It is sad, yet fact that military working dogs are considered equipment and our pets are considered property.
While speaking with another Fun Paw Care dog trainer in Miami, we were discussing the appalling laws regarding our pets and other sentient being in this country. When I speak with clients about how they should have their dogs microchiped the topic of dogs as “property” often comes up. The conversation often continues on detailing the depressing laws that dictate, if their dog was ever stolen, the penalties for the thievery are paltry; your beloved pet is considered property or equipment by United States law (Animal Welfare Act of 1966). I’m not sure if these labels and terms disturb you as much as I, but labeling intelligent, feeling, sentient beings as “things” to be discarded and used, is as insulting to us as it is demeaning to them. Sentient beings were created to be loved; things were created to be used. The world becomes dangerous when things are loved and sentient beings are used. This perverse inanimate object labeling needs to be addressed and changed.
For Memorial Day and Veterans Day we honor both deceased and alive U.S. service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom and country. Dogs make that same sacrifice by not only protecting our troops during wars but after the veterans come home with PTSD, or any disabling injuries where they would benefit from help from our four legged friends. Yet our hero dogs and family pets are labeled as mere property and equipment. These labels connote inanimate objects, not sentient beings. Just as we don’t define our children as property or as equipment that have no feeling or emotion, we should not insult ourselves or others and label sentient beings as such either. Labels, as defined by law, affect and dictate the perception and treatment of these highly emotional beings. Without the banishment of these obtuse labels, this paradigm shift will not occur and animal abuse will not cease. Do we define a great mechanic or a skilled chef as a piece of equipment? Then why would we define a working military dog as a piece of equipment just because he/she is great at what they do? Dog’s risk their lives and save people’s lives every day.
Equipment or property connotes and dictates an inability to feel, suffer, perceive, and experience profound pain, grief, fear, joy and love. When I describe my ceiling fan, I do not think of that piece of equipment and property as the same as a living, breathing, feeling, and loving sentient being.
Laws need to be created, reworded and rewritten with tact, sensitivity and careful and thoughtful discussion.1-2 To consider a car the same as a pet is as careless, callus and obtuse as it gets. Our laws are not effective at protecting nonhuman animal rights. How do you measure the love of a family member? Well the government measures it by how much your dog costs or what you can get on the open market for “it”. Could you imagine the outrage and horror if your adopted child was stolen from you or killed and the perpetrator’s penalty was only the purchase cost of your child? How about if someone apathetically described your family member as “it” (although linguistically correct, not the most sensitive diction), not as an individual, which all sentient beings are, instead of by his or her name or as he or she?
The only difference between a nonhuman animal and a human animal is the way in which we communicate. We all speak in different languages. We sense the universe differently (not better or worse). To disrespect other sentient beings by labeling them as equipment or property does a disservice to humans, our souls and intellect. It belittles the world in which we live in and encourages little empathy, compassion and love. I wouldn’t want to live in a world without compassion, empathy or love, nor would I want to live in a world without animal rights. As Dr. Marc Bekoff agrees, “Following up on Charles Darwin’s ideas about evolutionary continuity, we know that the differences among animals are differences in degree, not kind.”
Nonhuman animals are no more equipment or property than humans.6 These perverse, thoughtless, harmful laws are not only paradoxical in nature but serve as an oxymoron, as property defines an inanimate object without rights, the ability to feel or have emotions. Science has proven for centuries how sentient beings feel profound pain, love, sadness…etc.3 to define them as property or equipment is an error of immense proportions and magnitude and a tragedy of justice. There is no stronger statement than practicing non-violence by treating animals as individuals with humane compassion.4-5