We live with six rescued dogs. With the exception of one, who was born in a rescue for pregnant dogs, they all came from very sad situations, including circumstances of severe abuse. These dogs are non-human refugees with whom we share our home. Although we love them very much, we strongly believe that they should not have existed in the first place.
We oppose domestication and pet ownership because these violate the fundamental rights of animals.
The term 'animal rights' has become largely meaningless. Anyone who thinks that we should give battery hens a small increase in cage space, or that veal calves should be housed in social units rather than in isolation before they are dragged off and slaughtered, is articulating what is generally regarded as an 'animal rights' position. This is attributable in large part to Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation (1975), who is widely considered the 'father of the animal rights movement'.
The problem with this attribution of paternity is that Singer is a utilitarian who rejects moral rights altogether, and supports any measure that he thinks will reduce suffering. In other words, the 'father of the animal rights movement' rejects animal rights altogether and has given his blessing to cage-free eggs, crate-free pork, and just about every 'happy exploitation' measure promoted by almost every large animal welfare charity. Singer does not promote animal rights; he promotes animal welfare. He does not reject the use of animals by humans per se. He focuses only on their suffering. In an interview with The Vegan magazine in 2006, he said, for example, that he could 'imagine a world in which people mostly eat plant foods, but occasionally treat themselves to the luxury of free-range eggs, or possibly even meat from animals who live good lives under conditions natural for their species, and are then humanely killed on the farm'.
We use the term 'animal rights' in a different way, similar to the way that 'human rights' is used when the fundamental interests of our own species are concerned. For example, if we say that a human has a right to her life, we mean that her fundamental interest in continuing to live will be protected even if using her as a non-consenting organ donor would result in saving the lives of 10 other humans. A right is a way of protecting an interest; it protects interests irrespective of consequences. The protection is not absolute; it may be forfeited under certain circumstances. But the protection cannot be abrogated for consequential reasons alone.
Humans have had a symbiotic relationship with dogs for over 30,000 years, estimated by molecular biology. That's when the dogs were different enough from wolves to change their very DNA. How long humans and wolves had to hang out together for that to happen, no one seems to be hazarding a guess. Probably quite a while.
Non-human animals have a moral right not to be used exclusively as human resources, irrespective of whether the treatment is 'humane', and even if humans would enjoy desirable consequences if they treated non-humans exclusively as replaceable resources.
When we talk about animal rights, we are talking primarily about one right: the right not to be property. The reason for this is that if animals matter morally – if animals are not just things – they cannot be property. If they are property, they can only be things.