Now that I have a job, we've been considering getting a friend for Feast (our cat).
I've also been reading Prof. Gary Francione's Animals as Persons and thinking about companion animals--about their status in our homes, and about animals' status in general. Francione states that "as a legal matter, we do not regard animals as having any value apart from the value we accord them" (104). Moreover, "the equal consideration of animal interests necessarily requires the recognition that non-humans have a right not to be treated as the property of humans" (106).
To a vegan, especially, these concepts seem pretty logical and aren't a far stretch from the rest of Francione's argument. However, I think these concepts are more difficult to grasp, to live according to--it is easier to accept the idea that "food" and "entertainment" animals are not property, and more difficult to see companion animals as having inherent value, as not property.
Indeed, it is more often than not that companion animals are treated as though they have inherent value--and yet the demand for these animals that are clearly are only ever marked as "companion" (fetishized objects) is problematic.
If someone were to go to a (dog, cat, hedgehog, etc.) breeder in order to obtain a "pet," she would be signaling a demand to this particular producer, who will in turn force the animals within his control to breed in order to create the supply. This chain of supply and demand becomes especially transparent (at least to me) in a scenario where there is a waiting list for an animal to be born and weaned to fulfill the role that is created for him/her--as "pet." From inception--and even before then--the animal's value is dictated by the role that humans impose, not by the animal's inherent value; in becoming a "pet," the animal is expected to fulfill the human's expectations, not his or her own instincts and wishes. In this sense, the animal is treated more as a thing. This kind of misguided action (obtaining an animal from a breeder, or obtaining an animal for the role of "pet") not only goes against most people's intuitive belief that animals have inherent value--their own personality, memories, desires--but clearly indicates a violation of the vegan ethics. If veganism renounces the idea that animals should be used for food, clothing, and entertainment, we should certainly strive for moral consistency and view companion animals as part of the chain of animal "products."
When considering obtaining a companion animal, rescued animals pose less of a problem--they are inadvertent victims of the system, and oftentimes the ones who have been rejected by the previous "owner;" these rejected animals are evidence (symptoms) of a failed system--if people recognized inherent value of animals, they would stop a) demanding "pets" or b) (especially in instances where the animal's interests conflict with those of the human "owner") discard them at their convenience. To provide a home for a mature animal does not create that same demand, as breeders do not receive the signal to "produce" more animals through forced breeding. Again, I stress that veganism demands attention to not only what we eat and wear, but also awareness of the other ways in which animals are exploited (for entertainment or as pets).
A few years ago, I had a hedgehog, and she was one of the best companions I could ever hope for; when thinking of a companion for Feast, I began considering another hedgehog. However, thinking more extensively about it, I realized that if I want a hedgehog, this desire is selfish (I'd have to go to a breeder to obtain her), and is only a desire to fulfill my human need (whim)--this desire does not consider the interests of the animal mother or offspring.
What we must do is work towards the demystification of everyday practices--whether it's eating an animal or considerint providing a home for one. If veganism signifies a rejection of the commodity status of non-humans, we should be thorough, and carry that belief to the realm (and treatment of) companion animals. Many of the things I have mentioned in this post seem intuitive, but like many things close at hand, they are sometimes the very ideas that we pay least attention to and take for granted.
(A picture of very young Feast and Big, the hedgehog.)