Vegans believe that animals do not exist to serve the needs of humans, and therefore oppose using animals for food, clothing or furnishings, scientific experiments, or entertainment. The question therefore arises - how do vegans reconcile these values with the keeping of pets?
PETA has formally articulated a view held by many vegans: it would have been in the animals' best interests if the institution of pet-keeping never existed. The problem of unwanted pets due to uncontrolled breeding causes tremendous misery, resulting in widespread and appalling abuse and abandonment of the creatures we think of as our "best friends."
However, pet-keeping does exist, and having bred domestic animals for thousands of years to live with and be dependent on us, we now must care for and protect them. Many vegans assert that -- within certain guidelines -- sharing their lives and homes with a companion animal (the vegan correct term) does not qualify as exploitation. However, vegans recognize that there are some important limitations that should be respected in order to maximize a companion animal's dignity and quality of life.
First, vegans agree that companion animals should be adopted from shelters, rescue groups, or pounds (or even rescued from the street), but never purchased from pet shops or breeders. Additionally, they should always be spayed or neutered to reduce overpopulation and its consequences for animal welfare. Vegans should provide their companion animals with the most humane living conditions, and take their responsibilities as caretakers very seriously.
Vegans believe that only traditionally domesticated animals, -- dogs, cats, hamsters, goldfish, parakeets, guinea pigs, etc. -- should be kept in human homes as companion animals. These animals have lived with humans for so long, our homes and yards now are their natural habitats. They do not retain the hunting instincts or defense mechanisms required to survive in the wild, and "setting them free" would be cruel.
However, vegans are strongly opposed to keeping wild or exotic animals -- i.e. tigers, alligators, wolves, owls and deer -- as pets, particularly since these animals often end up in human homes as the result of illegal smuggling operations. These animals belong in their wild environment, and forcing them to live among humans is not only wrong from a vegan perspective but ultimately can be very dangerous for the humans who interact with them.
Many people say that their relationships with their companion animals strongly influenced their decision to become vegan. The recognition and appreciation of their beloved dog or cat as an individual, with feelings, desires, and a unique personality, often leads people to an understanding of the inherent value of all animals' lives that propels them toward a vegan lifestyle. In the end, the role pets play in fostering our most basic impulse toward compassion for all creatures may justify continuing to share our homes with them.
Photo credit:cc:http://commons.wikimedia.org - Matthew Roth