In an unusual media stunt, the Auckland SPCA is training three shelter dogs to drive.
SPCA Auckland CEO, Christine Kalin, sums up the rationale as follows:
“I think sometimes people think because they’re getting an animal that’s been abandoned that somehow it’s a second-class animal … Driving a car actively demonstrates to potential rescue dog adopters that you can teach an old dog new tricks. The dogs have achieved amazing things in eight short weeks of training, which really shows with the right environment just how much potential all dogs from the SPCA have as family pets.”
So long as they’re not pit bulls, I imagine.
This is, of course, an awareness-raising stunt rather than a viable long-term programme but it raises another issue that is worth reflecting on: a common tendency to advocate for animals on the basis of intelligence – as demonstrated by their ability to perform human tasks – as the grounds for moral consideration which oblige us to treat non-human animals far better than we generally do.
But there are reasons to be wary of the focus on intelligence as a criterion for moral consideration and the double-standards applied between domestic and farmed animals are especially apparent here. Cows are at least as intelligent as dogs and pigs have performed much better in tests of intelligence than either. And yet, it is abhorrent to eat dog but not pig or cow flesh. The intelligence standard as a benchmark for moral consideration becomes disturbing when we realise that in application it would mean we may justify lesser concern for infants, or the severely mentally disabled. In Peter Singer’s famous limit example of the anencephalic (i.e. without a complete brain, only the brain stem controlling basic survival functions) child, the human would have less of a right to life than any fully functional animal. According to Singer, the only thing that prevents us from eating the child is ‘speciesism‘.