Jasper (1999) explains that “loving” nonhuman animals fails to exclude their use and exploitation. This may indicate why many animal rights advocates resist and many despise the “animal lover” label.20 The phrase “a nation of animal lovers” is best understood to mean the maintenance of a large population of select nonhuman species who are not intended for eating. It also means that several profitable industries have developed to service pet owners. The term may also invoke thoughts about the many modern television shows now dedicated to the care and ownership of nonhuman animals, or perhaps the dotty old man down the road seen each evening struggling with three large dogs while not preventing them from fouling the local children’s playing fields.
When Mason discusses the topic of pet animals he begins with the changing values about the nonhuman world beginning in Britain and North America in Victorian times. Writers such as Thomas (1983), Kean (1998) – and Mason (2005) himself - tend to stress that this is another period witnessing a significant shift in human attitudes to animals and nature in general. Thus, Mason claims, as “nature” was beginning to be seen as an object of beauty and serenity rather than something to be utterly feared for its “evil dangerousness,” there was an attendant moderation in dominionist thought. However, whatever this shift really meant socially (and contrary to the “massive transformation” in human-nonhuman relations thesis found in Franklin 1999), it did relatively little to shake the basic foundations of dominionist ideology. If anything, by way of Jasper’s (1999) perspective, the development of pet ownership provided yet another strand to the central ideas of dominionism, entirely consistent with agri-culturalist thought based on instrumentally “shaping,” “controlling” and “ordering,” most obviously seen in the manufactured lives of “pedigree” nonhuman captives. Tuan (1984: 51) notes that human desire for power over nature led to the deliberate “manufacture of curiosities.” Tuan says that Tudor horticulturalists experimented by wittily altering the shapes of plants, while Francis Bacon realized that vegetables, fruits, ”beasts,” birds, and even humans can be molded in more ”accurate figures” (p. 50-51). Discussing the issue of the power and grandeur of nonhuman animals and the human power over animals, Tuan (p. 69) relates an exchange between C.S. Lewis and his friend Evelyn Underhill and claims that the correspondence reveals that the former view of animals is, in general terms, “weak in modern men and women.” While dominant social elites through the ages have demonstrated their power through controlling “wild nature” now everyone can do it, symbolically and for real, in their own homes, especially through the keeping of “exotic” pets.21 Vets, of course, are cashing in on the growing trend.22 Tuan (p. 80) shows how the nineteenth century general publics of major European cities such as Paris, Berlin, London, Dublin, Bristol, Frankfurt, Antwerp and Rotterdam became fascinated in zoo visiting, not least to see the spectacle of “feeding time.” To facilitate business, zoos feed their “big cats” once a day, whereas once a week would better represent their natural experience of obtaining large chucks of flesh. Particular pleasure was gained, says Tuan, when zookeepers made large animals seem to “beg” for their food. From this, all the onlookers could get a feeling of superiority and power. This may now translate to the home when pet owners make another being “eat out of our hand – that yields a special thrill” (p. 80) just like when we see it at the zoo. More ways in which human beings can demonstrate and practice their daily “loving” control over the lives of other animals.
As Mason writes (2005: 256), following environmental studies professor Andrew Rowan, the pet is seen as something “safe,” “captive,” ”loyal,” and ”obedient.” The pet is a “subservient” symbol for the “appropriate relationship between humankind and the natural world.” Not only do human beings control virtually every aspect of the lives of the nonhuman animals they keep, including having the legal right to chop bits off them, surgically alter them for cosmetic and “show” purposes or to prevent them desiring and having sex, and dictate their movements and motions (literally, their motions), the pet breeding industry even attempts to dictate their exact physical shape through selective genetic breeding programs, sometimes to the clear detriment of animal welfare considerations. Thus, humans control both the form and behavior of their nonhuman property. “Showing” animals in, say, cat or dog shows, is an extraordinarily ritualistic activity with many formal rules owners must strictly adhere to. This is what the dog owners needs just to attend: tack box, brush and comb, scissors, thinning shears, chalk - block and powder - hair spray, hair dryer, leads, grooming table, noose and arm, exercise pen and mat, pen shade cover with clamps, bath items (i.e. rinseless or regular shampoo, sponges and bucket), towels, crate, crate fan, bait and/or small toy, wheels and bungee cords, food for dog (after the show), water and water bucket, newspapers/paper towels, pooper scooper/plastic bags/trash bags, and weather gear (i.e. cool coat, rain coat). And for the “handler”: grooming smock/apron, appropriate ring clothes and shoes, bottled water, snacks/ice chest, sunscreen, portable chair, tent or large shade umbrella, emergency raincoat and change of shoes.23 Since some humans are involved in “ordering” the physical shape of many other animals, dominionist thinking has simply put fresh emphasis on the notion that humans can and should control nature, here viewed as improving beings of nature as well as “ordering” them. Furthermore, if the display of exotic animals in circuses and zoos has a powerful socializing potential, so does the direct ownership of various nonhuman “companion animals.” While such contact is often assumed to be positive, pets nevertheless have the legal status of property, which owners can dispose of largely as they wish. For example, the RSPCA states that it is perfectly legal for British pet owners to kill their animal property,24so long as they do not cause ‘unnecessary suffering’ in the process. Therefore, “a pet is a diminished being,” figuratively and literally, says Tuan. Pets are possessed by property owners, possessors whose vanity and pleasure their existence serves. Pets may be “doted on” and given “lavish treatment” - even viewed as “valued members of a family” to be included in family rituals. However, that in itself may be seen as a display of generous privilege and wealth on the part of owners. Owners can order and control the lives of their playthings, acquiring and disposing of them rather like compact discs and shoes; they can collect them like stamps, trading and swapping them with other “collectors” if they wish. Tuan says that most dogs kept by North Americans are discarded after two years or less, “in other words…these American dogs are kept so long as they are playful, enduring, and asexual pups” (1984: 88). Humans like “furbabies” not adults. Those kept can be “doctored” of course to make them more docile and less smelly, thus “making it possible…to forget the insistent sexuality of all animals” (p. 89). And what of these rights violations sponsored by so many animal advocates?
The cruelty of castration is suggested by the tools used. A modern company offering “all your animal health care needs” lists a variety of instruments that, together with accompanying diagrams, must shock all but the most hardened reader. How is one to choose? Should one use a relatively simply castration knife (“a double-bladed scalpel and hoe in pocket guard”) or a Double Crush Whites Emasculator? A Baby Burdizzo only nine inches long or a Stainless Steel Emasculatome? Farmers have to confront these instruments; pet owners in the cities, a much more genteel breed, are able to look the other way (p. 89).
Tuan observes that, on the surface, human interaction with nonhuman pets appears to be about “love,” “play” and “devotion” but these are “incorrectly perceived.” There are harsher facts to be recognized in human pet keeping.