From the outside in, the term “animal rights” connotes peace-loving vegans preaching a unified message of “no harm to animals.” In reality, animal advocates are a polemical lot fractured by internecine battles and sharp personality differences. An especially controversial wing of the movement—commonly called the abolitionists—morally objects not only to Dylan’s role as a guide dog, but to all instances of animal domestication. Cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, goats—even the beloved cat, dog, or hamster, according to some very serious thinkers—are beasts that humans should nurture toward extinction.
In a nation that spends more than $60 billion a year on pets, this isn’t a popular opinion. But neither is it an idea without merit. Animal rights abolitionism begins with the premise that the human–animal relationship, no matter how seemingly mutual or beneficial, is in fact inherently exploitative. Because domesticated animals are owned, because they are classified as property, and, most important, because they’ve been genetically altered to achieve traits desired by humans, their interests are automatically subordinated to our own. On this uneven foundation, the abolitionists argue, one can never build a morally stable human–animal relationship, or at least one in which animals get the basic respect and autonomy they deserve.