Monday, April 9, 2012

Things That Are in the Cradle

Source:  /  via:
The three folks you see to the left were found to be hoarding 135 cats in a small trailer in the New York town of Halfmoon early last week. Neighbors were alerted to the situation by virtue of the piquant aroma therein produced.

I'm not generally of the notion that animals have rights in the same way that people do. Animals have severely diminished moral agency and cannot be held legally accountable for their actions. I do however believe that animals are due some measure of care and that domesticated animals that are not granted by their owners or stewards a sufficiency of comfort have been maligned. I am of the opinion that pet ownership (and livestock management, though I'm less familiar with how modern husbandry is conducted) is a reciprocal arrangement. In return for companionship, the human agent agrees to provide for the welfare of the brute agent. Failure to do so represents a breach of an implicit contract.

So with that said, what's the deal with animal hoarding? It's egregious (and here I refer you to the Latin root of the word "egregious", translating roughly to "outside the herd"... see what I did there?) mostly because it's gross and weird. Our friends in the photograph on the left might be otherwise useful and productive members of society, but simply by virtue of having more than a few pets, they have merrily traipsed past the threshold of normal into a manse reeking of ammonia, dragging home dead mice and coughing up matted hairballs. The euvoluntary question is to what extent was the welfare of the animals in danger? How do the alternative arrangements for the kitties compare?

Now, this specific story offers little evidence one way or another (and that's striking on its own merits), but I forward to you the proposition that it doesn't really matter in terms of public opinion. I suggest that people find pet hoarding prima facie offensive. It's assumed that anyone deranged enough to keep over a hundred cats in an apartment or a trailer, regardless of the health and welfare of the animals, must not be taking adequate care of them.

I do hope that the adoptable animals find good homes and the borderline (if any) animals are rehabilitated. I'm not sure what opinion to have on these people though. I hope the gentleman in the middle continues what must be a storied career as a Flea Market Santa and that the ward there on the bottom pursues his dream of becoming a steampunk barnstormer, but let's hope that the followup to this story isn't as tragic as it might have been.

Questions for discussion:

  • What are the limits on euvoluntary pet ownership? A safe, happy, comfortable home is euvoluntary. How about declawing? How about tail bobs or ear clipping? Are ridiculous dog outfits euvoluntary? Forced breeding? Consider the following: it's legal to eat your pets so long as you don't abuse them first. 
  • What is the maximum acceptable clowder size? I've never met anyone who had more than three cats at once (though Mrs. verpetas did meet a crazy cat lady when working for the 2001 Lithuanian census... oh, the stories she did tell), but would five be nutty? Ten? Is it a function of residential square footage?
  • Are there different rules for species and breed? I can imagine comfortably sharing living space with a couple of cats and, say, an iguana, but trying to do the same with a couple of horses and a camel to be slightly more challenging.
  • Most importantly (for the Hayekian crowd), how important exactly is the role of local knowledge and discretion in cases of animal abuse? There is no national-scale animal welfare regulatory agency. Animal Control is de facto considered to be a local public good, and I don't see how it's any more or less congestible than, say, education or housing, yet Congress sees fit to have Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development. Why have animal rights lobbies been so impotent?
Which one do you suppose is the ringleader? My money is on the matron, but I'm prepared to entertain arguments to the contrary.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?