First, let’s talk about the basic tenets of Ahimsa relevant for this question.
1. To not hurt any living beings, through our thoughts, words, and actions.
2. To respect all living beings and have compassion towards all living beings.
3. To let the living beings live in their natural habitat.
4. To not use animals, directly or indirectly, for our physical or emotional needs.
Jainism advocates following the path of minimum violence for Shravaks and Shravikas, which implies using only one-sense living beings for our healthy survival and not hurting any movable two sense and higher living beings. When it comes to owning a pet, there are few basic questions:
Why do you want a pet? The reasons for owning a pet can range from companionship, therapy, want to give shelter to an animal, just because all my friends have it, it is becoming a trend now etc.
Whatever the reason might be, adopting a pet animal and bringing it inside a house restricts their freedom and deprives them of their natural habitat and companionship of its own species. Animals aren’t meant to be used by humans for their needs.
Buying a pet from a pet store / puppy mill There is a lot of violence in the pet breeding industry. For example, the state of Kansas is the largest puppy breeder in America. For every 1 puppy to put into the market, 3-4 puppies are killed which are non-sellable.
The pet industry also causes other kinds of violence to the animals that it sells. They separate the mothers from their litters shortly after birth, causing emotional anguish that may be out of sight to the pet owner, but very real, nonetheless. They also generally neuter or spay the animals. Even though this is done with the good intention of preventing more unwanted animals, it still causes violence and prevents them from having normal reproductive functions. As a result, if you buy animals from a pet stores, breeder, or any commercial sources, then you are becoming a direct contributor towards such violence, and this would be harmful to your spiritual growth even if you are treating that animal kindly with shelter, food, and companionship.
Rescuing a pet or using a pet as a guide/therapy/service animal For Example, a neighbor is moving, he can’t find a home for his pet dog, and he offers it to you to take care of it or he will put the dog to sleep. In this example, if you are willing, capable and you can take care of the pet then you are saving a pet’s life and you are owning a pet out of compassion.
Another example is the adoption of an abandoned animal from a shelter that in return provides valuable companionship and possibly even support for an older or special needs person.
These are few justifiable scenarios in which you may be saving a life and preventing violence. However, you want to be mindful of directly/indirectly not promoting use of the animals for human needs.
Feeding pet animals Among the two most popular pets, dogs and cats, both are carnivorous. By keeping a pet, you obligate yourself to feed the animal its preferred and natural diet. Often that could lead the owner to feed the pets non-vegetarian food, which, in turn, makes the owner complicit in supporting the meat industry. This is because the meat industry uses the by-products of slaughter that are not suitable for human consumption for pet food, effectively subsidizing the cost of animal agriculture. By keeping a pet that requires non-vegetarian food, one is effectively engaging in the killing of cows, pigs, chickens, and fish to support their need for a pet.
If you feed your pet vegan or vegetarian food, then it is important to make sure your pet gets regular vet checkups to make sure they are getting the nutrients they need. For example, it is typically said that cats have to be carnivorous due to their need for taurine and arginine, which are not normally found in plant-based foods. Taurine and arginine aren’t just desirable for cats, but they are essential because without enough taurine cats will go blind. Fortunately, Taurine and arginine can both be synthesized from vegan sources, and so these are typically found in vegan cat foods. if you keep a pet, then you must do research in determining their nutritional needs and alternatives.
Environmental Impact Pets also have an adverse effect on the environment. A recent study by UCLA found that dogs and cats are responsible for 25 to 30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the United States. Furthermore, they can also carry disease, pollute waterways, and coastal zones through runoff from areas with feces, and have adverse effects on wildlife.