The Death of a Puppy and the Fallacy of Moral Equivalence

My 4-month-old puppy was murdered two weeks ago, poisoned to death by assailants unknown. It was one of the most horrific things I've ever seen.

This was at nighttime, when the neighborhood was asleep. I'd been extremely careful about letting him out until this point, but the amount he'd been struggling with house training had been causing conflict in my house. So, that night I let him out to pee before I put him to bed. It was a terrible mistake. I was only footsteps away from him when I heard an unmistakable death bellow that I wish I could forget.

I rushed outside to hear a motorbike drive off, and watched in shock and confusion as my dog died in front of me on my own doorstep, with poison streaming out his nose. The whole thing happened in less than two minutes.

The next day, I took him out to the countryside, dug him a grave, and buried him. It was one of the saddest things I've ever had to do. The stench of poison and death remained on my doorstep for the next few days, and the images will never leave me. 

RIP Paco. 

RIP Paco. 

Unfortunately, such a case is common in Vietnam. Dog thieves, considered the lowest of the low of society, wait until night and drive around preying on unsuspecting animals, often people's pets. If caught, the thieves often suffer severe consequences like beatings and even death at the hands of locals who take the law into their own hands. 

There's a reason the dog thieves exist, though. The practice of eating dogs is well-established in Vietnam. Though more concentrated in the north than in the south, it exists nationwide, especially among older and more rural segments of society.

The snatching of dogs is considered a despicable act, but the demand is there in the dog restaurants. For those who've not been to or lived in Vietnam, restaurants that serve "Thit Chó" (dog meat) are not hard to find, and don't try to hide themselves. 

Anybody who's known a junkie or meth addict--which many dog thieves are--knows they'll do just about anything to get their fix. That certainly includes murdering and nabbing people's pets to sell for $10-$20, and not caring that the meat they sell is poisoned. Demand, meet supply. 

There's no telling when or even if this practice will end. Progress happens one funeral at a time, and I just hope the next funeral is that of the sons of bitches who murdered my dog. 

All of this is heartbreaking. But it brings to mind something that's been bothering me.

In the last few years, I've noticed a disturbing trend relating to the understanding of eating meat. The trend is this: to declare that it's arbitrary to state that we eat certain animals, and not others. Articles like this, this, and this, and even psychologists are arguing that eating pigs or cows, for example, is just as morally wrong as eating dogs, and we're all in denial.

Bullshit. Hogwash, Utter fucking dreck.

Before I proceed, I want to make it clear that unnecessary suffering of any kind is tragic, and there's a lot to be said about the cruelty and inhumanity found in the modern, industrial system of animal husbandry. It's disturbing, and we would be well-served to reevaluate our relationship (or lack thereof) with the animals we eat. 

But to claim that eating dogs is morally equivalent to eating pigs or cows or chickens is nonsense--for quite a few reasons, three of which I'll address here.

First, dogs are not herbivores. It's a foolish waste of time to raise livestock that is two degrees removed from plants, since in order to have a good stock of dogs you'd have to slaughter other animals to feed to them anyway. Cows are true herbivores, pigs eat anything, and chickens eat seeds, insects, and whatever else they find. If you've ever thought that it's stupid and wasteful to feed corn or other fodder to cows, it's far more boneheaded to feed corn to cows to feed to dogs.

Comes the reply: but dogs are omnivores! I read about it on the internet!

True, dogs can eat grains, but they need to be cooked for dogs to digest them. Although you technically can feed a dog a vegetarian diet, anybody who's ever been near a dog will tell you that they most certainly prefer a diet based on animal protein.

Side note: before you get your knickers in a twist about dogs being carnivores or omnivores, recall that dogs have all the traits of a true carnivore: canine teeth, forward-facing eyes for binocular vision, and a short intestine. Dogs cannot live healthily on a purely plant-based diet. You can read more about that controversy here

Second, we've spent thousands of years manipulating the DNA of our most common domesticated animals. Our ancestors recognized that when you breed one slow, fat rooster with a slow, fat hen that lays lots of eggs, you get a whole next generation of slow, fat, delicious chickens that lay far more eggs than any other bird. They made sure that sheep act like the harmless sheep we know, rather than the tough, fearsome mountain creatures their ancestors were.  

As such, the domesticated animals we have now are the results of a breeding program as old as agriculture itself, for which we owe a great deal of thanks to our ancestors. Dogs were never widely bred for food, and as such lack the genetic advantages for being food that, say, pigs have. 

Third, and most importantly, dogs are our genetic allies. They've been our faithful companions for 15,000 years (or 12,500, depending on whom you believe). Humans and dogs have co-evolved to understand and communicate with each other--demonstrating a closer genetic bond than is represented by any other animal that we've domesticated. We love them, and they love us. 

Eating a dog is a betrayal of thousands of generations of earned trust. We've made a deal with them. Their end of the bargain is to guard us, to help us hunt, to be our friends and keep us company. Our end of the bargain is to feed them, give them shelter, and ideally to show them love and affection. It's a pretty good trade.

No such deal exists with pigs, cows, chickens, or most other domesticated animals (though horses are a bit of an exception). The deal with them is pretty clear: we control them, they provide us with food and other resources, and we make sure their species is propagated. It's not nearly such a nice deal for them, unless you're looking from a macro, genetic-level point of view. Farmed pigs, for example, are wildly successful as a species ; as individuals, they're miserable. They're an enslaved species. It sucks to be them. Vae victus. 

Although it's trendy to use moral relativism to discuss which animals we eat, I hope that those who argue that eating dogs is morally equivalent to other animals will reconsider their ideas. Dogs are indeed special--there is no other animal we have such a close relationship with. They should be treated as such.