“It is morally problematic, because more people are thinking of pets as people … They consider them part of their family, they think of them as their best friend, they wouldn’t sell them for a million dollars,” says Dr Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University and one of the founders of the budding field of anthrozoology, which examines human-animal relations. At the same time, research is revealing that the emotional lives of animals, even relatively “simple” animals such as goldfish, are far more complex and rich than we once thought (“dogs are people, too”, according to a 2013 New York Times comment piece by the neuroscientist Gregory Berns). “The logical consequence is that the more we attribute them with these characteristics, the less right we have to control every single aspect of their lives,” says Herzog.
Does this mean that, in 50 years or 100 years, we won’t have pets? Institutions that exploit animals, such as the circus, are shutting down – animal rights activists claimed a significant victory this year with the closure of Ringling Bros circus – and there are calls to end, or at least rethink, zoos. Meanwhile, the number of Britons who profess to be vegan is on the rise, skyrocketing 350% between 2006 and 2016.