Imagine a billion-dollar company called Responsible Pet Ownership. Their stated purpose? To provide essential services and education that will improve the lives of pets and their owners. Too many pet owners find themselves overwhelmed with the responsibilities of providing nutritious food, adequate exercise, and the attention that pets need for a quality life. Some of these beleaguered pet owners never asked to have such a responsibility, yet once they do, their lives become encumbered with the expectations of society and the needs of their pets. Puppies or kittens on Christmas morning are certainly cute and cuddly, but after only a month of pet ownership, many of these families struggle, and soon realize that their lives will never be the same.
Responsible Pet Ownership is here to help. When prospective pet owners need assistance to find the right pet for themselves, when they need some training or even supplies to get themselves on the right track, they can turn to Responsible Pet Ownership for the vital support they need.
These services are especially important for pet owners from the lower social classes. They are the ones who find pet ownership most burdensome. In far too many cases, the additional responsibilities of a pet have hindered a poor child or family from escaping the clutches of poverty. Since Responsible Pet Ownership provides essential social services for people in these conditions, the company receives a subsidy from governmental entities. The federal government has subsidized the work of RPO with over half a billion dollars over a year for these services. In this way, Responsible Pet Ownership fills the gaps in service provided by traditional veterinarians.
But the use of tax money invites public scrutiny and much criticism. Some people claim that since more pets are brought into an RPO office than come out, something dishonest must be taking place there. Is the business taking tax money and enriching its leaders without providing the services it claims to provide? Are the services really necessary? Is it providing those services in an ethically acceptable way? There are faith-based organizations that object in principle to the mass euthanization of animals, claiming that this is the true purpose behind Responsible Pet Ownership. Some go as far as claiming that behind closed doors, RPO is a secret partner with other corporate interests, especially pharmaceutical companies. Instead of euthanizing and disposing of the unwanted pets, the claim is made that RPO is selling them alive on a black market, for the purpose of vivisection and experimental drug testing. (Vivisection was promoted in the earlier days of the Progressive movement, inspiring the practices of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.)
In recent years, the pitch of the controversy surrounding Responsible Pet Ownership has risen. Citizen advocacy groups have engineered “sting” operations in which they pose as pharmaceutical company buyers and meet with RPO executives, recording the meetings with hidden cameras. These videos have been published online for the world to see. These groups claim they are doing the public service that the mainstream media ought to be doing. As a result, the traditional media organizations have portrayed their work as muckraking sensationalism, and reported the information as a controversy rather than an exposé. In the minds of those who suspect RPO of unethical practices, this has damaged the reputation of the traditional media, and confirmed their suspicions.
Yet the furor about the ethics at RPO has emboldened former employees to come forward and reveal what has really been happening in their so-called “puppy mills.” According to these former employees, RPO workers have lied to customers, saying that their pets have a terminal illness, or did not survive routine procedures. The company’s justification for this is that the customer will be better off without the burdensome responsibility of pet ownership. Meanwhile, the healthy pets are taken and sold on the black market for experimentation. Those that are not healthy enough for experimentation are sold into the pet food market.
These embarrassing claims have been mostly ignored by RPO media representatives and executives. Instead, the company focuses on how essential their services are for the community, and the good they do for the lower social classes by freeing them from the long-term responsibilities of pet ownership. It also stresses that any pets taken from their home situations of neglect and malnourishment are better off without a lifetime of suffering. Meanwhile, RPO has engaged in an intensive effort to rebuild its brand using social media. It has encouraged a campaign of re-posting memes that say, “I stand for Responsible Pet Ownership.”
When pressed on-camera, the CEO of Responsible Pet Ownership has followed the company line. Off camera, she has expressed frustration. “Look, we are dealing with pets here, but these people are treating us as though our business were based on seducing downtrodden women into physical peril with life-long sorrow and guilt, or killing defenseless human beings! We have our problems, but we’re not that bad.”