U.K. Pets Get 'Freedoms'

One thinks twice, even thrice, before using in a magazine as decorous as NEWSWEEK the four-letter F word that causes so much discord. But words should not be minced. So, what is being done for British pets is just not fair .

One wants to avoid speciesism, the moral disease of being species-centric. Still, why should British pets have more--25 percent more, to be precise--freedoms than humans do?

In January 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt envisioned a "world founded upon four essential human freedoms"--freedom of speech and expression, freedom of every person to worship God in his own way, freedom from want and freedom from fear. In January 2006, Prime Minister Tony Blair's--technically, Her Majesty's--Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said pets should have five freedoms. The Animal Welfare Bill says the five are:

^ An appropriate diet.

^ Suitable living conditions.

^ Companionship or solitude, as the cat, canary or gerbil prefers.

^ Monitoring for abnormal behavior.

^ Protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

Well. Politicians' jokes are usually recognizable as such because they elicit boisterous laughter from the politicians' friends, families and employees. But there is no evidence that Blair's government is joking. The Labour Party, having recently saved the foxes from the fox hunters and their hounds, is serious --not to say grim and humorless--about perfecting society.

Besides, it is not funny. It is Orwellian to say that when governments provide this and that benefit they are providing freedoms. As Bishop Joseph Butler (1692-1752) said, back when clear thinking was a British attribute, "Everything is what it is, and not another thing." Appropriate diets, suitable living conditions, etc., are not "freedoms." They are nice things, but they could be provided by a benevolent despot. Freedom is about the absence of some things--of coercion, dependency, restraints not consented to--and the presence of institutions and the habits, mores, customs and dispositions that sustain those absences. But nowadays there is confusion arising from a non sequitur that governments encourage: Freedom is a nice thing, therefore governments that provide nice things are expanding freedom.

The Times of London reports that pet owners will be supplied with lots of rules. Such as: "Dogs should be introduced to cats very carefully." What would we do without government to guide us? The pet police, who will be empowered to enter houses and seize animals, will enforce rules like the one that pets must have "mental stimulation" sufficient to ward off boredom and frustration. A nine-point guide about cats "going to the toilet" mandates provisions for privacy. A British headline: get your cat a private loo or expect pet police. Another: labour's pet police may pounce if your dog gets bored. The Times says a code of conduct for invertebrates, such as lobsters, may be coming.

You will not be surprised that in America, it is San Francisco (which has more dogs--an estimated 110,000--than children) that is especially punctilious about codifying animal entitlements. One such is that a dog's water must be changed at least once a day, and must be served in a nontipping bowl. A San Franciscan who has two Dobermans says pets "need as much care as a child does." The chairman of the commission that drafted the nontipping-water-bowl ordinance says much of its language replicates that of a Los Angeles ordinance. So there.

But if British pets are going to have five freedoms, we must ask: Did FDR, who stipulated that he was enumerating four "human" freedoms, shortchange us? Humans, too, are animals--featherless bipeds, as Plato said. It seems, however, that the ruling pigs in George Orwell's "Animal Farm" were correct: Some animals--British pets-- are more equal than others. So, what is to be done to erase the 25 percent freedom advantage enjoyed by lower animals--is it still legal in Britain to use that locution?--such as British pets?

When Woodrow Wilson proclaimed his Fourteen Points that would guarantee a sweeter world, George Clemenceau complained that God had only 10. But Americans believe in going the competition one better. So when President George W. Bush--who says that "freedom is on the march" everywhere, which it is, except where it isn't--is done perfecting the switch-grass-powered automobile, he should step up to the challenge. It is time to add two freedoms to FDR's four. How about:

Freedom from government attempts to codify and supervise every transaction between people, let alone those between people and their hamsters and turtles and tropical fish.

And: Freedom from the idea that we have only as many freedoms--speaking correctly, only as much freedom--as governments in their graciousness choose to enumerate.