A few days ago as I waited in the Academic Hall, I paged through the February issue of National Geographic. An ad caught my attention: the picture of an energetic dog, running frenetically towards a beehive on the trunk of a tree. At the top of the page read: “Oh, no, he didn’t. Oh, yes, he did. You can’t explain risk to your dog” and at the bottom: “VPI Pet insurance”.
I am an animal lover. Anything with fur and four legs makes me smile. Every morning I watch the squirrels scampering about in the garden. We don’t have many squirrels in Mexico, so even when my friends here at Mater Ecclesia laugh at my interest in the squirrels, I just can’t stop loving them. When I go to a park and see a dog I have to pet them; I even keep a picture of my family’s dog in my agenda. But little by little over the years I’ve witnessed our society enter into a process of the “humanization of animals.” And despite my immense love for all four-legged creatures, I know that animals should not be treated with equal dignity to human beings – created in the image and likeness of God.
At first I couldn’t believe the extent of this new process – that is, until I did a little research last year. The Chicago Tribune reported that Ernie Yamich spent $2,100 on the funeral for his dog, after having spent more than $7,000 on medical treatment (Flynn). In England, the chocolate company Mars opened a luxury resort hotel for animals (and believe me, these pets get better treatment than humans at any Holiday Inn). “Pet owners can leave their animals at the Triple A Pet Resort in Newcastle upon Tyne while they go on holiday, or just take them there for a treat. The facilities include a hydrotherapy pool, indoor gym, Jacuzzi, beds with a duvet and pillow, sofas where the pets can recline while watching videos of their owners on their personal television sets”. The hotel also includes sun balconies for cats where they can listen to classical music. The African parrots and macaws have video screens showing jungle scenes with tropical birds squawking. The hotel even has its own pet cemetery.
In June of 2010, the state of Arizona spent $1.25 million to build bridges over a mountain road for endangered squirrels so they don’t become road kill (and even I admit that is overkill) (Powers). There’s been legal battles’ calling for animal rights. For example, Steven Wise, a lawyer defending this cause in the United States, proposes that “some animal species should be given legal rights based on the capacities of some animals to experience emotions, use language, and interact in a social way (“Animal Rights and Wrongs”).
But what happens when animals are treated almost as humans?
“If animals become persons, human persons become animals” (Flynn). If God has given a special dignity to man, then only man should be treated according to that dignity. Our rational, immortal soul is what makes us different than animals. To have a rational, immortal soul means to have the faculty of reason that enlightens our minds with the truth; a heart that enables us to embrace that truth, and a will to follow it. We have the capacity to admire beauty, to desire the good, to experience happiness, to laugh, to cry, to love.
Leaving Disney movies and cartoons aside, has a dog ever been in awe of a beautiful sunset? Or has a cat ever cried after listening to a melancholic song? Our soul makes us capable of perceiving such things; that is what makes us superior to animals.
But the fact that we are superior to them doesn’t mean that we can treat animals irresponsibly. We are called to be stewards of creation, caretakers and guardians of the earth and all upon it.
I agree with the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “God has given humans the dignity of personhood, something which sets them apart from the rest of creation” (88). Man has an innate dignity that in no way can be undermined for the sake of creatures of lower dignity. It’s hard for me to see dogs going about with perms and pedicures, being pushed about in strollers, their human owners practically being owned by them. It really gets under my skin because I know (please forgive the cliché) there are children in Africa and here in our own city streets who could benefit from such exorbitant spending of money. Do animals need what even some humans do not? I love animals, but when it comes down to it, I’ll give my vote to a human over “Fido” any day.
“Animal Rights and Wrongs” Zenit. 29 Jun 2002. Web. 09 Nov 2010.
“Animals vs. People ––Who Is More Important?” Zenit. 26 Jan 2002. Web. 11 Nov 2010.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1994. Print.
Flynn, John. For the Love of Pets. Zenit. 14 Feb 2010. Web. 11 Nov 2010.
Powers, Doug. Feds Give Arizona $1.25 Million to Build… Squirrel Bridges. Michell Malkin. Jun 17,
2010. Web. 26 Jan 2012