Getting a Balanced View of Pets
PERHAPS you do not have a leopard, an otter or a boa constrictor in your home or backyard. Perhaps you have one of the more usual, small, domesticated type of animal—maybe even just a dog or cat. Though this be the case, there still may be a question as to whether or not the animal is “out of place,” either physically or in other ways. Your own attitude and dealings with the pet could be the cause of such wrong relationship. How can we determine that? By considering the purpose for which animals were designed by their Creator and ours, and the relationship with man to which He assigned them.
The Bible account shows that, of all earth’s creatures, only man was made in God’s image and likeness. He was given dominion over all others of earth’s creatures. (Gen. 1:26-28) Though interested in the animal creation and in naming its many members, Adam “found no helper as a complement of him” among them. (Gen. 2:19, 20) They were all subhuman, well described by Jesus’ disciples Peter and Jude as “unreasoning animals.”—2 Pet. 2:12; Jude 10.
True, animals play, they display emotions such as pleasure, depression, affection, fear, anger and anxiety. They also differ from one another as individuals, showing distinctive characteristics between kinds and within kinds. Yet, as Hans Bauer, on the basis of much evidence and research, points out in his book Animals Are Quite Different (translated from German by James Cleugh): “However much [an animal’s] actions may resemble, in their effects, those of human beings . . . it is never upon abstract ideas that an animal bases its career or even the separate acts of which that career is composed. . . . Nothing an animal does or omits to do ever happens anywhere in consequence of a train of ideas, deliberate consideration or belief.” Rather, he concludes, “It is a result of the environmental conditions with which the animal has to cope.”—Page 34; compare Psalm 32:9.
It has been demonstrated time and again that the “wisdom” of animals, displayed in ability to do such things as construct dams (beavers), build honeycombs (bees), spin intricate webs (spiders), and similar things, is instinctive wisdom. These feats are performed by the creatures even though raised separately from others of their kind. That wisdom was built into their genetic makeup by the Creator.
Many animals, of course, can be trained to do things that are new to them, not part of their inherited abilities. But this is always limited by, and dependent on, the natural qualities of the particular animal kind involved. A monkey, for example, can be trained to ride a bicycle or skate on ice; yet it can never be trained to do the work of a sheep dog in watching over a flock or bringing the flock in or out of a pen. Nor do all breeds of dogs lend themselves equally well to be trained for sheep work.
Humans, by contrast, can form ideas, they can use deductive and inductive reasoning, reaching conclusions that require going from a specific case or incident to the formation of a general rule, or they can reason from cause to effect or effect to cause. Man can therefore use knowledge and understanding gained from past experiences to solve new problems that arise. He can thus consciously and of his own will build on his knowledge and understanding. He can also comprehend, believe in and hold to standards of right and wrong, good and bad, justice and injustice. Animals can do none of these things.
Need for Caution
If we are concerned about pleasing God in our lives, there is need for caution with regard to the pets we may have. We may note that a wrong attitude toward the animal creation was involved in the first woman’s fall into rebellion against God. She let herself be swayed by words appearing to come from the mouth of a serpent, a creature instinctively “cautious,” yet still an ‘unreasoning animal.’—Gen. 3:1-6.
Throughout the centuries since, false worship has often involved a wrong view of animal creation. Crocodiles, baboons and bulls have been kept in temples, there being bathed, perfumed and fed the finest of foods, while humans in the same area lived in wretched conditions with hunger. Mighty nations have taken a certain animal or bird as the proud symbol of their government and people, jealously venerating that animalistic symbol.
Even though not deifying an animal as sacred, what if we should treat a pet animal as though it were virtually on a level with humans? What if we showed even greater interest and concern for it than we did for other humans, slighting their interests on behalf of the animal? What if we were willing to go to great lengths and expense to alleviate animal suffering in general but failed to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves’ and compassionately aid others in the way God’s Son did while on earth? (Mark 6:34) In any such case, would this not be putting the animal in a position where it does not belong?
While perhaps rare, cases are reported of persons who let their pet animal sit at the meal table with them and eat from a plate with the human members of the household. Some persons make out wills bequeathing sums running into thousands of dollars for the care of some pet animal. Others will go to great expense to keep alive some aged and diseased animal, even risk endangering the health of others in the home by retaining the animal there.
We may recall that the inspired writer Jude expresses God’s condemnation and judgment of those angels that “did not keep their original position but forsook their own proper dwelling place,” doing that which was “unnatural” to their spirit nature and divinely assigned status. (Jude 6, 7) When humans attempt to elevate animals to a human level they are, in fact, degrading themselves, not keeping the dignified, superior position in which God originally placed man. At the same time they are putting the animals in a relationship that is “out of place” with God’s purpose, in an “unnatural” one with man.
But might not the account at 2 Samuel 12:1-6 be cited as a justification for some of the practices mentioned earlier in dealing with pets? There the prophet Nathan told King David of a poor man who bought a small female lamb, preserving it alive while it grew up with him and his sons. The account says: “From his morsel it would eat, and from his cup it would drink, and in his bosom it would lie, and it came to be as a daughter to him.” Then a rich man possessing many sheep took the lamb away from the man and used it to feed a visitor. David found the account believable, not farfetched, for at the story’s conclusion he said in heated anger: “As Jehovah is living, the man doing this deserves to die! And for the female lamb he should make compensation with four, as a consequence of the fact that he has done this thing and because he did not have compassion.” What about this?
First, the expression “from his morsel it would eat, and from his cup it would drink” does not say that the lamb sat at the table with the family or that it shared the same drinking vessel with the man. It merely says that the man gave up some of his food and drink on behalf of the lamb. “Cup” in the Bible often does not refer to the drinking vessel itself but to what it contains, the ‘portion’ in the cup, and evidently the man poured out some of his drink for the lamb to lap up. (Compare Matthew 26:39, 42; John 18:11; Mark 10:38-40.) The man also kept it warm at night by letting it sleep next to him. Why? It was obviously to keep the young creature alive, separated as it was from its mother.
Did David in his anger sentence the rich man to die for killing a lamb? No, the account shows that he expressed his personal feeling that such a man deserved to die “because he did not have compassion.” On whom? On a lamb? No, for if the poor man’s lamb had not been used for the meal, a lamb of the rich man’s would have. Rather David’s hot anger was because the rich man did not have compassion on the needy man, the human and his family. From his meager funds the poor man had bought this animal which could, in time, supply the family with wool and milk and possibly serve as a start toward a flock of sheep. Now all the needy man’s care and sacrifice were brought to nothing. David’s actual sentence was that the rich man should compensate for the lamb with four more, in harmony with the law at Exodus 22:1. (Of course, at this point the prophet Nathan showed that the story really had been related to illustrate the greedy lack of compassion David himself had shown toward the man Uriah.)
This is not to say that God has no concern about animals themselves. To the contrary, in the Law covenant he gave to Israel there were several statutes requiring that kindness and considerate care be shown to one’s animals or those of a fellow Israelite. Animals were to have rest periods, be helped out when in distress, not be unequally yoked nor muzzled when threshing grain. (Ex. 20:10; 23:4, 5, 12; Deut. 22:10; 25:4) The twenty-third Psalm 23:1-6 beautifully describes the kind care shepherds in Israel customarily gave to their sheep. Cruel disregard for animals was not to be found among the righteous, but among the wicked.—Prov. 12:10.
Yet animals were for the service of man, never the other way around. God did not hesitate to use animal skins to clothe the first human pair. (Gen. 3:21) He was pleased with Abel’s offering of a sacrifice of a sheep. (Gen. 4:4) The apostle Peter, in fact, speaks of the unreasoning animals as “born naturally to be caught and destroyed.’’ (2 Pet. 2:12) This does not say that God’s only purpose in creating the animals was for them to be destroyed, nor does it justify wanton slaughter of animals, as in hunting for mere sport. But, at least from the end of the global flood forward, God granted man the right to use “every moving animal that is alive” to serve as food, just as the green vegetation so served. (Gen. 9:3) Eating them would be ‘destroying’ them in the sense described at Colossians 2:21, 22.
Not only this, but God’s law also provided for the destruction of any animal that came to constitute a real danger to man. (Gen. 9:5, 6; Ex. 21:28, 29) Foxes damaging a vineyard could be trapped and animals attacking a man’s flocks could be slain. (Song of Sol. 2:15; 1 Sam. 17:34, 35) Man’s rightful interests and welfare always took precedence; when animals seriously interfered with these they could properly be disposed of, without guilt before God the Creator.
Death of Pets
It is only natural that a creature, be it a dog, a horse, or any other animal, that has provided some measure of companionship over a period of years, will be missed by its owner when it dies. But here again there is need to keep a balanced view.
In various parts of the earth one can find “pet cemeteries,” with gravestones and epitaphs over the burial sites of various animals. This calls to mind the elaborate funeral and burial the ancient Egyptians gave to their sacred Apis bulls, as well as their special cemeteries containing literally hundreds of thousands of mummified cats, baboons, crocodiles and jackals.
Such practices are totally foreign to Bible teachings. The Bible shows that only man was given the prospect of living forever. Adam was to die only if he proved disobedient. (Gen. 2:16, 17) We, his descendants, are in a dying state due to inheriting sin from him, “for the wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23; 5:12) Other creatures,’ as “unreasoning animals,” are not capable of conscious or willful sin against God. Hence their death is simply due to natural processes; the general life-span built into their genetic makeup from the beginning. Thus, while a rhinoceros may live as much as half a century, a short-tailed shrew has a life-span seldom passing two or three years. Some insects live only a few hours. This will continue to be true even in God’s promised new order by his Son’s righteous kingdom, when death inherited by humans from Adam “will be no more.”—Rev. 21:4.
The resurrection provided for sinful mankind by Christ’s ransom sacrifice obviously does not apply to the animal creation, which is incapable of understanding and putting faith in that divine provision. Animals in Israel were not buried in cemeteries at death, but dragged outside the city and thrown away. (Compare Jeremiah 22:18, 19; 36:30.) They were never viewed as going into Sheol (the common grave of all mankind) from which they could be resurrected.
Yes, animals are wonderful—in their place. But they can never really substitute for humans. To avoid becoming off balance in our viewpoint or emotional attitude we should appreciate that it was the world of mankind that God so loved that he gave his only-begotten Son. (John 3:16) True, the majority of humans today are not reflecting God’s qualities and acting in His ‘image and likeness.’ They thereby cause much sadness, frustration, irritation and heartache. But not all are that way. We can find persons who will provide splendid companionship, persons who are admirable and lovable, who prove worthy of God’s love. If we are willing to make the effort to find such, we need never be lonely or commit the error of turning to animals to receive what only humans can give.