If veganism, in its purest form, requires taking nothing from another being, then it’s an idea that’s hard to argue against. It’s an interesting notion, isn’t it?
From another perspective, it’s a rather hollow principle. Leaving aside the interdependent and reciprocal relationship that humans already enjoy with dogs (and other companion animals), such a degree of vegan purism would ultimately alienate us from any other lifeforms that are not of our own type. We would risk the development of an unhealthy form of species-based isolation. This would surely provoke a more harmfully ‘human-supremacist’ attitude than already exists.
For many, companion animal relationships are a gateway to a kinder existence. They may provide an introduction for the development of a broader cross-species empathy. Experiences shared with pets may be formative in causing us to abandon ideas we’re brought up with. Key amongst these is the notion that the lives of other animals don’t matter. Instead, we can develop compassion towards them, just as a result of the pets we have. It doesn’t always work that way, certainly; but to promote abandonment of dog ownership on the basis that veganism, in its purest form, requires it, is extremist at best. At worst, the claim is a self-sabotaging folly for the cause of animal rights. Carried to its logical conclusion, the argument would even rule out the animal rescue and sanctuary activities that, to so many animals, are their only possibility for a safe and fully lived future.
Whilst my friend’s nephew is by no means alone in advocating this idea, there is another, far more commonly encountered belief, shared by many vegans. It claims that even though dog ownership is not in itself a bad or ‘unvegan’ thing, it is somehow not correct to buy a non-rescue dog, when there are so many in need in humane societies, dog pounds and the myriad other establishments that become temporary homes for the unwanted. Campaigns, like the one below from PETA, pull on our heartstrings and add to the general notion of 'wrongness'. Wouldn't anyone with a conscience be riddled with guilt by such an emotive image? It is small wonder then, that some of those vegans who subscribe to the "don't buy from a breeder" mindset even go so far as to criticise their fellow vegans if they fail to live up to the idealised standards they believe all vegans should be held accountable to.
In an ideal world, I agree that everyone should get their dogs from a rescue organisation. It would be wonderful if all dogs could be saved from lives of relentless misery and likely premature deaths at the end of a needle. But it’s also rather naïve of anyone to suggest that getting a dog from a breeder, rather than rescuing, is wrong.
The stark reality is that there are both breeder bred and rescue dogs in the world. Perhaps breeders would stop breeding if nobody bought their dogs; but to suggest that everyone should call a halt to their breeding activities in this way is both impractical and lacking in understanding of why people choose the dogs they do in the first place. It presupposes that for all, ‘any dog will do’. This is absolutely not the case. It ignores personal preferences, fundamentals of attraction, and different perspectives upon aesthetics.
Granted, for some, getting a dog (any dog) is enough. And yes, absolutely, there are endless numbers of wonderful companions that may be found in rescue 'shelters'. But it is foolish to imagine that just because they’re there, they are dogs that we would want to bring into our homes; any more than those who advocate only rescue (in order to be ‘properly’ vegan) would be prepared to pay an arm and a leg to a breeder in order to buy one. Such thinking not only demonstrates misunderstanding of human choice on many levels, it blandly assumes that we are all alike. And we’re not.
The purist argument implies that buying from a breeder is actively doing harm because it is depriving another more needy dog of an opportunity. Is that really so? Don’t we live in an imperfect world where there will always be people who breed dogs, irrespective of whether the puppies that are born are intentionally purebred, or backyard accidents? Isn’t it the case that both can (and do!) find their way into rescue? So, if potential dog owners only went to rescues, what would happen to those dogs that had been deliberately/accidentally bred? Wouldn’t they then become the ones in need of rescue? Surely it is an ultimately self-defeating argument to suggest that people should only rescue?
What’s at the bottom of the purist assertion is a laudable notion to persuade all to endeavor to ensure that we, as humans, do no harm to any of the other beings that are here. This, I wholly concur with. But if you follow it to its logical conclusion, the debate becomes cyclical and does a full loop back to the ‘own no animal’ argument!
The truth of the matter is that we live within a society that is, for better or worse, what it is. Yes, we should be trying to change many aspects of it. But there are far more important victories to be achieved in protecting the welfare and rights of our fellow beings than harping on about issues that, relatively speaking, are of little impact and may even cause more harm than good.
More than all of this, isn’t it a bit of a misfire to attack fellow vegans, especially about issues that have clearly not been thought through properly? There are serious battles to be fought in persuading the world that veganism is the only right way forward (for everything on the planet), without getting caught up in narrow minded, petty squabbles.
So, to those who have attacked others about this issue, I say this:
“Divert these misguided attentions to where they can be usefully focused. It is only in unison that we may bring about an end to theriocide. Then maybe, and only maybe, will it be appropriate or even right to focus on what is currently a vacuous red herring of an ideology.”