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University of Bristol
Wellcome Trust
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Humans & other animals

Animals as Recreation

Animals in sport, companionship, leisure and fashion are all very important aspects of human association with animals. However, none of these is free of ethical implication. Much of the debate centres on the extent of the exploitation of animals. Some people argue the specially bred animals enjoy what people get them to do, but others might say that the animals have no choice.

The horse, throughout history, has held a particularly important place in people’s lives, and since the industrial revolution, sport has taken the place of work for the horse. The Grand National, held every spring at Aintree, near Liverpool, is a famously tough horse race: a steeplechase, over four miles long with over 30 large fences to jump. Each year it attracts protesters claiming that it is cruel. Racehorses and other competition horses such as show jumpers and eventers are highly bred and rigorously trained to peak fitness. They can very easily suffer injuries in their sports, and often these injuries are difficult or impossible to treat. Sometimes it is economical to try to save a horse for breeding, but generally if the injury is severe, owners will cut their losses and have the animal destroyed (i.e. shot). Animal protection groups see this as a form of cruelty that should be stopped. They often organise protests at race and other equestrian meetings.

Question: Is it ethical to breed and train horses for such sports as racing, show jumping and eventing?

English Bulldog

Companion animals

Pets, such as dogs, cats and caged birds, come into a similar moral category to the horse, although perhaps the physical strains that people put upon them many not always be so great. Ethical questions have been raised about certain breeding programmes to produce breed characteristics for people’s aesthetic satisfaction. For example, the English bulldog has become so refined by selective breeding that it has difficulty in breathing and giving birth naturally.

Pampered Pets

For some people, companion animals such as dogs and cats, have the status of children or friends. As such, if they are kept in the home, owners have the moral obligation to look after them. But sometimes people may go too far in this direction and the animal may actually be harmed, for example when it is excessively pampered. Some people believe that pampering pets is a form of cruelty. In some cases, where their health is affected, such as happens when an animal is overfed, this may well be true. But subjecting them to for instance beauty treatments is more difficult because many pets may enjoy this sort of attention. However there is no doubt that this constitutes a subversion of their natural behaviour.

Is it always wrong to pamper a pet? Give some examples of pampering that might harm a pet.
Is it morally wrong to anthropomorphize companion animals? 


 Animals for food



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