As anti-speciesists, we want physical liberty for all animals. But for some animals, physical liberty is not possible without suffering. How can we reconcile another’s right not to suffer with her right to her own body?
In August, my cat Evi became ill. We called the emergency vet late one night, because Evi was panting and hiding from us. The vet examined her on the kitchen table, and Evi, who never let strangers touch her, was very still and did not protest. When the vet’s syringe punctured her chest and drew blood, I knew this wasn’t good news, but I thought that it was just a matter of agreeing to whatever help Evi needed. Vets tend to look at you in a way that is supposed to prepare you: Be warned, this will get expensive. I would simply give my usual signal that I didn’t need this warning and that whatever the cost, it was fine.
Instead, the vet said: Evi is bleeding to death internally, likely from a tumor or burst blood vessel in combination with a hereditary coagulopathy. There’s nothing that can be done. Either we release her now or she will die in the next few hours. I still can’t write about those next few hours. Evi didn’t see them. We „released“ her.
I’ve written before about the contradiction between being vegan and living with pets. I obviously abhor the breeding and selling of animals, but I do believe that the animals who already exist should live happily and that happiness is easier to come by in a home than a shelter. Even if it makes us uncomfortable to leash a dog or confine a cat in an apartment, vegans have a moral responsibility towards all animals, even those who embody the industries and cultural practices we detest. And so vegan pet „owners“ will have to face the truly vexing questions: How do we justify not adopting all shelter animals when we know that—at least in the US—they will otherwise be killed? Do we feed our pets other animals? And how do we make decisions about our pets’ bodies, while striving to free the bodies of other animals?
What right do I have, as someone who believes in each and every body’s right to physical liberty, to „release“ anyone from hers?
Many liberation movements have centered around the goal of physical liberty. And with good reason: Acknowledging another’s ownership over her own body is basic to any form of respect. But what do we do when a history of oppression has rendered bodies incapable of deciding for themselves or has placed them in a world for which their decision-making capabilities are not equipped? Is veganism about leaving animals alone or is it about being kind to them?
I have no answer. My intuition is that we should leave animals alone, unless it is historically too late, as with so-called pets and animals rescued from labs, circuses, farms, and so on. To them, we should be kind. And it is kinder to take away someone’s physical liberty and suffering than to let her have both for a few more hours.
My mom said a few years ago: Don’t spoil the cats so much; it’s not good for children to be spoiled either. To which I responded: But children grow up and have to eventually get along in the adult world on their own. In their dependence on us, cats are children forever, even when their bodies are old.