Are you vegan? Do you have a pet? How do you deal with the moral conflict? Or do you?
PETA names the institution of “pet-keeping” as an animal rights violation, citing overpopulation, breeding manipulation, and neglect. (Read more about it here.) They discourage against breeding, and encourage adoption, and in pairs.
When it comes to forced domestication, and the carnivorous diets of many pets, how does a vegan support pet-keeping? Do PETA’s claims keep vegans from acquiring pets? How many pet-less vegans are there? Indeed, vegans and pet owners tend to share one very important, and often overpowering value: a love of animals. This makes the question of pets a complicated one for the vegan lifestyle.
As I write this, several pounds of frozen, dead chicken defrost in my kitchen sink. Horrifying, I know. This chicken will soon be turned into food for my pet cats. I will literally be fist deep in dead chicken within hours. How do I justify this? How can I still call myself vegan? I have some justifications, but the real truth is that I don’t know how to answer these questions without doubt.
What I do know is that cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they cannot survive without meat — and, indeed, should not eat plants. Obviously, this cannot be said of humans (although many will try). I also know that I LOVE my cats more than I can express, and I believe we would all be worse off without each other. Do these considerations justify my choice to home and feed another species that only eats other animals? That is a question that occupies my mind regularly.
As the blog name suggests, this is a vegan journey. I cannot claim to be making the perfect choices and to never slip up. Veganism is not the norm — in fact, a majority of the global population finds it “extreme” — so each aspect of my life must have attention to adjust. What I mean is that I am learning.
While I deliberate this charge, I make sure to make ethical choices within an arguably unethical zone.
The first choice: I make my cats’ food.
I do this so that, firstly, they are getting the most nutritious feed possible. Secondly, I do this so I know where the meat comes from and how the animals are treated.
Many vegans will argue that there is no such thing as ethical slaughter, or ethical “meat.” I don’t dispute that. However, it would be less ethical to feed cats a species-inappropriate diet and deprive them of their essential nutrients. So, how do we make more ethical choices within a corrupt and unethical global culture?
The second choice: I buy meat from small, local Mennonite/ Amish farms.
Well, I buy from a local (in my city, but WELL across the city) butcher/farmers’ market that sources all their meat from small, Mennonite and Amish farms who pasture-raise their animals. If there is such a thing as “ethical meat,” then this is it.
The cats are never given cow or pig because these animals have a larger carbon footprint, and if kitty couldn’t conceivably take it down in the wild, then it’s not ending up on his plate. The poultry and rabbit that they get is all pastured before they are killed, and come from farms within an hour of my city. Half of their feed comes from ground chicken carcass, which would otherwise be discarded, but is perfect for the cats who need to eat bone to source their calcium.
They are fed raw meat, organs, ground bone, and Veterinary-recommended vitamin supplements, and they are incredibly healthy. They are full of energy, fit, happy, with perfect digestion and silky coats. Every time I am breaking my heart preparing their food, I remember how much better off they are for this choice. Then, I say a quiet blessing to the chickens that sacrificed their lives (without choice) for my fur babies, and continue to make their food in this way. Every time.
My unethical choice: purebred kittens.
There is more that pulls at my heartstrings, however. You may have noticed my cats are purebred, Russian Blue. My husband and I purchased them from a breeder. This is absolutely not the most ethical choice. So why did we do it this way? I am allergic to cats… but I love them. The Russian Blue breed is considered predominantly hypoallergenic. I knew my best choice at adopting cats that wouldn’t turn the rest of my life into a sneezy blizzard of hives and mucus would be to find hypoallergenic cats. That’s what we did.
We discovered a breeder on the outskirts of our city and met with her and her large cat family. I did not sneeze once. In exuberant and blissful relief, we immediately signed a contract to adopt her most recent litter (well, not hers… her cat’s). There were two boys born to one cat mama and we took the brothers home.
I know that given overpopulation and the high rate of pet abandonment, that the more ethical choice is to adopt pets from a shelter. Had we decided to get a dog, we would have done that. Given my allergies and that we wanted cats, the best choice for us was to seek out hypoallergenic cats. Fortunately, the breeder we found was the equivalent to small farming; she breeds cats part time, not to make a living off of selling them, but to make enough to support her business of showing cats in competitions.
Does this justify my choices? Can I still call myself vegan? I am not sure. What I do know is that I am committed to giving these cats their very best life, and that I will continue to feed them meat with the least amount of animal cruelty possible.
I know many vegan pet owners will not take these steps, and think nothing of it. I know there are also other vegans without pets, or with vegan dogs who believe it is not justified to house a carnivore (cat). What I think this means is that there really is no one way to live a vegan lifestyle. Despite what anti-vegan antagonizers try to claim, we aren’t all the same.
What do you think? Are you a vegan with a pet? Do you think there should be a unified stance on pets within the vegan world?