Earlier this year I wrote a blog post listing “5 reasons why PETA won’t make me ditch my Canada Goose”. For anyone who has been living under a rock (or in some tropical paradise), Canada Goose is a popular brand of amazingly warm, down-filled coats with coyote fur around the hood to protect your face from winter’s fiercest blasts.
The article included a photo of me with Maggie, my 10-year-old Golden-Lab rescue dog. In response, several readers asked, sarcastically, why I hadn’t used Maggie to trim my parka instead.
Then, in the past few weeks, activists protesting the opening of the first Canada Goose bricks-and-mortar stores – in Toronto, New York, and London (UK) – deployed the same tactic, bringing their dogs to the demos. If we are not ready to use our pets for fur, they argued, how can we justify using coyotes?
At first glance, they raise an interesting dilemma: since Maggie and the coyote are both canines, it seems morally inconsistent to love and pamper one while killing and “exploiting” the other. But is it really?
Here are five reasons why my dog is not a coyote, and why wearing fur is not like wearing your pet:
1. Coyotes don’t sleep in our beds
Fact is, dogs in much of North America and Europe – at least in urban areas – have become members of the family. Dogs have long helped humans with our work; they have been our devoted companions. But now they have moved into our homes, and for many families they have become surrogate children. Parents living with teenagers may sometimes feel that dogs are, in fact, preferable to human children. Be that as it may, it is clear that pets dogs are no longer on the outside looking in, but have become an integral part of the family. Using dogs for food or clothing has therefore become taboo, akin to cannibalism. Trees, plants, and other animals – including coyotes – are in the other category: consumables. That’s how the world works. (Sorry, PETA.)
2. Dogs chose us to protect them
Dogs split away from their wolf ancestors at least 15,000 years ago, maybe much earlier. And, as Stephen Budiansky (The Covenant of the Wild: Why Animals Chose Domestication) and others have argued, it is very likely that dogs chose us, rather than the other way around. According to this hypothesis, wolves that were not aggressive enough to compete in their pack may have approached human settlements, attracted by bones and other food that humans discarded. Because the most docile animals were more likely to be tolerated, there was a “natural selection” for non-aggressive animals that accepted a subordinate role in their new human “packs”. The wild coyote is a very different beast. As one trapper told me about a coyote he found in his trap: “When I looked into his eyes, I was chilled by the cold, evil stare; this was nothing like a dog!” Only people who have had no close contact with wolves, coyotes or other wild canines can believe that they are “dogs”.
3. Dogs and coyotes occupy different spheres of moral concern
While, theoretically, all humans should enjoy equal consideration, we are generally more concerned about our own children than about the neighbour’s children. And more about our neighbours than about people in another city or half-way around the globe. Without such “degrees of moral concern” we would not be able to function at all, knowing that children are suffering hunger and abuse in many parts of the world while we sip our lattes. Similarly (whatever PETA would have us believe) we are more likely to swerve to avoid hitting a child – even on a tree-lined road; even if it means risking our lives – than we would for a dog in our path. Again: rats, bees and other social animals live harmoniously in large groups, but will tear to shreds any stranger that wanders into their midst. It seems to be consistent with natural law to treat those closest to us differently.
4. If we kill coyotes, we should use them
Coyotes are highly abundant and have expanded their range across most of North America. They are now the number one predator problem for ranchers and, when fur prices do not provide sufficient incentive to keep populations in check, state and provincial governments may offer bounties to encourage hunting and trapping. If we have to cull coyotes, surely it is more respectful – more ethical – to use them. Of course, domesticated dogs and cats can also over-populate, and they too are culled. In modern, Western societies we collect and put down millions of unwanted pets in “humane shelters” rather than leave them hungry, sick and abused in the streets as is done in many parts of the world. That we choose not to use the fur or other parts of so many unwanted pets probably reflects our wealth (we can afford to waste these resources) and the special relationship we have with dogs and cats, more than any moral imperative.
5. Dogs, like their human protectors, have been removed – or at least insulated – from nature
In nature, most plants and animals produce more young each year than their habitat can support to maturity; those that don’t survive provide food for the others. This is the great cycle of life. And like it or not, people are part of this cycle. We too need resources from our natural environment to survive, and we too will feed the worms in the end (unless we attempt to shirk our debt with cremation, but even then our basic chemical components will be recycled). In ecological terms, there is nothing unusual about using coyote fur on parkas. What is unusual is the abhorrence we feel in Western society about making mitts with Rover or Prince – or Maggie. Traditionally, dogs had to earn their keep: pulling sleds, herding sheep, killing rats and other “vermin”, protecting property. When they died, their fur and leather were valuable in societies too poor to waste useful resources. But, as mentioned in our first point, dogs have become part of our families, and in that sense have been removed from nature. We found Maggie at the Montreal SPCA when she was one year old; she had been there a month and came close to being put down. Happily, the number of dogs euthanized in North American shelters has been greatly reduced, thanks to spay-neuter programs and “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaigns. But we cannot manage wildlife populations with spay-neuter programs. And we cannot live without using the resources that nature provides. The status of “honorary humans” that we have applied to our dogs in wealthy Western societies, cannot be extended to all of creation.
When I mentioned that I was writing this article, a friend suggested a sixth point: she said that we can’t use our dogs for clothing or meat because “they love us”. Unfortunately, as much as I love my dog, I am not at all sure that this sentiment is really reciprocated. I suspect that Maggie’s interest in me is directly proportional to the quantity of kibble, table scraps, ear scratching and interesting walks that I provide. But then, perhaps the love that humans share is not all that different?
So what can we conclude? Animal activists argue that it is an arbitrary distinction to pamper some animals while “exploiting” others. But this short analysis suggests that such distinctions are not so much “arbitrary” as they are culturally determined; they are based on wealth, urbanization, the changing nature of the family, and other socio-cultural factors. Aboriginal people in North America – and traditional societies everywhere – used dog fur and leather, as many still do. Most dogs used to live and work outside; we have brought them into our homes and families. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to use plants and animals and other resources that nature provides.
So the “moral inconsistency” raised by pampering some animals while exploiting others is more apparent than real. And Maggie would almost surely agree, if she were capable of this sort of rational thought; she certainly appreciates the meat, bones and other animal products we offer.
Ironically, animal-rights purists (including PETA) now also oppose the keeping of pets, which they denounce as a form of paternalistic slavery. I am not sure that Maggie would agree.
RECOMMENDED READ: Animals deserve respect, but they are property – not people. By Andrew Lawton, Global News, May 26, 2017.