Friday, November 19, 2021

Is the Concept of Torture Breeding Ableist?

I came across a new term - torture breeding. Torture breeding refers to selectively breeding for traits in domestic animals that are believed to result in "pain, suffering, damage or behavioral disorders". Examples include breeding dogs and cats for brachycephaly, bulging eyes, and other physical traits that lead to health issues; breeding spider-morph ball pythons (the morph has near-universal neurological dysfunction), and so forth.

Now, the idea of breeding an animal for an aesthetically pleasing disability does warrant ethical discussion. But more and more, I'm getting concerned that the rampant, vehement opposition to the practice is fueled by ableist views of disability, in both humans and animals.

In this article, purebred dogs of various breeds are described as living a "life of silent torture" for such terrible issues as "drunken gait", dwarfism, paralysis, etc. I've met people with disabilities that have similar symptoms, and most of them would be very offended to hear someone describe their life as a "life of silent torture".

Even when physical pain and discomfort is a result of a condition, that doesn't make living with that condition "torture". I have a mobility condition (joint hypermobility) that, while it has only minimal effects on my physical capabilities, it means that I'm in pain pretty much constantly. I can tune it out pretty effectively most of the time, but whenever I stop to focus on how my body is feeling right now, I can pretty much guarantee, one of the things it is feeling is pain. But I don't feel tortured by my hypermobility. 

I've experienced things that I would describe as torture - sexual assault victimization and ABA extinction come to mind as examples. Those experiences are also in line with what is conventionally described as torture in human rights discussions - obviously sexual assault qualifies, and extinction is essentially equivalent to shunning, a psychological abuse tactic. Living with a chronic pain condition is nothing like those experiences.

Clint's Reptiles, one of my favorite Youtubers, breeds spider ball pythons. He gives his argument for why he considers this practice ethical in this video. He points out that many of the features of his dog - features that are common to many dog breeds and generally not considered a problem even by people who condemn "torture breeding" in dogs - would make him a terrible wolf and unlikely to survive in the wild, and raises the question: what is a defect? His argument essentially boils down to the animal equivalent of the social model of disability, ie, if it's possible for an animal, in a captive environment with a human catering to their needs, to live a happy life, can they really be said to be defective?

Most of the commenters disagreed. One commenter stated:

The question you should be answering is if you'd rather be a spider ball python or a ball python. Not brushing it off as "I wouldn't want to be a snake in the first place." Is a debilitating neurological condition akin to chronic vertigo at all equatable to altered behaviour and floppy ears in an otherwise healthy dog? No. Is it more appropriate to equate it to chronic arthritis and cancer development in dalmatians, considering the degree of debilitation? I think it is, personally.

But breeding a spider ball python isn't choosing for that snake to have spider or not. It's choosing for that snake, who will have spider, to exist or not. If I could choose to cure my joint hypermobility, I probably would. But if my choice was to either live with joint hypermobility or not live at all, I'd want to live.

Applying quality of life arguments to whether or not an individual should be brought into life has always struck me as odd, because how can someone who doesn't exist be seen as benefitting or suffering from non-existence? To me, it makes about as much sense as dividing by zero.

Another commenter stated:

Suppose for a moment that instead of a head wobble, our breeding made the snakes completely blind. Now the snake would not be stressed by this (as it had never known sight to begin with) and could probably still eat (through other senses like smell and feel) and could even live out a life as full and long as any other ball python.

Indeed, if I were blind and someone told me that I could not live as full a life as a sighted person, I would probably be offended, and rightly so. 

Yes, my life would contain difficulties that other people did not have, which would no doubt cause stress, but only because I am human and know the difference, and because the environment humans live in is not friendly to blindness. Pet blind snakes, however, do live in an environment friendly to them, so the analogy is not perfect.

But I would argue that a human that is blind, and lives in an environment friendly to his blindness, even to the point of never knowing that he is blind, is still deprived of something.

So, even if it makes no difference to quality of life, this person still sees a congenital disability like blindness as deprivation, for reasons they didn't fully explain.

Indeed, many commenters drew analogies between disabled humans and animals, with ableist value judgements like this. Clint himself mentioned having seen comparisons between spider ball pythons and autistic humans that struck him as being "in poor taste", and commented that he saw autism as not better or worse, just different.

Ultimately, I do think there are some breed characteristics I would prefer to be selected against, like brachycephaly in dogs and cats. But I don't think everything that could be labeled a "defect" is necessarily a problem, nor do I think that we should morally condemn someone simply for choosing to breed an animal who has a genetic defect. And I certainly don't endorse calling the life of a disabled animal or human torture, or threatening violence on people who own animals selectively bred for defects.


Blogger Adelaide Dupont said...

If I were a ball python - would the spider trait/feature be something added or something deleted/missing?

If I were already a spider ball python ... if I had a sense of "me".

The South African FRIENDS OF THE DOG you linked to used information from Becker who is connected to Mercola.

Mercola is an infamous name in alternative medicine. [for example their statements about the coronavirus - though Mercola was problematic before then].

And the Healthy Pets site is another way they reel you in. [time; money and so on].

I do not know if Becker is respected or academic.

[more like a fish metaphor...]

And the basset hound is not a motorbike where you would have some advantage if your feet were on the road!

This year a neighbour considered buying a pug.

And it had been a pug tortured partly by its breeding but mostly by its environment and the failure of its human companions when it came to over-feeding it.

Thus this pug would jump all over the furniture and the house.

And breeding any of the -oodles is an "easy" way into this.

[slippery slide/slope].

Then you have some of the worst of both breeds.

And faces are so central to animals' experiences of the world - and bones and joints and muscles.

This really is out of my comfort zone/wheelhouse.

1:23 AM  

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