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Can we say we 'own' our pets?

One concept I struggle with is the idea of pet ownership.

That we can own a pet seems at the face of it be normal. There’s pet shops, and perhaps the word ownership could inspire responsibility. You look after your car, so why wouldn’t you look after your pet?

But it is my argument that to talk about pet ownership only ends up commoditising animals, and this is inherently wrong, but equally at odds with a truth that we all know but can fail to notice - that animal life actually matters and is not a commodity.

Please hear that I’m not saying that having pets in your home is wrong, but rather that to see yourself as the owner of another creature is a problem.

The word ‘own’ is imbued with a significant amount of capitalistic entitlement, and it’s only because we bought into a capitalist worldview that we can believe that things can be owned. Many cultures didn’t believe in ownership of land or animals or other people. Perhaps a good reminder of the problems with colonial entitlement comes from Eddie Izzard's ‘do you have a flag?’, except in the case I am putting forward, it’s ‘do you have a lead?’

It is quite clear that our relationships with pets and other animals transcends the relationships we have with commodities. Animals have something that commodities don’t.

Firstly they have the ability to make choices. They can choose to chase a stick or not, they can choose to sit next to you or not, they can choose whether to show love and trust or not. They can’t be controlled like other commodities. For example, my car doesn’t choose whether it trusts me.

Secondly they have unique personalities, which don’t come from our ability to ascribe traits to them. Pets have a personality that is uniquely their own. It grows both as a result of nature and nurture, and it exists independent of the human 'owner'. Whereas commodities clearly don't have personalities (except my phone which *literally* hates me).

Thirdly, and perhaps most telling that the language of ownership is at odds with our hidden beliefs, animals have the ability to make us cry. When a pet dies we show that actually the relationship was not one of a commodity, but one of real love. If animals really are commodities, we wouldn’t be any more concerned with their deaths than we are with burnt toast.
So then, if we can agree that animals are not simply commodities for our enjoyment, but fellow creatures we would be wise to not use language of ownership. To talk about owning a fellow creature, really does remind me of the language used in slavery

Perhaps a more fitting language would be one of relationship and of family. Perhaps we can see ourselves not as owning a pet, but living alongside another creature who enriches our lives but also has its life enriched by us.

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