By Jenny Moxham
It was reported in this week's Geelong Advertiser (7/6) that mistreating and using violence against dogs is increasing in the area and that more and more pups are having to be destroyed because they've been too badly mistreated to be re-homed. As well, numerous dog owners are refusing to collect their pets when notified that they have been found. Geelong Animal Welfare Society president Dr Ian Walter says that people are viewing animals as expendable.
Sadly this is true. Many people, these days, seem to regard pets simply as possessions or toys that can be disposed of when their appeal has worn off.
This is evidenced by the fact that so many animals are being abandoned. Each year in Australia a staggering 250,000 unwanted dogs and cats are euthanased.
While the puppy mills and breeders who are continually churning out puppies and kittens are a big part of this problem, the way the general public regards pets is also a part of it.
Using the term, pet "owner" sends an underlying message that pets are possessions or commodities - no different from the rest of our material possessions.
In 1999 an American group, In Defense of Animals, started a campaign to address this issue and to have the term "owner" replaced by "guardian".
Although the term does not change legal standing, it does more accurately describe the responsibility we have for the well-being, treatment, care, and quality of life of the animals in our care.
Scores of American cities have now replaced the word "owner" with "guardian" on things such as animal tags, public park signs, veterinary forms, adoption forms, kennel forms and on all animal companion-related publications.
Residents are also asked to adopt and spay/neuter their animals and report any abuse to the local humane society or police station.
While adopting this idea here would not solve our problems, it would certainly have a positive effect.
But should we even be keeping pets at all?
Jeffrey Masson, an ex-psychoanalyst, university professor and author of numerous books about the emotions of animals, has come to the conclusion that dog ownership is, in fact, a form of animal cruelty.
He used to have three dogs - but he says, never again.
Though Professor Masson says he still loves dogs and thinks they're amazing, he doesn't believe we are fit to be their companions.
He says: "I don't believe we can give them the ideal life. Living with us, they're not living the life they were meant to live, which among other things would mean our spending the whole day with them.
"Dogs are too social, too loyal, too energetic, too eager for physical attention and bonding to be confined in solitude for as long as we typically leave them while pursuing our own human priorities."
What he says is true, of course. Dogs are pack animals who enjoy company, yet most "pet" dogs today spend the majority of their time in isolation.
Most are confined in back yards with high fences that prevent them from even glimpsing other dogs or passersby. From the time their "owners" go to work, to the time they come home, most of these intelligent animals have nothing whatsoever to stimulate their minds or alleviate their boredom.
As more and more of the older houses and gardens disappear and are replaced by multiple units and townhouses, even the space for pets to exercise is vanishing.
As people increasingly move into these "little boxes" more dogs will either have to be relinquished or forced to live in a totally abnormal, barren environment as they already do in places such as Hong Kong where thousands of dogs live in high-rise flats.
What sort of a life must it be for these intelligent, energetic animals? Is it fair to them?
Perhaps Jeffrey Masson is right.
Perhaps we don't deserve to have dogs, or other animals, as our companions if we can't give them the sort of life that allows them to be happy too.