The throwaway society is a term used to criticise the excessive production of goods, and hyper-consumerism of so many Western societies, which negatively impact the environment and produce a great deal of waste. One only has to think of the waste generated from mobile phones, which have become disposable items, when they were once expensive items to be preserved.
In his book The Waste Makers, Packard (1960) considers how mass production developed in the 1920s, promoting ‘planned obsolescence’, encouraging Westerners to be ‘wasteful, debt-ridden, permanently discontented individuals’. Admittedly Packard was not the first to question consumerism and the deliberate manipulation of consumer interests, nor was he without critics. Nevertheless, he raises some good points. And if the concept of a throwaway society stands, we might ask ourselves whether this includes domesticated animals? Two examples come to mind: (1) the changing trends in pets; and (2) puppy mills.
There are many reasons for the changing trends in pets. In this current environment, the impact of the economy, pet size and increase of rental properties may be influencing factors. If renting, larger breeds/specific breeds may be banned. The downsizing of homes as a result of the economic downturn may also influence pet size, encouraging some people to choose smaller pets. The ‘cute factor’ is also a consideration, in that small pets are currently in demand. Likewise purebreds are ‘trendy’ and could be likened to name brand clothes. Together, these factors impact on rescue shelters, as many potentially lovable ‘adoptees’ may be disregarded. For example, potential owners of the non-trendy, ‘oversized’ and/or ‘not-so-cute’ pets may overlook important aspects of the animals, such as temperament and good health. Choosing a ‘purebred’ is equally problematic given they carry potentially more health problems because of inbreeding. Apart from being harmful to the purebred animals, owners may simply not have the money to provide the medical care necessary.
As the RSPCA indicate, choosing a pet on the basis of what is ‘in’ right now carries the risk that “[t]oday’s must-have item quickly turns into tomorrow’s cast-off”. Eventually when pets do not meet the desirable standards of the times, become too expensive to maintain, or are considered ‘used’ they may be disposed of, either by being ‘dumped’, brought into an animal shelter, or euthanized. It is not a coincidence that many shelters are already overcrowded with pets that have been dumped or thrown away.
Extending this argument further is the notion of the economic principles of supply and demand. If pets were scarce, this would make them more valuable. The more value humans assign to the item, the less likely the pet will be given or thrown away. Certainly if a valuable item is lost, a greater amount of time is usually assigned to recover it. The throwaway society simply means that there appears to be an ethos of society founded on being quick, cheap, easy and more convenient. For some, even many, it is more simple to remove the expendable (less valuable) item from one’s lifestyle than it is to look for ways to accommodate them as beings in need of love and care. The overcrowding of animal rescue shelters may suggest that when animals are easily obtained for little cost, they may run the risk of being considered expendable at future points in time. Unfortunately it often means a death sentence for these expendable ‘items’.
Puppy Mills – the conscious consumerism
Puppy mills are commercial breeding establishments and in many cases, involve conditions that are horrific and inhumane, in a wider industry that is largely unregulated and hidden. Puppy mills are fuelled by consumerism with consumers’ interests driving these establishments. It appears that as long as the puppy is cheap and cute, the buyer seems not to care where the puppy originated from. In addition, whilst there are concerns over such establishments, there is often insufficient attention given to the welfare of the dogs beyond being products for sale. According to Brasch (2014) “[f]or many breeders, dogs are nothing more than crops. The good crops are sold. The bad crops are destroyed”.
The most common puppy mill has dogs living in overcrowded pens, unsheltered from the extremes of weather. The dogs are usually malnourished and have inadequate supplies of water. Once the breeding stock bitch has stopped producing enough puppies, they are then killed as the bitch can no longer produce a profit for the business. The offspring may have congenital defects and diseases and have usually missed out on the critical phases of socialisation and veterinary care. This has significant implications for the buyer of the puppy. When the puppy is sold too young, the disease or congenital defects may not have incubated or manifested. Once present, the owner may be faced with significant veterinarian costs. Oftentimes, it is easier to pass the problem on to others (aka thrown away). Likewise, as the puppy has not been bred for temperament, nor had adequate care or socialisation, serious behavioural problems can occur later on. The stress that the animal faces when confronted with a world outside of their cage is significant. The puppy has never had the chance to interact with a human, and as such has not yet learnt trust.
The impulse buying of ‘trendy’ puppies allows the puppy mills to stay in business – Christmas time and children’s birthdays are obvious examples. The need for the new (‘product’), rather than used seems to enable this lack of humanity towards the animals and instead, provides the currency to allow the unregulated commercial establishments to flourish. This is evident in legislation whereby pets are reduced to nothing more than chattel; considered property. The law places the rights of humans to buy animals (as products) over animals’ wellbeing, denying the emotional and relational aspects of the ‘transaction’.
A shift in thinking and consideration of consumerism is sorely needed to protect these innocent victims from being left at shelters or euthanized.
Author: Krista Mosel