Animals Don’t Need ‘Rights’ to Deserve Ethical Consideration

Too often, we view animals through a human-centric lens — even when we’re fighting for them

Chan Ke Qing
Published in
7 min readMay 30, 2020
Two lambs on a pasture. They have red numbers spray-painted on them.
Photo: Gemma Evans via Unsplash

As a child, I developed a habit of asking for spare change every time I saw one of these unmistakable donation boxes from the SPCA. My mom was allergic to pet dander, but I would still attend animal adoption drives. On my 12th birthday, my parents brought me to a local animal shelter for the first time, and in the midst of my elation, I remember my mom telling me, “though we can’t get a pet, we can bring you here every weekend!” By age 16, when my parents trusted me to dictate our travel itineraries, I always made it a point to include the city’s local zoo.

A metal donation box shaped like a lifesize golden retriever.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (SPCA) unique donation box in Singapore. Photo: ProjectManhattan via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

To say the least, I was utterly fascinated by animals, and through the years, I inevitably found myself deeply concerned about animal rights issues.

However, during college, my understanding of animal ethics were slowly being challenged by newfound knowledge and more well-rounded perspectives. Along the way, I was forced to shed my rosy views of these non-human creatures, and develop a more informed understanding of this cause which I have always so fervently championed. And so, here I am, to share with you some complexities I have discovered behind the deceivingly simple matter of animal rights.

Animal ethics should be an interrogation of human-animal relationships — one that does not only morally question how animals are being treated by humans, but also looks into the human motivations present in these relationships. When we truly explore the different nuances of animal ethics, we may be able to reveal some misguided motivations and misled appreciation of the animal rights movement.

Some people champion animal rights for the wrong reasons — a lot of which are due to the deeply human-centric lens we use to view and interpret animals. This is also known as anthropomorphism, which is the attribution of human characteristics to animals. This can extend to attempting to apply concepts that help us understand human society to the animal world.