Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dog Haters

There have been some recent articles (here and here) about removing stray dogs from public spaces. The suggestion is that all dogs must have designated owners, who are then responsible for the dogs' actions. This may or may not be implementable in Indian cities, but the articles do have some asymmetric blind spots.

First, they start with the hidden assumption that the well-being of those to whom dogs are a nuisance trumps the well-being of those to whom the dogs are a benefit. An analogy given in one of the articles is that of a car:
Would it be just to enjoy the thrill of racing your BMW, yet not pay damages for breaking a 10-year-old kid’s leg in an unfortunate accident? No, it wouldn’t. And this is why parents’ associations don’t demand removal of all cars. Private property ensures costs and benefits are borne by the same person, encouraging citizens to behave with caution and due care.
Suppose we approach this from a different angle. One could equally well start with the assumption that the natural state of affairs is the presence of stray dogs and the happiness that people derive from it, and that if dogs are removed, those who demand their removal should be required to compensate others for the loss of emotional satisfaction. Dog haters (not taxpayers in general) should be exclusively required to pay for all expenses involved in removing dogs. Further, they should be held liable for any thefts deemed preventable with the presence of dogs which might have given due warning.

You shouldn't be able to divert a river or cut down a forest without compensating those who would be affected. In the same way, you shouldn't be allowed to remove the benefits of having dogs -- the natural state of affairs -- without compensating those who want the dogs around.
But, what about “animal rights”? “Animal right” is a contradiction in terms. All rights derive from human beings’ right to own oneself, from which follows an individual’s right to own things non-human. Slavery is unjust, but rearing cattle is business. And dogs are no exception to this.
The author seems to have missed the point completely. The point that animal rights activists make is that all rights should not derive from human beings' right to own animals as property because, for example, a BMW does not feel pain or anguish, while animals do. Moreover, the statement "Human beings have a right to own oneself" does not logically imply "an individual’s right to own things non-human", in spite of the author's blithe claim.

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