How do PETA members justify keeping pets?

Vegan Diet: "It's Immoral to Keep Pets"

Law professors Gary Francione and Anna Charlton are adamant in their views: They compare domestic dogs to slaves - and call for radical protection for all animals. A combative interview

GEO: You have six dogs, but you argue that humans shouldn't keep dogs. How does that fit together?

Gary L. Francione (pulls a mongrel onto his lap): This is Duncan. Somebody broke his jaw, taped his mouth shut and slowly starved him to death. When he was found he was almost dead. All of our dogs are from the shelter.

Anna E. Charlton: We have become experts in nursing abused dogs.

GF: We like dogs, but we are against keeping dogs because it is wrong to domesticate animals. However, there are billions of them, and millions of them are killed every year. So it is also our moral duty to take care of them.

Even if I treat my dogs well, do you think dog ownership is immoral?

AC: When you have been rescued from a shelter, it's like taking in refugees. But there is no reason to breed dogs for our entertainment or as companions. Millions of dogs and cats are killed each year in America alone.

But you are not only opposing this cruelty, you are fundamentally denying people the right to keep an animal.

GF: Because animals shouldn't be property; nobody should own them. They are considered a "thing" before the law. When the dogs get too much for us, nobody can stop me from having them euthanized. Because they are mine, I could give them zero value and kill them if I pleased.

In Germany it is illegal to kill a healthy dog.

GF: In Germany I could take him to an animal shelter. But people will never understand the moral problem with keeping pets as long as they eat animals and thus participate in animal exploitation.

You live vegan. Do you remember the last time you had a steak or cheese?

GF: I loved ice cream and it was probably the last dairy product I ate in 1982. At the time, I didn't think a vegan lifestyle was healthy. I chose to do this because I believed it was morally right, and the health of my soul was more important to me than that of my body. We have been vegan for 35 years now and I have the energy of a 25 year old. But I keep hearing: where do you get your protein from? Don't you feel weak

You compare anyone who is not vegan with the American football star Michael Vick; he delighted in pounding and killing dogs. Is a man who eats cheese morally comparable to a man who torments dogs?

GF: There are psychological differences, but not moral ones. Most people judge Michael Vick for causing pain to dogs, to the point of death. His only justification for this was that he enjoyed the fight for entertainment. Most of us believe that it is reprehensible to cause pain to an animal if there is no reasonable reason to do so, and pleasure, entertainment, or convenience are not reasonable reasons. It is estimated that we kill around 60 billion animals a year for consumption, plus more than a trillion fish and other aquatic animals. That means: We inflict suffering on animals for our enjoyment and kill them.

Why is it not enough to be a vegetarian?

GF: To get milk, you have to take the calf from a cow. It's traumatic for both of them. The cow is caught in a vicious cycle of exploitation, is constantly milked, and after five or six years it ends up in the slaughterhouse. Usually she could live to be around 30 years old. The laying hen industry is terrible, whether it's conventional or cage-free. That system is torture.

Nor would you eat eggs that free-range chickens have laid on the family farm?

GF: No. Animals and their offspring are not there to be eaten. Chickens don't like having their eggs taken away from them. And they are bred to lay far more eggs than they would naturally. But most eggs are not produced on idyllic farms anyway, but in terrible laying batteries. I don't understand how people call themselves animal lovers, but then they eat eggs, organic ham or drink “ahimsa” milk, which means “non-violent” milk. This is complete nonsense!

Aristotle said animals exist to serve people. Christians can argue that Jesus himself helped fishermen catch fish. Almost all world religions grant humans the right to rule over animals.

GF: The Bible isn't exactly a great blueprint for morality. It also says that adulterers should be stoned. The Old Testament in particular is a very cruel book. Aristotle believed that animals existed for the benefit of humans because they were not rational. Well, he didn't think women and slaves were sensible either! Even utilitarians like Jeremy Bentham and Peter Singer say that even though animals are not rational, we cannot ignore the suffering of animals.

Jeremy Bentham was one of the first animal rights activists in the 18th century to deduce the duty to protect animals from the pain perception of animals. Like Peter Singer, he believes in goal-oriented ethics and derives from this the right to kill animals if it serves the common good.

GF: Bentham and Singer assume that killing does not harm animals because they are unaware of themselves. Singer might think that elephants or great apes have a sense of self, but a chicken certainly doesn't. From this he deduces that we will not harm them too much as long as we let them lead a reasonably happy life and kill them reasonably humanely. Unfortunately, this has become the dominant view of the animal welfare movement. I distinguish between the real animal welfare movement, which aims to eliminate all animal abuse, and the animal welfare movement. It pretends to be morally justifiable to exploit animals if it is made as “humane” as possible.

AC: At our local butcher hangs a poster that says: "You're buying a good portion of compassion with your steak."

And what about rights for bacteria? They are living beings too.

GF: Of course there are differences. A chimpanzee is different from a dog. But: Both are living beings and we shouldn't use them as resources. I am not suggesting that humans and animals have the same moral worth. I am only talking about one right: the right not to be property. As soon as one recognizes this one right, one must abolish all institutional exploitation of animals. And bacteria are not sentient beings. I don't know if mollusks have feelings. Some studies suggest this and others do not. So I don't eat them. I don't know if insects have feelings either, but just to be on the safe side I don't walk on grass so I don't accidentally step on them. I try not to drive a car when it rains because then we have a lot of frogs on the streets and it is almost impossible not to run over them. But I know for sure that the animals we exploit the most are sentient beings: cows, pigs, chickens, fish, lobsters.

I noticed a greeting from the Jainas on your website, followers of the ancient Indian religion that advocates nonviolence and animal welfare. Do you feel close to the Jainas?

GF: Yes, I believe that non-violence is the highest moral principle. Jainas are often vegetarians and even wear masks to avoid accidentally inhaling an animal. But most people are more familiar with religions and philosophies that allow people the right to eat animals.

AC: Philosophers like Pythagoras or Empedocles spoke out against killing animals. But many of these thinkers have been forgotten because people want to eat meat. It happens to us all the time: we talk about this topic and people say, oh, don't tell me this or I won't like dinner any more. Exactly! If we realize what is on our plate, then it no longer tastes good. I am an optimist. Society speaks out against injustice that occurs because of race, gender, religion. Animals are the next large group that will be the focus of attention.
Not all people everywhere in the world can live a healthy vegan lifestyle.

GF: For the sake of the argument, let's assume that eating animal products is actually a matter of life and death for some people. Then it would still be morally unacceptable, but it would be excusable. It's the same when I am stranded on a desert island with no plants and kill a rabbit. That would also be morally wrong, but I would understand why you do that.

Doesn't this argument also apply to a Tibetan in the barren heights of the Himalayas?

AC: Well, the animals also eat plants, so it has to be possible to grow something there. Once you obey the moral imperative, it is amazing what is possible!

Should the Tibetans eat hay?

AC: The argument with the Tibetans and the starving children in the Sahara is usually thrown into the discussion in order to strangle them. The fact is: Everyone who reads this interview can live vegan. We advocate converting the entire production of food, because plants can actually feed all of humanity.

GF: In the so-called food deserts it is indeed difficult to get fresh things. But rice and beans are everywhere. Maybe the choices are more limited, but that doesn't mean you can't be vegan. You have to educate better! We have therefore started an information and mentoring program for people who want to eat vegan. The ignorance about nutrition is enormous. Because the animal exploitation industry has done an incredible job of persuading, many think that they can only live healthily with animal products. The many men who tell me they don't feel manly if they don't eat meat ...

You can't forbid people to eat meat. You have to convince them. Do you really believe that if you equate meat consumption with torture methods like waterboarding, you can do that?

GF: I exist to provoke. A few facts: The production of one kilogram of animal protein consumes a hundred times more water than the production of one kilogram of vegetable protein. The animal industry in America feeds seven times the amount of grain that all Americans consume combined. That grain could feed 840 million people in America alone. We urgently need to feed the growing world population. The animal industry is also an ecological disaster. If you want to do something against global warming, you have to eat vegan. Those who love animals have to be vegan. Those who love people have to be vegan.

But again, how do you think you can convince people?

GF: I usually ask people a simple question: do you have a dog? - Yes. - do you love your dog? - Yes, he's part of my family. - What is the difference between your dog and the pig you eat for dinner? That's how I get people to think.

For the first time, meat consumption is falling in the US, and that's also thanks to the animal rights movement. Why do you of all people fight the animal rights activists bitterly?

GF: If you have a slave, is it better you hit him nine times a week instead of ten? Should I advertise to beat slaves less or should I campaign for the abolition of slavery? I've worked with the animal welfare movement for decades, with organizations like PETA or the Humane Society, but all they've achieved is sell people the idea that they can do the wrong thing right. They pretend it's okay to be a vegetarian or to cut back on meat consumption. A great example of confused thinking!

Animal rights activists don't promote eating meat. They build a bridge for people: those who find it difficult to go without meat can start eating less.

GF: Less suffering is better, sure, but it's still morally wrong to contribute to suffering. The animal welfare activists do not understand this point. Ultimately, they are committed to exploiting animals more efficiently. When Ingrid Newkirk, the president of PETA, appears on a chicken farm's website and praises the “happy chickens”, I find it obscene. All of this is also business, organizations like PETA and the Humane Society need donations. If they accept veganism as a moral imperative, stop flowing money from people who don't like this demand. So they say: It's great that you are reducing your meat consumption! They give people a moral license. Animal welfare organizations have been around for over 200 years, the result is that we are torturing more animals today and in more horrific ways than ever before in history. We make people dumb when we tell them there is a right way to do wrong.

Any chicken that is not in a tight cage suffers less. Every meatless Monday ...

GF: Ha! Meat-free assembly! On these days people load their plates full of eggs and cheese!

On a meatless Monday, a person can learn to love vegan dishes and discover that they can live without meat. It's all a development, a process!

GF: Not being a racist is also a process. But we are not promoting racism-free assembly.

That's not a good analogy. The abolition of slavery was also a process until a majority accepted that slaves are equal people and have equal rights.

AC: That is historically wrong. We did not reform slavery; I also don't believe that we can reform ourselves out of animal exploitation.

In both cases, you need a critical mass of people who say: That's enough!

AC: Absolutely! But that's exactly why we need groups that advocate veganism.

GF: If we put all these millions that the animal welfare movement has raised into the veganism movement, we would have abolished animal torture long ago, just like slavery.

You scare off many animal lovers with your black and white painting.

GF: For me there is only black or white on some issues because there is no right moral behavior in wrong. We are also not reforming rape or child abuse.

AC: There are some things you can't do in a nice way. Go to a "humane" slaughterhouse: that's not pretty, the word humane is inappropriate. It's a fairy tale that things don't get too bad there.

Can you use animals in medical research that might produce a cure for cancer or Alzheimer's?

GF: No. The best way to find medicines for people is to try them on people. I wouldn't use animals for this, even if we can find a cure for cancer.

Is there any use made of animals that you do not judge? Am I allowed to harness my horse, which I treat well, to a carriage from time to time?

GF: No, I am against the use of domesticated animals. I also don't believe that guide dogs should be trained for the blind. We have to develop more resources for the disabled, new technologies such as self-driving cars, then they no longer need service animals.

Many guide dogs love their job and enable their owners to lead an independent life.

GF: I know how these dogs are trained.

Me too.

GF: They don't have a happy life, they have a terrible life. They have to withstand noise, always be on duty, they are no longer allowed to be dogs, but always have to be there for their people.

Wrong, they are not on duty around the clock, they are trained in how to deal with the various situations and prepared to remain calm even in the presence of street noise.

GF: There should be no guide dogs, no sniffer dogs and no ridden horses. They suffer terribly when they are broken into ...

You are undermining your position if you always bring up the worst possible case. There are bad coaches and there are good ones. For me it follows that we need more information and better training. And not that every workout is immoral.

GF: I don't force anyone to accept my position. I don't spend my time protesting guide dogs. I also don't go to restaurants and yell at people who are eating a steak that they are Nazis, as some animal rights activists do.

But if you compare animal husbandry with slavery and even argue against the fact that a blind person trains a guide dog, are you not only advocating abolition of slavery, but also - to stay in the picture - against employing a black housekeeper?

GF: No. Because an adult may or may not agree to the work, but a dog cannot. You can make it all very complicated or you can see it very simply: You have to become a vegan, that's all. We have to put every ounce of energy, every brain cell, every penny into spreading veganism. People say that is not practical. It's the only thing that works.

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