Should Dogs Have Their Own Bill of Rights?

dog bill of rights

Story at-a-glance -

  • Understanding is increasing that non-human animals have the capacity for intelligence and emotion, and with this comes new questions about ethics and our relationships with different species
  • Mammals, chickens and even fish have demonstrated the ability to feel pain and stress, learn tricks and form long-term memories, strengthening the argument that all animals deserve a set of intrinsic basic protections and rights
  • A Bill of Rights for dogs is included, highlighting dogs’ right to their feelings, perceptions of the world, company of their own kind, and need to have their dignity respected

By Dr. Becker

The Bill of Rights was put into place to protect basic human rights, ensuring personal freedoms that our ancestors believed to be self-evident. In the 21st century, it is finally being recognized that humans are not the only animals deserving of such rights.

Science has helped to pave the way for this increased understanding, which animal lovers have felt intrinsically all along. Media headlines increasingly tout the amazing discoveries into animal intelligence, another “human-like” trait displayed by birds, mammals, fish and even insects.

But is it really so astonishing that animals might be thinking, feeling and intelligent beings?

Humans, too, are animals after all, and though a dog, an elephant and a human may all necessitate drastically different forms and displays of intelligence and emotional capacity, the differences don’t make any one more or less superior.

I’m fond of the quote, “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” (The quote is thought to have come from Albert Einstein.)

Indeed, different creatures display intelligence in their own ways and certainly in ways that humans are only beginning to understand.

Discoveries of Animal Intelligence Demand Changes in Our Relationships With Other Species

The good news is that understanding is increasing and with this come new questions about ethics and our relationships with different species. Fish can feel pain and stress, learn to do tricks and have excellent long-term memories, for instance.

Knowing this, can anyone argue that keeping a betta fish, which can learn to recognize its owners, in a small bowl or vase is right? Similarly, chickens are capable of many skills that typically are only accomplished in human children aged 4 and older.

Chickens demonstrate self-control in the form of the ability to delay gratification (refusing food now to receive more food later on), and they have some skills that easily outpace humans, like the ability to navigate using the sun at just 2 weeks old.

In other words, chickens are quite intelligent, sentient beings that deserve basic protections allowing them to live as chickens should — with access to the outdoors and room to roam, at a bare minimum.

Sadly, most chickens do not get this chance, as they’re raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) where they’re viewed as objects, not living beings.

A Bill of Rights for Dogs

It’s true that even fish and chickens deserve basic rights, but an easier leap for many people is the notion of a Bill of Rights for one of the most beloved family pets: dogs.

John Bradshaw, animal behavior and welfare expert and author of “Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behaviour Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet,” penned a Bill of Rights for dogs, and it’s beautiful.

Bradshaw suggests that dogs, in particular, deserve respect and for humans to take the time to understand their nuances and needs. This includes training them with more understanding that every dog is an individual, not necessarily a dominance-driven domesticated “wolf” as they are sometimes treated.

Also, dogs have become closely dependent (not only physically but emotionally) on humans, and they should only be bred with their own welfare in mind (not solely to create new looks).

As published by The Bark, Bradshaw’s Bill of Rights for Dogs follows. “If dogs could construct their own Bill of Rights, it would read something like this,” he begins:1

  1. “We are dogs, not wolves. We have lived with mankind since you were hunter-gatherers, and are now no more or less domesticated than you are. We assert the right to be treated as ourselves, and not as any kind of wild animal.
  2. We assert the right to have our perceptions of the world taken into account, especially where our senses are superior to yours.
  3. We assert the right to have our feelings, which are real if unlike yours, allowed for and comprehended. We are neither inferior humans, nor senseless robots.
  4. Our mental capacities are considerable, but again different from those of mankind. We assert the right to be understood by our owners, who should not expect us to comprehend every word they say, nor presume that we learn as human children do.
  5. We assert the right to be taught how to cope with the world of man. For although we are the product of your world, we are not born to understand it, and need to be introduced gradually, with care and with kindness.
  6. Our language is rich and sophisticated. We assert the right to be comprehended, in the same way that we attempt to comprehend you.
  7. We are fundamentally social animals, and we assert the right to the company of our own kind.
  8. We are domesticated animals, and assert our right to the company of humans. If we are to be left on our own, we need to be trained to cope with that isolation.
  9. We are individuals, each dog with its own personality. We therefore assert the right to be judged on our own merits, and not according to the reputation of breed or type.
  10. We have served mankind faithfully for tens of thousands of years. Whilst we are born to serve, we assert the right for our needs and our dignity to be respected in all the capacities, both traditional and novel, that humanity may require.
  11. We assert our right to a future. Having adapted our bodies and our lives to your needs, we have forfeited much of our capacity for independence. We therefore require mankind’s assistance as we meet the future together.”

If you apply these rights with your own dog, you’ll probably start to see her in a whole new light, and your bond may grow even deeper than it is right now.

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