as it isn't TOO hot or raining, she can stay outdoors if she so wishes.) I think a lot of people just don't think about how much responsibility having a pet entails. They're selfish and focus on how cute the dog is and how fun it will be to have the companionship--they don't look at a furry face and do the math of how much simple flea/tick prevention and heartworm tabs are going to cost them, much less consider how much basic training or even a medical emergency could set them back. No one is entitled to have a pet. If you can't care for it properly, don't get one.

Siobhan, I think you misunderstood me! Or perhaps I phrased it poorly. We agree that people SHOULD be responsible with animals, but in reality there is nothing implicit when you get an animal that makes people be that way. When you buy or pay fees for an animal, you DON'T sign up for responsibility in the same way you don't sign up for responsibility when you have kids. Should you be responsible? YES. But in our society currently, animals are things most people buy in the same way you buy crap at Target you might throw out in a year or two. I don't think leaving dogs in the house is necessarily bad EITHER, my point is, most dog owners think that's a completely acceptable way to ignore their dogs a few hours a day. So where do you draw that line b/t acceptable and unacceptable? Some people think it's fine to jettison animals at a point in their lives when they can't accomodate them....which is a more extreme version of leaving them for hours, days or weeks. My point was not to condemn people who leave their dogs all day, but to say what makes that okay and not the other? Because you do one and someone else does the other? I think you're right that a lot of people don't think about the responsibility a pet takes, but I think it's more that people think pets are a commodity like anything else--a book, silverware, plastic doohickeys, etc. You may think they aren't but to people who aren't that into animals they are. We use animals every day as objects for convenience (i.e. I don't care about chickens, and their death is convenient and tasty to me). So again, what makes it okay to use sentient things as widgets of convenience in one situation and not in the other? I am not condemning, but honestly asking.

Oh, I see. Sorry I misread you. That will teach me to multitask.

I'm currently very angry at someone in my life who I feel is being incredibly irresponsible with their pet. She was given a pit/mastiff mix puppy last year and never got her spayed or trained her. Now she is likely pregnant by a rottweiler. It doesn't look like she's taking the three week window of opportunity to still get her spayed. If you don't have time/money to spay/train one dog - why the hell are you letting her have puppies? I'm so incredibly mad that I really think this dog would have been better off if she had gone to a shelter. Though I usually agree that the owner needs to step up to the plate and take care of their pets for their whole lives (pet's life that is), I just don't get why you'd keep a pet and then act so irresponsible/ignorant/just plain stupid. Irresponsible owners piss me off.

Ouch, Bea, that's a big problem. Particularly given those breeds. What is she planning to do with those pups? Jenny, I actually agree with you re: pets as commodities. It's one of the approx 1,000,000 reasons I don't think pets should be sold for profit.

I echo Jenny's question about the rationale for having different standards for different types of animals. I see the plant/animal difference that Siobhan pointed out (animals, being sentient, deserve special status over plants), but that doesn't help me understand the cow/dog or chicken/dog differences that some of you seem to apply. Not that any of you are advocating any type of animal abuse, but there seems to be the opinion here that some sorts of animals are disposable while others are not (as Jenny pointed out). I don't mean to beat a dead horse here (har har), but I brought up that question a month or so ago when we last talked about dogs' rights, and it wasn't really answered. I just wonder if you've given it any more thought.

The distinction is arbitrary. We socialize some animals as pets while others are for food, or labor. But if you decided you wanted a cow as a pet, I'd think you had a responsibility to properly care for it, too. It's not so much about what type of animal as it it about responsibility to take care of something dependant that is in your charge.

Just curious: if you can't afford a pet's medical costs, what should you do?

"When I buy a plant and it dies, no one gets mad at me" Sometimes when I buy a plant and it dies, I get mad at it.

In my opinion, you should do the same thing you'd do if you were sick. Find a way. Take out some debt. Get a loan. Whatever. The larger issue, though, is why you have a pet in the first place if you don't have the means--either in the form of savings or of credit or something-- for a medical emergency. Most pets--like most people--will have one eventually. What were you planning to do? What you should NOT do, IMO, is get rid of that pet, either by abandonment or by killing it, and get a healthier one.

As usual, Grace, I agree with everything you say regarding pets.

Canopy, I also get mad at the plant. Damn you Chia herb garden! I think you should hesitate before writing off the difference as arbitrary, Grace. If the difference is arbitrary, you have no right to be angry in one case and not in another. It weakens your case. There clearly is SOME distinction. I wish I knew though!

"why you have a pet in the first place if you don't have the means--either in the form of savings or of credit or something-- for a medical emergency. " This is such unmitigated bullshit. Caring people worry about this stuff and make judgment calls the best they can. Uncaring people won't take care of a pet properly no matter how much money they have. If you want to compare pets and kids, try this one on for size: plenty of poor people are able to parent just fine, thank you, and don't need lectures about how maybe they should have gotten a better credit score and/or a bigger savings account before getting pregnant. Or, horrors, pregnant again. I live next to a very nice woman, on welfare, in public housing, with multiple children AND a sweet gray cat named Gert. I'm glad she has all of them. They all seem happy and well-fed. More than that, it's really not my business to question why she thinks she deserves kids and cats (or, hey, love!) since she's in desperate financial straits. WTF.

Hang on, hang on. The red flag of this post is in the third sentence. Why is a viral infection being treated with an antibiotic? This may foster the growth of bacteria that are resistant to that antibiotic, and that would be detrimental to the whole canine population, not to mention your dogs. "why [do] you have a pet in the first place if you don't have the means--either in the form of savings or of credit or something-- for a medical emergency. " The Wisconsin Humane Society estimates the annual cost of cat ownership to be in the range of $360-$725. When your neighbor was thinking about getting a cat, did she carefully weigh the benefits against the drawbacks? If not, then she made an irresponsible decision; it's not like the costs of pet ownership are any big secret. There may come a day when that cat is sick, and she can't take care of it becasue of limited funds. It sucks for her, and it sucks for the cat, and it's a situation that could have been avoided by avoiding cat-ownership. You are describing a person who is in 'desperate finincial straits,' and yet choses to spend money on a cat that could be used toward getting out of those straits. That sounds irresponsible to me.

If you think $65/mo could really ease a modern American's financial straits, I doubt you understand very much about poverty. Luckily, it's not up to you to determine what's ir/responsible.

I wrote a long comment about this last week, saying something similar to what Funnie has now posted, but Blogger wasn't interested in allowing me to post it. Basically, I find it incredibly offensive to suggest that poor people shouldn't be allowed to have kids. And I think that suggesting that poor people shouldn't have pets is not much different.

I'm sorry you find it offensive. I find unncessarily dead pets offensive. Look, I'm not saying anyone needs to be rich to own a pet. However, I do think that it's irresponsible to knowingly take on a dependant creature if you don't have a way to pay for that creature's care.

Well, it really depends on how you determine "care." You've said that you don't consider the most expensive brands of dog food to be luxuries, so should everyone who can't afford the most expensive brands of dog food abstain from owning pets? Unfortunately, it happens all the time that people find themselves suddenly unable to care for a pet or a child or other major life expenses. What matters is how you deal with the situation. You really don't think it's offensive to suggest that poor people shouldn't have children? Regarding giving up a pet when "the going gets rough:" People do that with children too, all the time. Especially fetuses (e.g. after prenatal testing suggests or diagnoses Down syndrome) but also children who are living and breathing outside of someone's uterus. And I don't think that's necessarily morally reprehensible. I know first-hand that caring for a child with special needs can be rough. It's not for everyone. Ditto caring for a sick or dangerous pet. I think it's better to give the children or pets to someone who can love and care for them rather than to keep the children or pets out of a sense of duty but not treat them well at all.

I actually agree with you. Unfortunately, what I am talking about is mostly not giving up pets to people who can care for them properly. I'm talking about abandoning or killing them. Which is what happens, in reality. Not all the time, but too much of the time. As I mentioned, I'm currently caring for a dog for whom that was likely the case. Her people dumped her at a kill shelter when she got sick. That's intolerable. Of course I think it's offensive to say that poor people shouldn't have kids (or, for that matter, pets). I didn't say that poor people shouldn't have kids, or that they shouldn't have pets. I said that people shouldn't take on dependant creatures they know they won't be able to provide with base level care. I grew up poor and taken care of. I know it's possible. And no, I don't consider premium dog food a must, though I think that you should feed your pets the best food you can afford. However, I do consider basic medical care a necessity. For the children of the very poor, there are ways to get that necessary care without money (to rapdily disappearing extents). For pets, there aren't, or mostly aren't. That's the problem I see with having pets as opposed to having kids. If you have kids and they have a medical emergency, you can get them treated, even if it requires going into debt--treatment isn't going to be refused unless you pay up front. For pets, that's not the situation.

"I find unncessarily dead pets offensive." It's certainly sad. But since, IIRC, you eat meat and support hunting, I really don't understand where you get off being OFFENDED by an animal dying a humane death - arguably more humane than the wildlife or livestock deaths you remain unoffended by. Valuing animals not because of any inherent worth of their own, but according to their role in YOUR life (food or friend) is one thing when you limit this thinking TO your life. When you extrapolate that society is irresponsible and heartless if it does not draw the same arbitrary distinctions you do about when it's OK to be influenced by your economic reality when deciding whether to kill an animal vs. when it's completely unacceptable, YOU are most definitely the offender.

The difference, to my way of thinking, is in whether you take something on as a pet or as food. I guess it's sort of about commitment? When you adopt a pet with the understanding that the pet is a part of your family now, and then don't treat it as such, that's what I find offensive. That's different than the human relationship with livestock or wild animals. Which isn't to say that I don't agree there's a large degree of hypocricy to my feeling the way I do about dogs and still eating meat. There most certainly is.

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