Dylan, a three-year-old yellow Lab, leaped from the van and made a beeline for Beth, a volunteer who was standing alone in her driveway, pressing a black blindfold to her eyes. This was their second meeting. Judging from Dylan’s demeanor (his tail wagged like a metronome) his final days as a guide-dog-in-training were happy ones. His trainer, Natalie Garza, introduced Dylan to my daughter and me, and although he bowed his head for a scratch, you could tell his heart wasn’t in it. Instead, he was focused on the task at hand: leading Beth, who otherwise has normal vision, on a test walk through a suburban neighborhood in Austin, Texas.
Guiding a sighted volunteer, Garza explained, required Dylan to work harder than usual. Specifically, he had to exaggerate his signals with Beth, signals that a visually impaired person accustomed to sightless navigation might not require. Dylan, who was soon to be matched with his first visually impaired guardian, couldn’t afford to cut corners today. “These dogs save people’s lives,” Beth reminded me as Garza lowered a harness over Dylan’s head and adjusted it for comfort. He had to be on his game.
And he was. The walk was a success. The highlight (as far as Garza was concerned) came when Dylan led Beth down an uneven sidewalk that paralleled a fence behind which two dogs had erupted into a growling frenzy. For most canines, the distraction would have been unbearable. For my two dogs, it would have meant warfare. But for Dylan it was as if the commotion wasn’t happening. Not so much as an ear pricked up.
Instead, drawing on his training, Dylan did his job. He locked eyes on possible tripping hazards—mostly tree roots that had buckled the sidewalk—and asked Beth to acknowledge the obstructions before proceeding. He erred consistently on the side of caution, even halting once before a low-hanging tree limb that Beth would easily have passed under, waiting for her to touch it to acknowledge its presence. “Good boy to watch,” Beth assured Dylan, before giving him the hand signal to proceed. “Straight to the curb,” she said. Walking ahead a few yards, Dylan stopped and sat, signaling to Beth that it was time to step up. She did. “It’s easy to trust this guy,” she said, while Dylan, eyebrows now arched, glanced at Garza for a cookie.
He got several.
Neither my daughter nor I had ever witnessed such an interaction, and frankly, we were moved by it. Observing Dylan and Beth as they worked, thinking about the intimacy of their connection, not to mention what’s at stake in it, touched us in a pure and uncomplicated way, so much so that it’s hard to imagine anyone finding fault with this unique interspecies relationship, one that arguably evolved to be exactly how it appeared: mutually beneficial.
But that’s why God made philosophers—especially animal rights philosophers. 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.
Gary Francione, a philosopher and distinguished professor of law at Rutgers University, has articulated this position more thoroughly than any other thinker. Wiry, energetic, and temperamentally geared for debate, Francione, sixty-two, has made abolitionism central to the movement’s position on domestication. In The Abolitionist Approach, which he coauthored with his partner, Anna Charlton, Francione argues that while we are obligated to care for domesticated animals that are still alive, “we [must] stop bringing them into existence altogether.”
To clarify, Francione is talking about more than the animals we breed for food, leather, and medical research. He extends his argument to include all pets, arguing that “continued domestication is not morally acceptable.” But surely, a reasonable person would think, there’d be an exception made for cases such as Dylan and his ilk, brilliant animals who help humans integrate into society and, in return, are rewarded with food, playtime, shelter, and a warm bed? In an e-mail, Francione reiterated: “I am opposed to continuing to produce domesticated nonhumans for any human purpose. This would include, but not be limited to, the use of dogs to guide humans or find bombs or drugs, or the use of primates to assist those who are confined to wheel chairs.”
This isn’t the sangfroid stance of a cloistered ivory tower crank. Francione, who personally cares for at any given time five to seven rescue dogs, and who has dutifully served in the trenches as a selfless vegan activist, comes from a perspective that so deeply values sentient animals that he equates their basic interests with those of humans. “We can no more justify using nonhumans as human resources,” he has written, “than we can justify human slavery.” His problem with domestication isn’t a prejudice against livestock or pets (unlike, say, the philosopher J. Baird Callicott, who calls domesticated beings “living artifacts” that are “bred to docility, tractability, stupidity, and dependency”). Rather, it’s that domesticated animals can never escape the specter of dependency on their masters. “I love my dogs,” Francione has said. “But they don’t belong here.”
Dylan’s relationship with his guardian might be mutually beneficial, but at the end of the day—say, if Dylan develops his own eye troubles—he’s on the losing end of the power dynamic. Any mercy human caregivers provide is, as the abolitionists see it, little more than voluntarily and arbitrarily given. And in that there’s little security. If Dylan’s guardian decides to surrender him to a shelter, or even euthanize him for a non-health-related reason, there is no moral firewall to prevent it.
But the problem extends beyond that. Even if Dylan is treated like a king, he still lives his life in a non-consenting state of servitude for a master whose needs (in this case visual impairment) take precedence over Dylan’s freedom to enjoy a relatively autonomous life. Did Dylan consent to being a Seeing Eye dog? No. The abolitionists would argue that this arrangement is therefore intrinsically and irredeemably unfair. In The Abolitionist Approach, Francione elaborates on the idea with some finality:
Domesticated animals are dependent on us for when and whether they eat, whether they have water, where and when they urinate, when they sleep, whether they get any exercise, etc. Unlike human children, who, except in unusual cases, will become independent and functioning members of human society, domestic animals are neither part of the nonhuman world nor fully part of our world. They remain forever in a netherworld of vulnerability, dependent on us for everything that is of relevance to them. We have bred them to be compliant and servile, or to have characteristics that are actually harmful to them but are pleasing to us. We may make them happy in one sense, but the relationship can never be “natural” or “normal.” They do not belong stuck in our world irrespective of how well we treat them.
All this angst over the fate of domesticated animals—even the ones that are well cared for—might seem peripheral to the reality we know, if not just another case of scholars disappearing down a rabbit hole of irrelevance. Animal domestication is so finely absorbed into the patterns of contemporary life that it has been normalized to the point that it’s easy not to think about it. Rarely if ever are we asked to consider it as a discrete phenomenon that affects our lives in fundamental ways. This is especially true as the manifest benefits of domestication—companionship, cheap meat, leather products, advanced medical research, zoos, therapy dogs—become more accessible and normalized than ever before.
But there are good reasons to scrutinize the effects of animal domestication. Ecologically, animal domestication is a disaster. The United States annually raises approximately 3 million goats, 57 million pigs, 90 million cows, 238 million turkeys, and 8.5 billion chickens. We own 78 million dogs and 74 million cats. The resources required to sustain these animals—and, in industrial cases, kill and process them—are astronomical. Feed requirements are especially distressing. In the United States alone, the majority of the 84 million acres of soy and 90 million acres of corn we grow is churned into animal feed. (Our pets aren’t exonerated from this unprecedented misallocation of natural resources, either, since the primary sources for pet food are the by-products of domestic animal farming, mostly slaughterhouse scraps.) Nevermind that corn and soy—in addition to pastures set aside for livestock—account for 75 percent of arable land usage, and that the vast majority of pesticides and fertilizers used in the United States are devoted to these crops. Considering all this, Jared Diamond’s famous remark that agriculture is “the worst mistake in the history of the human race” starts to make sense. Animal domestication—which is only 10,000 years old—is, more than any other development, what made that mistake possible.
Beyond the ecological consequences, there are also basic ethical implications to consider. As with cats and dogs, farm animals are sentient beings. They feel pain and pleasure. They suffer. As the philosopher Tom Regan put it, they understand themselves to be “subjects of a life.” Thinkers from Jeremy Bentham to Charles Darwin to Peter Singer, the Princeton bioethicist, have, over several centuries, highlighted the moral significance of animals’ consciousness and emotional lives. One of modern humanity’s greatest ethical oversights is the fact that we’ve failed to come to terms with the animals with whom we share the planet, especially the ones we’ve bred to live among us. As conscious beings who prefer life over death, these creatures—all genetically altered to serve our needs—certainly deserve better.
Francione’s quixotic plan to end animal domestication is, within the animal rights framework, perhaps the most acceptable answer to the challenges posed by animal domestication. While the odds of Francione effecting any fundamental change are distant, to trivialize the quandary of domestication as some sort of animal rights fetish would be a mistake. Ending domestication through gradual extinction would obviously have significant ethical and environmental outcomes that could reshape our relationship with both the planet and the creatures on it. For this reason alone, Francione has chosen the right battle. Whether he’ll win it or not is another question altogether.
As is often the case with big thinkers, the substance of Francione’s argument is inseparable from his style. He’s a gifted debater whose message is logically cohesive and layered with evidence. He does not articulate his points so much as hammer away at them. This unwavering tenacity, enhanced by considerable charisma, has earned him a substantial following of acolytes (“Franciobots,” as his critics call them), but it has also cultivated many enemies, most of whom seem more antagonized by his brash style than the actual substance of his proposals.
Most of the anti-Francione invective gets aired in the lower depths of social media. Occasionally an opponent elaborates in more explicit terms. After Francione characterized University of Texas at El Paso philosopher Steve Best as a student recruiter for the Animal Liberation Front (a group that condones the use of illegal resistance tactics, including the destruction of property ), Best wrote on his blog, “When wearing his public mask, [Francione] appears as principled, professional, fair, and kind; but in private dealings, however … he is arrogant, controlling, insulting, duplicitous, conniving, aggressive, and verbally abusive.” Tobias Leenaert, cofounder of Ethical Vegetarian Alternative and a former adherent of Francione’s work, recently condemned “those who mindlessly follow [Francione] in his negativity,” urging activists “to take note of how damaging the divisive attitude of Francione is.” Many people in the movement consider this back-and-forth over Francione’s message and character to be a distraction from the larger effort to help animals.
Francione mostly shakes off the controversy, promoting his abolitionist message with dogged consistency rather than getting mired in an academic scrum. But he’s not above responding to his critics. Last fall he wrote a blog post on his website titled, “A Lot of People Are Angry with Me—and They are Right.” Contrary to what the title suggests, he didn’t concede his critics’ points so much as restate why he was right in the first place. As a scholar whose message has remained remarkably intact for more than three decades, Francione remains as tactically divisive as he is central to the intellectual foundation of the animal rights movement, and neither his abolitionist message nor his confrontational style show any sign of softening.
As it happens, the most compelling challenge to Francione’s extinction-based approach to animal rights comes from outside its traditional circles. Will Kymlicka, fifty-three, is an Oxford-educated political theorist who holds the Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada. He has centered his scholarly work on political multiculturalism, in particular the fair treatment of minority groups. In 2011, with his wife, the independent scholar Sue Donaldson, he published Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights, which extended the couple’s theories of multicultural inclusion to nonhuman beings, and in so doing placed them squarely in the animal rights debate. The book has captivated the field of animal rights in a way it hasn’t been captivated since the publication, in 1975, of Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation.
Kymlicka and Donaldson think the current framework for considering our moral obligations to animals is compelling but incomplete. Activist agendas, they write, are “far removed from the contours of existing public opinion”—which is to say, out of touch with mainstream ideas about how to improve animal lives. Zoopolis seeks to address this concern by not only making an academic case for our better treatment of domesticated animals, but to take that case to the court of public opinion in a way that abolitionists, ever the outsiders, have been unable to do. The solution, they argue, is not the end of animal domestication—something they see as both morally wrong and fatally tone-deaf to popular sentiment—but the exact opposite. They want to grant domestic animals the same status as citizens. Domestication, as they see it, is not a prerequisite for inevitable exploitation. It’s a prerequisite for inclusion in civil society.
In the hands of a skeptical layman, such a proposal lends itself to snarky asides about dogs and cats lining up to vote. But when Kymlicka and Donaldson explain it, the case for animal citizenship achieves an unexpected elegance, if not gravitas. Anyone who thinks there’s something worth protecting in Dylan’s relationship with Beth, for example, will inevitably be provoked by the authors’ case for the future animal citizen, a case that is basically a brick thrown through the window of conventional animal rights wisdom by an almost genteel couple who could not, at least by temperament, seem more averse to scholarly confrontation.
Before developing the book’s central argument, Kymlicka and Donaldson assess a couple of the abolitionists’ critical assumptions. Addressing the claim that domesticated animals are confined by various dependencies, they wonder, Well, who isn’t? “Dependency,” they write, “is an inescapable fact of life for us all.” They concede that while “there is no question that domesticated animals are subject to appalling indignities,” it is nonetheless “a mistake to equate this indignity with their state of dependence on humans per se.” None of us are truly independent. Nor should we want to be. We exist on a continuum of reliance on others to meet our most basic wants and needs. This is as true for humans as for nonhumans. To an extent, these interlocking dependencies allow civil society to function.
Likewise, Kymlicka and Donaldson reject the argument that domestication is incompatible with “the good life.” Whereas Francione has portrayed domesticated animals as “stuck in our world,” and other abolitionist scholars, such as Joan Dunayer, have characterized their role as one of “forced participation,” Kymlicka and Donaldson downplay such dour assessments as incompatible with what we witness every day, be it in our living rooms or on a small family farm. “We all know companion animals who live good lives,” they explain, adding how they “seem to thrive in the interspecies community of farm life, forming close cross-species friendships.” Building on everyday examples of domesticated animals living happily among other species—say, on farm sanctuaries—they boil their observations down to a single question: “If it were possible to have this kind of world, without the exploitation, wouldn’t this be preferable to the extinction of domesticated animals?”
Answering the question demands, in part, updating what it means to be a citizen. Citizenship requires collectively participating in community life to shape its culture and institutions. Traditionally, this task entails endorsing “a conception of the good,” articulating reasons for that conception, and debating the rules and regulations that uphold it. In short, it requires some level of cognitive agency. But therein lies a problem, because if citizenship is “interpreted in these highly cognitivist ways, then animals do indeed seem incapable of being citizens.” And if animals are incapable of being citizens, then their interests are back to being subordinated to the whims of fickle human exploiters. And animal advocates, for their part, continue to face the oxymoronic position of endorsing the extinction of the creatures they aim to protect.
To clear away this obstacle, the authors make a clever move. Noting that a cognitively based criterion for citizenship also excludes “children, the mentally disabled, people with dementia, and those who are temporarily incompetent due to illness or injury,” they draw on disability studies to incorporate the notion of “dependent agency” into the concept of citizenship. This means that “even the severely cognitively disabled have the capacity for agency,” though it is the kind of power that is “exercised in and through relations with particular others in whom they trust, and who have the skills and knowledge needed to recognize and assist” them. See it as a kind of benevolent guardianship, albeit one bound by an absolute moral duty, not unlike the one that guides how parents treat their young children.
The point here is not to morally equate disabled people with healthy animals (or unruly kids). Instead, drawing a parallel between certain animals and the mentally disabled simply makes room in civil society for what one scholar of disability studies calls “non-communicating citizens,” a category of sentience broad enough to include the mentally disabled as well as domesticated animals. Under this “new and more inclusive conception of citizenship,” write Kymlicka and Donaldson, we are finally prepared “to extend justice and membership to a historically subordinated group.”
Naturally, this all seems like a headlong leap. Envisioning billions of slavering creatures set loose to plunder human resources, defecating everywhere and chewing up infants is easy to do. The inner strength of Zoopolis, however, is its refusal to adhere to political theory alone. It does the hard work of fleshing out theory with the pragmatic details of how a domesticated citizenry might funtion. What’s so arresting is how realistic, how orderly, and how genuine the prospect somehow appears.
Several factors support the plausibility of an animal citizenry as an alternative to arbitrary subjugation or extinction. The most important is that, with humans no longer breeding animals for consumption (which cannot be done to fellow citizens) the number of domesticated animals would drop dramatically, making their presence less intrusive. To be sure, animal citizens could enjoy very modest reproductive freedom, but there’d be no sexual free-for-all allowed (not that this is something domestic animals would even do in the first place; many individuals in a species defy the screwing-like-rabbits stereotype, never breeding at all). Bottom line: Animals could have sex but numbers wouldn’t skyrocket.
Kymlicka and Donaldson also insist that our moral obligations to animals are not the same as those for other sentient beings. That is, wild and “liminal” animals (those that live among us but are not domesticated) are differently categorized and, as such, aren’t subject to the same extensive obligations of citizenship. Furthermore, and perhaps most controversially (as far as traditional animal rights are concerned), the authors believe that it is justifiable, with numerous caveats, to use animals. “Use is not necessarily exploitative,” they write. And with that last stipulation we have, as we might for any nation state, criteria for determining who gets to be a citizen, how they get to be a citizen, and under what circumstances the citizen will contribute to society.
For all their optimism about animal citizenship, Kymlicka and Donaldson aren’t writing a Disney script. Their theory calls for considerable adaptations, most of them inconvenient. Regarding animal mobility, for example, humans would need to eliminate many restrictions against animal access to public and private space. Chickens might warrant unfettered access to our urban backyards and compost bins as much as socialized dogs would to our restaurants and greenbelts. Various restraints would obviously be required for various animals—nobody is proposing unlimited mobility—but the guiding principle would be that animals are “presumed to have the skills for negotiating social life,” ones that should not be hindered by “arbitrary restrictions on their freedom of movement.”
Likewise, in this newly animated world, we’d be duty bound to protect animal citizens from harm caused by human activity, other animals, and even the environment (during natural disasters). Because a person’s legal standing under criminal law sanctifies community membership for humans, it would now be required to do so for animal citizens, too. As health care becomes a right in enlightened polities, humans would additionally be obligated to undertake “some scheme of animal health insurance.” We would also have to enact measures that provided domestic animals access to nutritionally appropriate foods. Not least, animals would, as citizens, deserve political representation (no, not by other animals), the kind that genuinely honored, however paternalistically, the premise of “co-citizenship.”
Tightening the bonds of animal citizenship wouldn’t fall on humans alone. The animals themselves would have certain obligations. Behave badly, prove yourself to be beyond socialization one too many times, and you, animal citizen, can be placed in some form of relative isolation (albeit with proper representation) or subjected to a reform program. More optimistically, recalling that the authors do not rule out “using” animal citizens in civil society, they break from conventional animal rights positions by allowing for the judicious consumption of select animal products and services. There seems to be no inherent moral restriction—or at least nothing that runs counter to citizenship status—on taking wool from sheep, eggs from hens, and, in very rare cases, milk from cows. Nor does there seem to be any necessary contradiction with citizenship status to ride horses, enrich pastures with grazing livestock, have oxen yank a plow, or keep pigs as pets or garbage disposals (as swine once did in nineteenth-century cities).
Kymlicka and Donaldson admit that establishing animal citizenry will be an ad hoc process marked by endless entanglements. What if your dog takes a shit in Applebee’s? What if your pet pig bites the ear off the neighbor’s Chihuahua in the city park? What to do with the local heifer’s third pregnancy? Castrate the local bull who keeps plowing over the fence and getting to business? Abort? Forcibly separate these fierce lovers? It all seems like a recipe for chaos. But our society, one might note, is hardly a paragon of comportment. Human bites can be a greater medical threat to humans than animal bites (in terms of their severity, not commonality). Public defecation by people is, in some cities, as much of a concern as canine defecation. Humans excel in unwanted pregnancies. Animals don’t get wasted, haze fraternity brothers, or text and drive. And animals are arguably just as open to socialization as many humans. Point being: Civil society for humans has its moments of rational equilibrium, but it can also be a barely contained mess. If nothing else, citizen animals might restore some order, as their presence in our lives so often does (a favorite example: Cats in prisons reduce rates of violence among prisoners). So, wouldn’t this be preferable? As Donaldson told me recently: “If animals had more control over their lives, we’d find that we were pursuing complementary agendas.”
To ponder this possibility in a more tangible setting—to approach closure on a question I was honestly having a hard time answering—I decided to visit a place where humans and animals approximated the kind of shared civil society that Kymlicka and Donaldson envision. I drove south to a Texas farm sanctuary.
There are eighty-eight animals from six species living on Rowdy Girl Sanctuary in Angleton, Texas, about an hour south of Houston. On a balmy afternoon in early March, the animals were surprisingly quiet, so quiet that all I heard as I got out of my car was the wind whipping up a field of cordgrass.
Meanwhile, Renee King, the sanctuary’s owner, was frenetically making up for the silence. She rushed around belting out various directives in high-octave registers, haranguing her visitors to gather in the meeting room and sign forms for the tour; controlling the dogs (“If you stay in here you need to lay down”); begging her husband, Tommy, to put the dogs out back (because they didn’t lay down); embarassing a visiting dad whose baby started bawling (“I can’t speak with that going on!”); and warning other guests, after we’d moved outside, to “stay away from the barbed-wire fence!” It was a lot of yelling and cajoling, but behind it all—and despite the fact that she’d never even heard of animal citizenship before I showed up—King was stabilizing as best she could the moving parts of a delicate inter-
The animals at Rowdy Girl have access to a variety of open spaces, and make basic choices regarding what and when to eat. They enjoy excellent health care and shelter, and interact with other animals more or less at will (although the dogs had to be trained not to harass the chickens). It’s tempting to dismiss the place as a glorified petting zoo, but Rowdy Girl—as with all official farm sanctuaries—cares for these animals until they die a natural death (or, in extreme circumstances, need to be humanely euthanized), never using them for profit. The animals are expected to behave in ways appropriate for their species, and King—who does yoga with a couple of temperamental cows to help them chill out—is committed to seeing this through. Basically, if you were an animal without a home, this is where you’d want to land.
Some citizen-like preferences were obvious. A turkey named Cooper followed the tour for more than two hours, milling among us, clucking and fanning his feathers. When we left to go back into the garage for a Q&A session, Cooper became visibly irritated and squawked in protest. Other decisions and inclinations had to be pointed out to me. Penny the pig preferred apples, but only if they were cut in half; Ivy the pig could be scratched on the back but not on the face; Herman the pig liked for people to sing to him, which we all did in unison as he stared blankly at us and urinated. Cows who especially enjoyed company were provided access to a “socializing pasture.” We interacted with the animals easily and without conflict, walking freely among pigs, cows, chickens, dogs, horses, and the ubiquitous Cooper. Near the end of the tour, I noticed two young women feeding carrots to a few horses and, evidently overcome by the equine majesty before them, started weeping as the horses dropped to their backs and wriggled thunderously in the dust.
If Rowdy Girl Sanctuary approximates the general stipulations for citizenship established by Kymlicka and Donaldson, it also deviates from them in notable ways. Though King is more than happy to require a $20 donation to help fund the sanctuary, she refuses to sell the eggs laid by the hens roaming the pastures, eggs that her husband told me often rot in the field. When pressed to explain why, King noted that the pigs sometimes eat the eggs, but that the real reason was that she didn’t think it was right “to go in the field and pick up a chicken’s period and scramble it for breakfast.” So there’s that.
Her response actually reflects standard (if hyperbolized) abolitionist logic, the kind reinforced by the belief that while it was noble to rescue animals, we were in no way morally permitted to use them for our purposes. The pervasive vegan T-shirts and hats worn by at least half the visitors that day clearly evoked the Francione-inspired message that existing animals were to be cared for but, in the end, removed from Earth to avoid further exploitation. The fact that King forbids the animals to reproduce—the sanctuary spays and neuters—further highlights her alignment, openly articulated or not, with the abolitionist position. The one animal rights thinker that King approvingly mentioned during the tour was the social psychologist Melanie Joy, an influential animal rights writer who has characterized domestication as the result of “male dominance.”
Later, I pressed King to explain what I saw to be a contradiction. On the one hand, her sanctuary conceptualized animals as morally equivalent to humans—hence the extreme decision not to eat the chickens’ eggs, or even to use cow manure as fertilizer. On the other hand, these animals were denied the most basic freedom of even carefully controlled reproduction. The upshot was that the ultimate objective of the sanctuary’s work was the extinction of animals understood to be morally equivalent to humans. How do you square that?
King sighed, a little exasperated with my question. “Look,” she said, “we’re a very mission-driven organization. There are too many animals that need to be saved. We save the ones we can. It’s all about numbers. Some of my chickens are rescues from a cockfighting ring in El Paso. I have a herd of cows recently brought in from Florida. We shouldn’t be bringing more of these animals into the world. There’s no room. Why would I want there to be more of these animals?” I nodded and came to what seemed, for a few days at least, the obvious conclusion: For all the hollering, she was right. The planet is lousy with pets.
A month after my initial visit, I checked in with Natalie Garza, who told me that Dylan and his new guardian, a visually impaired retiree who had never before worked with a Seeing Eye dog, were thriving. Natalie was thrilled with how the two were progressing. Some of the success was due to the fact that Dylan’s guardian had grown up with dogs his whole life. Also, his ex-wife had worked in a kennel, and his daughter was now a vet tech. But then there was the Dylan side of the equation. Natalie told me that he was doing quite well, enjoying social gatherings with other dogs, spending lots of time in a big backyard, and, whenever he’s “off work,” showing a real propensity for physical activity. He was in fine form. “I think they have similar personalities,” she said of Dylan and his guardian. I told Natalie how much it meant to my daughter and me to witness Dylan learn his trade, noting how fortunate his new guardian must be. Natalie told me to follow up anytime to see how he’s doing. “Oh, and one thing,” she said right before we hung up. “We call the guardian ‘the owner.’”