Volume 22, Issue 2, Fall 2008
Companion and Assistance Animals
Benefits, Welfare Safeguards, and Relationships
This paper examines one approach to the ethics of companion animals, which emerges from the dominant historical tradition and is increasingly familiar in everyday life as well as in work on companion animals in the social sciences. I label it the “utilization with welfare-safeguards” model, or, more gently worded, “seeking benefits while ensuring welfare.” Some of the “benefits” considered are complex ones (like guiding the sight impaired) and others simpler (like reducing stress or providing affection). I explore several problems involved in this approach (including the sometimes jarring inappropriateness of “benefit” terminology). I then offer an alternative account where the primary moral obligation toward companion animals is to develop, nurture, respect, and protect the loving relationship between them and their human companions, since thriving in such a relationship, I claim, has become part of their evolved telos (to use Bernard Rollin’s term)
or evolved nature. This priority naturally leads to ensuring welfare, but the highly pro-active approach involved takes the obligation beyond standard welfare provision and “TLC” (“tender loving care”). Some implications of this position are explored.