Animals were not put on this earth to be slaves for handicapped people. Dogs, monkeys, horses and ponies were not created to walk blind people to the local store, or fetch the remote control for paraplegics. Likewise, dogs did not evolve for the express purposes of sniffing out drugs, bombs, land mines, and dead or live bodies, nor did they evolve to intimidate suspected criminals and otherwise make life easier for human police officers. So-called “helper animals” are subjected to a form of involuntary and indentured servitude. Why? Because absent the costs of feeding, housing, and otherwise caring for them, these animals are not compensated for their labors. In a saner world, handicapped people would hire humans to perform this sort of work, and compensate them accordingly. There are plenty of people who need jobs, and plenty of people available for this type of work, including those with special caretaker skills. Using dogs, horses, ponies or monkeys is simply a way to obtain this assistance free of charge.
Animals no more “want” to perform so-called “helper” tasks than they could be witnessed performing them in their natural states! These animals are denied their inherent right to exhibit natural behaviors. All training sessions break the animals' natural instincts. While “breaking” a dog can be done without physical violence, it is unquestionably harmful psychologically. When it comes to monkeys, horses and ponies, the “breaking” is both physically and psychologically harmful.
Having shelter and being fed doesn't improve the lot of these animals, or otherwise justify their servitude. Human slaves were, and are, fed and housed also. Apart from performing backbreaking labor, these slaves experience lives of profound boredom that cuts across their instincts to cultivate their highest human inclinations and talents. Likewise, circuses, vivisection torture chambers, zoos and marine parks feed and house animals. There is no question that these animals' lives are also marked by profound boredom that undermines their instincts to roam, to forage and hunt, to socialize with other animals, and so on—that is, when they're not being tortured, or beaten, abused, and made to perform ridiculous “tricks” to amuse and entertain humans. Rational individuals rightly condemn the animal entertainment and vivisection industries because they are based on imprisonment, oppression and cruelty. It remains for these individuals to show how the keeping of “helper” animals is materially different—not merely as a matter of degree, but also as a matter of kind.
As much as handicapped persons might “love” the companion animals who care for them, this misguided love does not in any way negate the fact that these animals are employed as slaves. In ancient Greece it was fairly common for slaveholders to maintain convivial relations with, and express a certain affection for, the slaves employed in their households. If such conviviality and affection sufficed to morally justify their servitude, we'd probably see slaveholding practiced in modern Greece! (Similarly for slaveholding in pre-abolitionist America, albeit to a far lesser extent since black African slaves were more routinely demeaned and treated as if they were “animals.”)
As much as Gary Yourofsky and I empathize with disabled people, we don't think they're so special that their animal companions should be enslaved for their benefit. We understand fully the tragic implications of being blind, or being confined to a wheelchair; we understand that no one would ask to be born with severe disability, or fall victim to a terrible disabling accident or illness in the course of their lives. But all the sorrows of disability quickly succumb to selfishness once handicapped people think the whole world should grind to a halt just for them. Accordingly, the notion that handicapped persons want to secure some measure of “independence from other humans” simply will not do in this situation. Granted, it isn't ideal to have a person hanging around you all the time. But when we take the larger moral picture into consideration, we see that this is just one more setback that a handicapped person will have to deal with.
[No, not Gordon Brown the Prime Minister]