Musings of a Veterinarian

Archive for February 4th, 2009

Animal Rights and Pet Guardianship: A Threat to Veterinary Medicine

February 04, 2009 By: Dr. K Category: General


The push for Animal Rights by such extreme organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is one of my greatest concerns for veterinary medicine’s future. A common misunderstanding circulating publicly is animal rights are designed merely for the protection of animals from cruelty and neglect. These are, of course, admirable aspirations. Alarming ideas emerge among PETA’s relatively reasonable mission statement, pro population control position, and pictures of abused pit bulls. The agenda is much larger. They believe no animal should be involved in the food, fiber, labor, or research arena. Animal rights activists place animal life equivalent to human life. From PETA’s website: “Only prejudice allows us to deny others the rights that we expect to have for ourselves. Whether it’s based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or species, prejudice is morally unacceptable.” In addition, extreme animal rights activists believe imposing pet status on our domestic friends is a violation of their rights.

No meat, no wool, no service animals, crippled medical research. These add up to a weakened economy, revoked freedom of handicapped people, and stunted medical research for many animal models of disease resulting in continued loss of human quality and quantity of life. Let’s get it straight: I hate animal suffering. I hate seeing livestock mistreated. I eagerly await better computer simulated models for medical research. However, I also hate human suffering. And if I had to choose between the two, I always have to side with human life. Rational people would save mom from a burning building before Fluffy.

NOTE: PETA does not condemn pet ownership.


More concerning still, animal rights activists (the ones who don’t completely abhor pet status) seek to elevate pet owners to pet guardians. On the surface, the idea of gaurdianship seems like a step in the right direction in imposing harsher penalties on animal abusers. However, guardianship would place animals at the same LEGAL status as a child.

Hypothetical headache: Fluffy is dying from congestive heart failure. She’s now developed kidney failure. She’s on every medication possible for the treatment of her diseases but her condition is worsening. She arrives at the vet in severe respiratory distress because her lungs have filled with fluid. The normal treatment of diuretics won’t work because Fluffy has compromised kidney function. Present day common sense says this is a time to euthanize Fluffy. With gaurdianship, euthanasia is no longer an option. You can’t euthanize a child; You can’t euthanize a pet.

Worsening the hypothetical headache: Now let’s say there is a legal loophole in the definition of gaurdianship allowing for euthanasia. Who gets to make a decision? The guardian wants to keep trying to treat Fluffy but the veterinarian believes continuing treatment will result in unnecessary suffering. The guardian now faces accusations of cruelty.  As with children, a third party animal services agency becomes involved to determine what course of action is in the best interest in the animal. Fluffy drowns in pulmonary edema during mediation.


The idea of animal welfare instead of animal rights provides a middle ground for responsible use and care of animals. The AVMA states, “Animal welfare is the ethical responsibility of ensuring animal well-being. Animal well-being is the condition in which animals experience good health, are able to effectively cope with their environment, and are able to express a diversity of species-typical behaviors. Protecting an animal’s welfare means providing for its physical and mental needs.”  Check out the rest of AVMA‘s definition and stance.