It really irks my husband when I tell our Lhasa Apso-Poodle mix that I love her. Regarding creatures of the earth, he believes that we can’t love animals, but only human beings. I beg to differ, with some qualification.
We’ve had Ms. Daisy for 10 years which you could consider a long-term relationship as far as pets and owners go. She fit right into the family from the start and bonded well with all of us, with a special devotion to me since my working from home means I’m the one she’s around the most. She has an uncanny sensitivity to human emotions – something others outside of our family have noticed as well. When we’re sad, she’s there sitting at our feet or curling up on our laps. When we’re sick, she never leaves our sides until we’ve recovered. In fact, there have been times that Daisy sensed a medical condition before we even knew it ourselves. Anger riles her into pacing, grunting and barking. When I get irritated, she jumps onto my lap facing me and positions herself so her eyes look directly into mine no matter how I move. She won’t stop until I prove that I’ve calmed down. I affectionately call her the Guardian of the Heart. In my humble opinion, she’s not your average dog.
That, I’m sure, is why my affection for her runs so deep. We’ve been through a lot together over the years and can’t imagine not having her around, although I know the day will come when she’ll die on her own or, God forbid, need to be put down. So, when I tell Ms. Daisy I love her, it’s not a passionate, from the depths of my heart kind of love but rather a spontaneous exclamation of my profound appreciation for her and gratitude for what she’s meant to our family. She’s grown on me, and for that reason, I love her.
Still, I understand where my husband is coming from when he says we can’t love animals. He’s right. We can’t love animals in the same way we love human beings because animals don’t have immortal souls. The Triune God doesn’t dwell in them as he does in our baptized human souls. When we love another human being, we’re loving not only the person but also the Christ that lives within them. That’s not possible with a human-animal bonding.
The Catechism addresses this directly. In paragraphs 2415-2418, it discusses the integrity of creation and the respect we’re obligated to have toward it. There are two passages that particularly pertain to our relationship with animals.
The first is this: “Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.” (CCC 2416)
Here is the second, emphasis mine: “It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.” (CCC 2418)
Yes, we can love our pets as long as we keep it in the proper perspective.