Sunday, August 04, 2019
Fudging the truth to adopt animal is wrong
A married couple we're calling John and Grace recently moved with their 8- and 10-year-old children to a new town in a new state. While eventually the kids were somewhat excited about the move, it was still challenging to leave good friends and their old neighborhood behind.
Joining the family in being uprooted were the family's three adult cats. But that number might soon grow because John and Grace had promised their children that once they had settled in their new town they could pay the local animal shelter a visit to find a new cat to adopt.
The two children did not forget the promise of a new cat once they were all settled in. John and Grace did some online research, saw that there were many cats available for adoption and called the shelter to schedule a visit with the cats.
While at the shelter, John and Grace met with a representative who asked them to fill out an adoption form, which laid out all the expenses for neutering and assorted shots and such. When John got to the question about how many pets the family already owned, before answering he asked the representative if the shelter placed limits on how many cats a family could adopt.
The representative explained that the county had a law that a residence or household could have no more than three adult pets of any type. John looked at Grace, wrote a number next to the answer, showed it to Grace, and after she nodded, he turned the form in. To avoid appearing to exceed the limit and to keep his commitment to his kids, John wrote that the family had two adult cats at home rather than three.
"We're good with cats," John wrote. "And I didn't want to disappoint my children." John is willing to risk being found out by the county and deal with whatever fine ensues.
But now John is having second thoughts. Was it wrong to fudge a bit on the truth to be able to provide a good home for an abandoned cat? Or, "Should I let the shelter know the truth?"
While John and Grace's children will be disappointed if they can't adopt a new cat, the right thing is for John to tell the truth. Beyond breaking the law in an effort to get something he wants for his family, lying to get what he wants could send the message to his children that doing so is acceptable behavior. In this case, it's not.
It might be simple to justify that the end of providing an abandoned animal a good home justifies the means, but John's actions essentially come down to doing what he had to do to get what he wants for himself and his family. Breaking county ordinances hardly seems a good way to break into a new hometown.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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