Defending the Freedom to Own Pets


The Future of Dogs in an Animal Rights America

by Walt Hutchens


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Pet Ownership: Right or Privilege?

We often hear people say, that owning animals is a privilege, not a right. These are usually people who love animals and care very much about their welfare.

This misunderstands the meaning of the words 'right' and 'privilege' and the point is important.

A 'right' is there from the beginning: it is God-given or yours as a matter of birth. It cannot be refused or not granted.

Many rights are enumerated in our Consitution: The rights to assemble peaceably, keep and bear arms, be secure in our "persons, houses, papers, and effects" are examples. The right to own property is not specifically stated; I think because it was considered so basic as to not need to be listed. Animals are property.

A privilege, on the other hand, is created by government. It only exists when government gives it to you. In the U.S., driving an automobile is a privilege. It is NOT yours at birth or at age 16, but only when you pass a test and only so long you comply with certain laws.

If you agree to testify in an important criminal case you might be given a privilege of immunity from prosecution for your part in the crime in exchange for your testimony. PRIVILEGE ... government gives it to you IF government wants to do so.

That something is a right does not, however, mean that goverment cannot interfere. My right to free speech is well established but if I threaten the life of the president, yell "Fire" in a crowded theater, or joke about having a bomb as I get on an airliner, government WILL interfere with my exercise of that right. Basically rights are 'there' but they are not absolute: If my use of my rights gets in the way of you enjoying yours, the government will draw the line.

Ownership of property is a right. The use of property, however, has lines drawn around it just as do other rights. I have the right to own a knife but not to attack someone with it. Owning a car is a right but driving it requires a license, which is a privilege.

Owning a chair is certainly a right, and so is hitting it with a bat. Owning a dog is a right too -- but you better NOT try that bat thing, because the right of hitting your property is restricted when it comes to animals. And the same is true for many other 'uses' of animal property -- things we call 'neglect' and 'cruelty.'

In other words, owning property is a right but uses of property are limited by law. In the worst cases your property can be taken away.

Now you might say "Who cares? If a right can be fenced in by laws, what's the difference between a right and a privilege?" But there's a very important difference. Your rights are there from the beginning: Government can only limit them based on what you actually do. ANYBODY can get a dog, and he can keep it UNLESS he hits some law that says he can't. Privileges, however, aren't there until they're given.

If pets become a privilege then (at least implicitly) you will have to apply for a license to buy a dog. Is this really where we want to go?

Walt Hutchens

Timbreblue Whippets


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