September 17, 2019

Is your lovable mutt in fact your slave?

By John Guy LaPlante.

My friend, Ben Smithson, thinks so. He was surprised how shocked I was when I heard him say pet dogs are really  slaves.

“Look up ‘slave’ in your dictionary, John. Your best dictionary.”

He said lots of animals besides dogs are really slaves. How crazy!

But I did look it up. The best dictionary I have is a Merriam-Webster. Is there any better?

It said, “Slave: a person kept in servitude as property.”

Then I looked up “servitude.” Definition: “bondage.”

Ben Smithson is not his real name. If I gave you his real name, I’m afraid how you dog lovers might react. At the very least you’d call him crazy. You might even do worse.

I know Ben quite well. Or I thought I did. Sixty or so, educated. Staid, strait-laced, with no outlandish opinions. Gosh, was I mistaken about that!

I have owned pets. I never considered them slaves. What a wacky idea.

Heck, when I was seven, I was given a puppy for my birthday. A small mixed breed… an “All-American” though I had no idea back then what that meant. He was so cute – white with dramatic touches of black here and there. So I called him Spotty. I loved him, of course.

My wife Pauline and I had a lot of pets over the years. Dogs—a full-grown St. Bernard, then Beau, a French Poodle. Cats–Snow White lived with us the longest, 12 years. A horse for our daughter Monique. Dolly was its name, if I’m not mistaken. A lamb, yes, a little lamb, Lamb Chop, for our son Arthur (that’s what he wanted for his Confirmation).

Two baby racoons, mind you. A long story. I’ll skip that one for now.

Just about that time our 10-year-old Mark brought home a snake he had found in the woods. A two-footer. He and a pal loved to go searching for them. He kept it in his room—that was the rule. Hey, he would take it to bed with him at night.

Mind you, that’s not a complete list of our pets. Pets, that’s what they were. Where did Ben get this idea of pets as slaves? He must have been thinking of dogs and cats. Particularly dogs. They’re our most popular pets, I believe. And the most attached to us. How did he ever come up with that idea?

Know what? Ben’s outlandish thought has stuck with me. He has made me think about it. It makes more sense to me now.

If I were a debater and drew straws and found I had to defend Ben’s opinion, I believe I could score some strong points.

Just think of how some folks treat their dogs. Especially little dogs. Little dogs are the fashion nowadays. So many people have a little dog. Now for the sake of argument, suppose I still had my little Spotty. Now consider his life with me. His life in detail.

If I took him out for a walk, I’d keep him on a leash. I wouldn’t let him run loose and have fun. I’d take him out whether he wanted to or not. Even if it was raining. He’d have no idea where we’d wander. Whether for 10 minutes or an hour. If he stopped too often at a tree or hydrant to sniff and raise a leg, I’d lose patience and jerk him along.

I’d feed him whatever I wanted to.  He would have no choice. Wouldn’t be sure when I’d put the food in his bowl. Or how much.

I’d decide where Spotty would live. Maybe in my den, and maybe never allowed in any other room. Maybe outside chained to a certain tree. Maybe in a doghouse, maybe not.

Maybe I’d force him to learn tricks…how to fetch a tennis ball or a stick tossed into the pond. Might insist he run out every morning to bring me my newspaper.

Certainly I’d “own” Spotty, no doubt about it. The Merriam-Webster mentioned bondage. Isn’t that bondage pure and simple?

I might decide to breed him. Might choose his mate. On the other hand, might quash his natural sex drive by having him neutered. If I had a say about his offspring, I might give them away or sell them or keep one.

If he got sick, I’d decide how much care he should get. Maybe little. Maybe I’d spring for a vet. Maybe not. I might even decide that he should be put down. That might also happen if he got old with me. People do that, don’t they?

I might sell him, or give him away. He might bark and bark when he was picked up, but he’d have no say. Off he’d go.

Well, friends, does this meet the definition of “slave”? Wouldn’t I be treating him exactly like a slave? Yes, certainly. It’s obvious to me. But you decide. Is this okay? Again, you decide.

Of course, I believe I would be a good master,  kind and loving . Most people feel that way about their pets. But not always. Some owners, as we know, can be heartless and brutal and abusive. Too often. I’ve read of people being sentenced for animal cruelty.

For a minute, let’s think of people who owned slaves. Owned men and women and even their children. And kept them in servitude and bondage.

Many were kind and loving masters. Treated their slaves well. Kept them as part of their household for years. Even at one point might free their slaves, though I’m not sure that happened much. As you know, for generations keeping slaves was considered okay. Even smart.

And many slaves loved them back, and maybe accepted their situation only because brainwashed to do so. Because they were told and told they were inferior people.

Is Ben’s idea valid for other animals? Elephants, say, or ponies and horses and camels, or monkeys, or parrots, or ostriches, or bears, or dolphins, or seals? All of these can be put to work or taught to do tricks. Whether willing or not.

I am not making any pronouncements. I’ll let Ben do that. But there’s a lot to chew on here. Anyway, think about it.

Also think of all the things that we now have new ideas about. It’s amazing how public opinion can change over the years.

Here’s just a sampling from the top of my head. Divorce and re-marriage. Living together without wedding rings. Out-of-wedlock children. Homosexuality. Gender roles. Gay marriage. Transgender people. Abortion. Married priests. Suicide. Euthanasia. Voting rights. Voting age. Marijuana and drugs. Organic foods. Prostitution. Tattooing.

Sentencing criminals to life in prison or to execution. Mandatory sentences. Vegetarianism.  Gun rights. Borrowing for higher education. The military draft. Suicide bombers. Conscientious objection. Universal health care. Reverse mortgages. Cremation. Climate warming. Personal bankruptcy. Nuclear energy. Ocean wind farms. On and on.

So, maybe Ben’s idea of animals as slaves will develop and people will begin to agree. Sure, far-fetched today. Maybe widely accepted tomorrow. But it’s doubtful to me they’d ever give up their four-footed slaves–excuse me, their pets. Who knows?

Anyway, I’m sure you must agree Ben is a pretty unusual thinker.

The next time I see him, I’m going to ask him his thoughts on our current presidential contenders. Some people are calling this campaign season a circus. His take on all of them, from far right to far left, from Trump and Carson and Christie and Rubio and Cruz and Bush all the way across to Hillary and might-have-been Biden and Sanders. Also does he think anybody else will step in at this late date?

Wouldn’t it be interesting to get Ben’s thoughts about all that?

And please, please don’t ask me who Ben really is. If I told you and he found out, he suddenly might be my ex-friend. I wouldn’t want that.

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