Having had a black poodle as a teen, I enjoy dogs as much as most anyone. T.J. - the poodle, taught me the responsibility of caring for something other than myself.
Still, he was a dog. He never conversed with me. He didn’t read me any stories. He didn’t save me from danger. He had to be fed and cared for and let outside. He was driven by instinct, not rational thought. He couldn’t make choices. My right index finger bears a slightly disfigured fingernail from a particularly harsh bite he once gave me in response to something stupid I had done.
I’m not confused about a dog’s place in the world.
If this column proves to be anything like the last column I wrote about inordinate dog-love, some years ago, it too will receive a far greater response and more hate-mail than anything I’ve written previous or since. So, here goes…
While perusing a list of 300 Amazon new and forthcoming book titles, I started to notice a pretty obvious pattern – books about how dogs, or a particular dog, brought happiness, healed, taught someone to love, and saved not only a family, but a town. In fact, of about 300 forthcoming book titles, somewhere in the neighborhood of between 5-10% of them were about dogs.
Lest you think I’m exaggerating, here’s just a sampling.
There’s Julie Klam’s book, You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness, about her Boston terrier Otto and how he prepared her to meet the man of her life. Or there’s Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love, written by Larry Levin, which tells of a disfigured dog that is adopted by a family. Or there’s What a Difference a Dog Makes: Big Lessons on Life, Love and Healing from a Small Pooch by Dana Jennings. Her dog, a miniature poodle named Bijou, is described as a “teacher,” a “healer,” and a “guardian angel.” There’s also Janet Elder’s story of a poodle named Huck – Huck: The Remarkable True Story of How One Lost Puppy Taught a Family – and a Whole Town – About Hope and Happy Endings. And there’s Pukka: The Pup After Merle by Ted Kerasote, which tells the follow-up story to his other best-selling dog book Merle’s Door.
Yes, I enjoy dogs, but the overemphasis on them and their “amazing” abilities makes me want to Pukka.
America’s cultural love affair with dogs has reached a pinnacle, at the same time that it’s reached another pinnacle - that of killing some 4,000 innocent children in the womb every single day.
According to a 2007 Business Week article, American spend $41 billion on their pets annually. That’s more than the total gross domestic product of all but 64 countries in the world. In addition, there’s an entire television channel devoted to animals. Grandparents sometimes refer to their children’s dogs as “Grand-dogs.” There are now dog hotels and dog spas. Dog, and rabbit owners, get together with one another for social “play dates.” A store in the Mall of America caters solely to dogs (and their owners who, unlike the dogs themselves, can earn money and shell out the cash). It sells decorated doggie cookies and treats, for a high premium. Many families, including some of the authors listed above, have more dogs than they do children. I recall touring the University of Minnesota veterinary hospital, when a woman outside said to her dog, “Come here, son.”
Dogs, like all of God’s creation, are a gift, to be sure. But there’s a real problem when they’re made out to be equal with humans. Again, you probably think I’m exaggerating.
In a review of The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving: How Dogs Have Captured Our Hearts for Thousands of Years by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, fellow dog author Ted Kerasote says that Masson’s story of Benjy, “does a thought-provoking job of leveling the playing field between us and other species.”
Whether you want to admit it or not, there’s a philosophy at work here, and it’s not a philosophy that’s friendly to humans. Thank God for those who have eyes to see it.
John Zmirak, in a fabulous piece at Inside Catholic titled “First Thing… Let’s Kill all the Housecats,” explains the philosophy.
“On September 19, 2010, Rutgers and Princeton philosophy professor Jeff McMahan led human reason over the giddy brink of madness: In an op-ed for the Times, McMahan takes Utilitarianism and animal-rights ethics to their proper, logical outcome,” writes Zmirak. “His starting point is simple enough: Since there is no God, and no natural order that designates man as its highest member, of course we have no right to inflict any suffering on animals by eating them.
This much Princeton’s Pete Singer proved long ago, in Animal Liberation. Singer has since gone further, and shown that any sharp distinction in kind between man and animal amounts to the prejudice of ‘speciesism,’ which is just a form of racism practiced on behalf of . . . the human race. Hence, for Singer, the value of a fetus is rather less than that of a full-grown chimpanzee.”
Zmirak ably points out the logical conclusion of such a philosophy. Animal life is elevated, while the value of human life is devalued. Where does such a philosophy ultimately lead?
Karl Stern grew up in Germany under the Nazi regime. A Catholic convert from Judaism, in his book Pillar of Fire, he writes that as the National Socialists began killing the mentally handicapped, the elderly, and the infirm, they were also passing laws for the greater protection of animals.
Such actions are possible only if some humans are thought to be less-than-human.
In his landmark book, Dehumanizing the Vulnerable: When Word Games Take Lives author William Brennan compares how the language used by American slave owners to describe slaves is the similar sub-human language used by Nazis to describe the Jews, and the same language used by the cultural elite today to describe the unborn.
Wesley Smith explains the dangers of the animal-elevation philosophy in his book A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement. He points out that, in the end, the danger of an ideology that elevates animals is that it’s ultimately anti-human.
In the created order of things, whether you want to admit it or not, there is a hierarchy. Bacteria are not fungi. Fungi are not birds. Birds are not dogs. And dogs are not human. Material creatures are created for man. When we subject ourselves to a creature, we put a creature in place of Christ. This distorts the created order established by God.
All… “other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in attaining the end for which he is created,” says St. Ignatius of Loyola. “From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.”
If you take a look at that same Amazon list of 300 forthcoming book titles, you’ll find something disturbing. Of the 300 new books, only one is devoted to babies or parenting. Is there a disparity?
Somewhere along the line, we’ve blurred the lines. In doing so, we’ve glorified the contributions that animals can bring to society while dangerously downplaying the invaluable contributions that human beings make in our lives. May we be reminded of the proper order of God’s creation before it’s too late.