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The Ethics of Pet Ownership

What is it to be happy? Dissecting the long life of a pet frog

Anne Fadiman unpacks her latest essay, “Frog,” a 6,000-word piece about Bunky, her family’s African clawed frog. Although he was easy to care for, this “unpettable pet” raised a number of philosophical and ethical questions about pet ownership. For nearly two decades, Bunky lived inside a too-small aquarium on Fadiman’s kitchen counter, ribbitting for a mate that could never come. Fadiman probes her continued guilt over whether this animal had lived a decent life—after all, you can’t spay or neuter a pet frog. Suffused with this unease, Fadiman’s essay departs from the typically saccharine or sentimental approach to writing about pets and death, respectively. As she explains in this episode, “Death is hard to face, so it’s interesting to face. It’s a literary challenge. And not all deaths are the same.” Bunky’s departure lends lessons on writing, caretaking, connections, confinement—in a word, relationships.

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August 2020

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