I'm moved by the author's observation that the burden of proof is often misplaced in such debates. Since (almost) all parties agree that it would be wrong gratuitously to kick a dog, there is no need to justify from scratch the moral status of dogs. We may instead observe that they have some such (four-legged) standing, and argue from that to the inappropriateness of barbecuing them.
A very good piece, as we would expect from its author. He's being coy, of course, about not relying on moral theories for his argument. He relies rather on fragments of (sometimes conflicting) moral theories that have become embedded in popular common sense. It's a clever strategy, but it's not a substitute for theoretical work.
I had the same thought: hard to reflect on the appropriateness of our actions sans any invocation of moral theory!