Q9. Is it acceptable in Jainism to have a pet?
First, let’s talk about the basic tenets of Ahimsa relevant for this question. Once we understand and internalize the basic principles, we need to use our own wisdom to apply them in our current environment:
- Ahimsa means to not hurt any living beings, including animals, through our thoughts, words and actions
- Ahimsa means to respect all living beings and have compassion towards all living beings
- Ahimsa means to let the living beings live in their natural habitat
- Ahimsa means to not use animals, directly or indirectly, for our physical, emotional or any other needs
Jainism advocates following path of minimum violence for lay-people (Shravak and Shravikas), which implies using only one-sense living beings for our healthy survival and not hurting any movable two sense and higher living beings.
When it comes to having a pet, there are few basic questions: Why do you want a pet? How/where are you going to get the pet from? And other considerations like what would you feed the pet, environmental impact, companionship of same species?
Why do you want a pet?
The reasons for owning a pet can range from companionship, therapy, want to give a shelter to an animal, just because all my friends have it, it is becoming a trend now etc.
Whatever the reason might be, adopting a pet animal and bringing it inside a house restricts their freedom and deprives them of their natural habitat and companionship of its own species. Animals aren’t meant to be used by humans for their needs. Domestication of animals started only because of humans.
Buying a pet from a pet store / puppy mill
There is a lot of violence in pet breeding industries. For example, the state of Kansas is the largest puppy breeder in America. For every 1 puppy to put into market, 3-4 puppies are killed which are non-sellable.
The pet industry also causes other kinds of violence to the animals that it sells. They separate the mothers from their litters shortly after birth, causing emotional anguish that may be out of sight to the pet owner, but very real, nonetheless. They also generally neuter or spay the animals. Even though this is done for the good intention of preventing more unwanted animals, it still causes violence and prevents them from having normal reproductive functions. As a result, if you buy animals from pet store, breeder or any commercial sources, then you are becoming a direct contributor towards such violence and this would be harmful to your spiritual growth even if you are treating that animal kindly with shelter, food, and companionship.
Rescuing a pet or using a pet as a guide/therapy/service animal
For Example, a neighbor is moving, he can’t find a home for his pet dog and he offers you to take care of it or he will put the dog to sleep. In this example, if you are willing, capable and you can take care of the pet then you are saving a pet’s life and you are having a pet out of compassion.
Another example is adoption of abandoned animal from shelter that in returns provides valuable companionship and possibly even support for an older or special needs person.
These are few such justifiable scenarios in which you may be saving a life and preventing violence. However, you want to be mindful of directly/indirectly not promoting use of animals for human needs.
Feeding pet animals
Among the two most popular pets, dogs and cats, both are generally carnivorous. By keeping a pet, you obligate yourself to feeding the animal its preferred and natural diet. Often that will lead the owner to feed the pets non-vegetarian food, which, in turn, makes the owner complicit in supporting the entire meat industry, not just the portion eaten by the animals. This is because the meat industry uses the by-products of slaughter that are not suitable for human consumption for pet food, effectively subsidizing the cost of animal agriculture. By keeping a pet that requires non-vegetarian food, one is effectively engaging in the killing of cows, pigs, chickens, and fish to support their need for a pet.
If you decide to feed your pet vegan or vegetarian food, then it is very important to make sure your pet gets regular vet checkups to make sure they are getting the nutrients they need. For example, it is typically said that cats have to be carnivorous due to their need for taurine and arginine, which are not normally found in plant-based foods. Taurine and arginine aren’t just desirable for cats, but they are essentially because without enough taurine cats will go blind. Fortunately, Taurine and arginine can both be synthesized from vegan sources, and so these are typically found in vegan cat foods, including the brands Wysong, Benevo, and Ami. This is just one example but if you keep a pet, then you have to do the due diligence and research in determining their nutritional needs and alternatives.
Pets also have an adverse effect on the environment. A recent study by UCLA found that dogs and cats are responsible for 25 to 30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the United States. Furthermore, they can also carry disease, pollute waterways, and coastal zones through runoff from areas with feces, and have adverse effects on wildlife.
Companionship of its own species
Most pet animals are social / pack animals and require the company of others of their own kind. However, few pet owners are able to adopt multiple animals to keep them company. In other cases, these animals are locked up in homes like prisons for long periods of time, at the mercy of their owners to come home and interact with them. The justification that they appear happy and lead materially more comfortable lives than they could in the wild, are not valid justifications for subjugating animals for the purpose of our entertainment, companionship, or functional support.
What is the root cause? And how can we address the root cause?
If it weren’t for humans, animals would never have been domesticated. Humans mostly started domesticating animals for their needs and now we are in this vicious circle. Just because the need keeps on increasing, puppy breeder keeps on increasing the supply. And as noted earlier for every 1 puppy to put into market, 3-4 non-sellable puppies are killed.
If these domesticated animals were sent back to their natural habitat without preparing/training them, then they wouldn’t be able to survive in the new environment either.
We cannot change all the impacts of animal domestication overnight. But at an individual level, we can stop contributing towards increasing the demand. And we can also focus on our spiritual growth so that we aren’t depending on pet for our emotional needs.
We strongly suggest against buying a pet animal from a pet store or commercial sources. In specific scenarios, we must use our own wisdom to do what's right at the time.
If we can help any living being in any way, then we must do so. We should never miss an opportunity to help all different forms of life around us if we have the capacity to do it.
We should also work towards growing spiritually and becoming emotionally strong, so we can eliminate our dependence of our emotional well-being on any external factors.