Growing up on a farm in the deep isolation of an underdeveloped town, I was taught that animals were put on this planet for two reasons. First was for our survival and second for our amusement. I would see horses ridden to submission and, if tamed, treated with respect, dogs treated as underprivileged servants for hunting and protection, and all other animals balanced on a tight wire over the dinner table. Animals captured while hunting were received with brutish behavior and treated as inferior and mindless creatures up until their number was called for slaughter. I was taught not to grow attached to animals, not to name them if they were animals bred for slaughter, and not to treat them as friends or equals.

Equality, though, is a funny thing that can end up having soo many layers residing within its depths. The interesting thing regarding equality is that it suggests that all things included are treated as equals. Regarding animals, some people may consider equality as an absurd thought. Don’t get me wrong; I did not consider them equals in the sense that they would hold jobs, sit around a campfire having conversations, or be the lead member of a band, though many animals today do have jobs, and some can play an instrument. Still, I considered them equal in the sense that though I understood the need to hunt, animals still deserved rights and should be respected. Both domestic and wild. Still, it may be best to refer to the intended inclusion of animals and applied respect as rights. Within that context, what rights might make the most sense for the nonhuman animals of this planet? Would those rights change with respect to if they are wild or domestic?

In any case, I was not encouraged to ponder such things in my youth. My purpose would have been to perpetuate the past under new management. After my family dynamic changed, we ended up moving out of the country and into a more functioning, less small town. Though this chapter introduced its own struggles, I was allowed to explore my feelings and beliefs regarding animals, at least within the limits of a child. I was able to have pets, name them, grieve their loss, and didn’t have to witness what I would consider cruelty to animals or fear my pets might be slaughtered for food as they had in the past. As I grew more mature, my perception of understanding and respect continued to grow. However, at this same time, so did my curiosity about the meaning and morality of having a pet.

In the country, I could catch a wild animal and keep it as my own. In my youth, I was able to justify it by saying I was keeping it safe and providing it the creature comforts of humanity. How lucky this animal must be! Questions would echo through time, begging to be answered. Were they lucky? Did they perceive “luck”? Would they rather live life as they knew it? Did I, a child, know best? Some animals are bred for captivity. Some animals are bred in a manner that they would not survive life in the wild.

Throughout history, humanity has found itself capturing life and justifying it, then finding themselves analyzing the morality of their actions decades later. The life of a pet has changed since I was young. Though the differences in a pet’s reality change from home to home, culture to culture, and through the dynamics of demographics around the world, more commonly, I see

“fur babies” taking the place of human children in a home. Pets are more commonly humanized than in my youth. Is this more fortunate? What is the line that shouldn’t be crossed? Is there one?

Hot topics between pet owners struggle between schools of thought regarding training methods, clothing, costumes, kenneling, indoor vs. outdoor, and the list goes on. My children also have pets, and bestowed upon them is an expectation and responsibility to care for these animals and acknowledge that their life, and the quality thereof, relies on their following through with those expectations and responsibilities. Still, a conscious creature may find itself sitting around all day in a yard, cage, or atrium, existing only to await its owner’s time, affection, and curiosity. Again, the scenario may differ from home to home, but I wonder what our animals would say if they could speak. Besides how they wish the kids would clean the litter box more often or play with them more.

I would imagine they would prefer more room and perhaps freedom, but in that very question, am I not also humanizing them? Thus far, I have been discussing creatures in cages and the varying degrees of captivity and humanization. Still, if I were to turn the animal into a human, the ultimate humanization, they would be considered held captive, and that would be considered a crime unless they are instead a pet of justice. A vast array of crimes, both convicted and accused, can cause a human to be put into a cage. Not only is it the guilty that is locked up, but also those who are unfortunate enough to stand accused of a crime and unable to pay the bill for freedom.

It may not occur often enough that the nation as a majority can understand the implications, but this does not detract from the reality of its existence. A single parent of a dual-parent household can be introduced to the justice system and held until trial. An expedited trial can be waived, and the bail could be beyond what that family could dream of affording, especially if it took both parents working to make it. In an oversimplification, the justice system holds them like pets in a pet store. With the right amount of collateral or money, you can repurchase your person’s freedom, perhaps temporarily, if they have not yet been convicted.

During this, they exist only to await trial and the answer to the question of their freedom. They remain captive to discover if a court finds them held for a reason or despite their innocence. After which, if they are found innocent, they are rewarded only with the future that should have already been theirs. Birthdays, graduations, holidays, weddings, funerals, and other special occasions are missed and gone. In this scenario, jobs are lost, perhaps a family split, a financial burden arises, a moral injury is incurred by all involved, and thus a family grieves. In such a scenario, the damage is done. Another question remains: is this right just because it’s legal? Do legality and morality walk hand in hand? Can justice be found in legality over morality, or might the opposite be true? What are a family’s mental and economic health implications regarding such an event?

I have transitioned from a child questioning the morality of capturing animals to an adult questioning how we capture one another and ourselves. I continue to explore how the experience of being a pet depends on the person who owns them. I ask myself if there is a line and, if so, where it is regarding captivity, companionship, and morality. It can all seem fairly innocent, and perhaps it is, but even if it is an oversimplification, does the same conclusion exist even for those found as a pet of justice?

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