Drowning Puppies

What with fall semester beginning, it’s time to get serious. So, to turn to a serious subject, let’s talk about…drowning puppies. I got this example from Mark Vernon, who knows someone in rural France who actually does the deed. (Incroyable!)

Standard procedure for responsible folk is to spay and neuter dogs, thereby denying them, for life, all the pleasures of sex and reproduction, but probably even more. Without their testicles, boy dogs lose out on all the fun of testosterone, which is probably quite a bit of fun. Why not let animals enjoy their full capacities, and take a more direct approach to population control? In short, kill excess puppies, instead of sterilizing parents?

I find this dilemma an excellent Rorshach test of basic moral attitudes. If you think about the two alternatives, killing vs. sterilizing, and the greater good pulls you in the direction of killing, you’re a consequentialist by temperament. If you think killing is inherently wrong, regardless of good consequences, then you’re a non-consequentialist by temperament. If, like me, you change your mind about the case every hour on the hour, then either you’re hopelessly confused or (best case scenario), you have super-subtle, pluralistic intuitions that make you especially sensitive and deep. Naturally I’m rooting for “sensitive and deep.”

It can’t be that consequences have no relevance to morality. Of course you should drown puppies if doing so will save the whole population of Paris. But should you drown puppies in order to preserve the natural enjoyments of adult dogs? One thing’s for sure, I’m not volunteering for the job. As a kid, I got to be midwife to two litters of puppies. Drown ‘em? Not gonna happen, as my kids like to say.

But maybe this is squeamish, and letting a vet spay or neuter just distances us from what is really the greater wrong. Maybe I should admire Mark’s friend, the frank farmer (so to speak). As you can probably tell, my opinion on the matter is changing by the minute, not even by the hour.

Please, don’t say—“doggy contraceptives.” No such thing, as far as I know, and female dogs would be denied some of the pleasures of life. Anyhow, we have a much more interesting moral quandary here if we restrict ourselves to just two options—sterilize adults or drown puppies? Which should it be?