Today we travel to a future without pets. What would it take for us to give up our fuzzy, slithery, fishy friends? Should our pets get more rights? And if we didn’t have dogs or cats, would we domesticate something else to take their place?
This week's episode name is perhaps the worst pun I've ever committed. Sorry not sorry.
Anyway. In this episode pets are outlawed, gone, we don't have them anymore. No more dogs, cats, fish, birds, bunnies, none of them. This might seem like a really outlandish future, who actually wants us to stop having pets? Well, it turns out, this actually something that some people currently do advocate for.
To find out more about folks who argue that we should try to phase out pets, I talked to Doris Lin. She's an animal rights attorney and used to write the animal rights section for About.com. And she explains in the episode that she really does think that we should phase out pets.
But she also wants to clarify something: she’s not about to show up at your door and confiscate your animals. She doesn't want to separate anybody's beloved pets from their good homes. (She herself has pet rabbits.) But she does believe that people should stop breeding animals to be kept as pets, and that eventually, after all the rescue animals get home and live their happy lives, we should try to live without them.
There are a couple of arguments for eliminating pets from our lives. Lin says that animals we keep aren't able to live out their "natural instincts" and that it's not fair for us to force them to live by "human rules." Some people point to the increasing body of research that shows that animals might be a lot more intelligent than we once thought.
Today, studies show that dogs can actually understand pointing. So if we point at something, the dog knows that we’re trying to get them to pay attention to that thing. Cats might be able to do the same thing, but they’re harder to study because they don’t care about your stupid experiment. This pointing thing might seem like not that big of a deal. But chimpanzees, our closest living relative, can’t do that. Which might seem surprising, but as David Grimm points out in the episode, we've evolved with dogs for something like 30,000 years, and with cats for 10,000 years.
Grimm is the Online News Editor of the magazine Science, and the author of a book called Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs. And in his book, David talks about how the way we think about our animals has totally changed in the last century. They used to be considered lower than objects, less important than your table or toaster. But today, most people consider their pets far more important than their tables. There have been custody battled fought over pets, dogs have been appointed lawyers, and some animals have even inherited money.
A 2015 Harris Poll showed that 95 percent of pet owners consider their pets members of their family. During Hurricane Katrina, some people decided to stay behind with their pets when they were told the rescue boats would only take human passengers. Some of those people died.
So the idea of a world without these creatures in them is really hard to imagine, even for Lin who advocates for this future. But that never really stops us here on this show! And in the second half of the episode we talk about all the ways that this might happen. Listen to find out!
Flash Forward is produced by me, Rose Eveleth, and is part of the Boing Boing podcast family. The intro music is by Asura and the outtro music is by Broke for Free. The episode art is by Matt Lubchansky.
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