Going to the Dogs

For the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants

Notre Dame of Bethlehem Church

Bethlehem, PA

9 July 2011

You are of more value than many sparrows

–Matthew 10:31–

            In his book Marley & Me, John Grogan admits that, even though he was raised a Catholic, he and his new bride were using birth control.  Then they got Marley.  Caring for this puppy and the lovable, unruly dog into which Marley grew somehow awakened in them a nurturing instinct.  John and his wife decided to forgo contraception and start a family.  Wonderful!  At one point in his book, John asserts that there is nothing more delightful than the sound of his children’s footsteps in the morning as they scamper down the hall, eager to jump into bed with their parents.

            In the case of the Grogans, Marley prepared the way for children.  Dogs, in fact, can serve a number of purposes in the family.  Not only can they foster a nurturing instinct in young couples, they can also teach children about birth, death, friendship, loyalty, love, and responsibility.  They can assist parents of adult children in getting over the empty-nest syndrome.  They can ease the grief of the bereaved.  They prove excellent companions for senior citizens, and they do wonders in nursing homes and hospitals.  Yet what concerns me is that in our society, dogs are being regarded, not as preparation for children, not as aids in raising children, but as substitutes for children.  This, I believe, is one of the most insidious ways in which society’s negative attitude toward human life—what Pope John Paul II called the Culture of Death—has wormed its way into our compassionate hearts.

            If you think I am wrong, here are some questions worth pondering:  Have you ever seen the television commercials for PetSmart in which owners of pets are called “pet parents”?  Have you ever heard dog owners referred to as their dog’s “mommy” or “daddy”?  (I have twice in the last ten days.  There is even a cat expert on the Animal Planet channel who has been affectionately dubbed the “Cat Daddy!)  How often have you read obituaries in which pets are listed as the deceased’s survivors, sometimes even before the actual children?  What would happen if a clinic opened up whose sole purpose was to perform dog abortions?  “We can take care of your dog’s problem.  No one needs to know.”  Imagine the outcry!  How many people would be demanding the clinic’s immediate closure?  How many kind-hearted people would be offering to adopt unwanted puppies?  Our society is going to the dogs!

            Jesus tells us that we “are worth more than many sparrows.”  By extension, one human soul is worth more than an infinite number of canine souls.  Why?  The human person, unlike even the most intelligent of animals, is made in the image and likeness of Almighty God.  Thus human beings are not simply more complex animals.  The distinction between us humans and every other life form native to this planet is not merely quantitative but qualitative.  Consider this: today’s troop of wild gorillas is doing precisely what wild gorillas did five hundred years ago and precisely what wild gorillas will be doing five hundred years from now.  Yet one human invention can radically alter our civilization for all time.  Furthermore, what animal species is capable of producing a single work of art?  A vast chasm separates us humans from the animal world.  It is our society’s denial of this crucial distinction that leads to all sorts of difficulties.  If, for example, it is permissible to euthanize a dog, then why not a man or a woman?  They shoot horses, don’t they?

            Before you write me off as anti-dog, let me assure you I am most definitely not.  I have read and thoroughly enjoyed all the James Herriot books.  I even recommend them to my students.  Dogs are intelligent animals and should be treated as such.  They ought never to be abused.  My solution to our society’s woes has nothing to do with hating dogs but with elevating them to a noble purpose.  If, in one sense, our culture is “going to the dogs,” going to the dogs may be just what we need to get us out of our predicament.

            Have you or your children ever considered raising a service puppy for an organization such as Canine Companions?  When we think of service dogs, we usually imagine seeing-eye dogs for the blind.  Yet that is only the tip of the iceberg.  Golden and Labrador retrievers are being used to assist people with all sorts of mobility issues.  Corgi mixes are trained to help people who are hearing impaired.  Great Danes lend support to those suffering from Parkinson’s disease.  The disabled, wounded veterans, and victims of accidents may all require service dogs to assist them.  Even seizure victims benefit from the aid of loyal dogs.  Service organizations such as Canine Companions need puppy raisers to socialize dogs for the first twelve to eighteen months of the puppy’s life.  The organizations will provide the dog and the training necessary to socialize a dog until it is ready to be trained for a special mission to help someone with a disability.  (Some organizations even provide dog food.)  What could be more Pro-Life than to help the very human beings that the Culture of Death tends to marginalize?  Dog lovers often say:  “How could anyone raise a puppy for a year or so and then give it away?”  To this Canine Companions responds by asking another question:  “When you think of all the good service dogs do, how could you not give the puppy away?”

            As you may know, service puppies and dogs are permitted by law to go anywhere the public is allowed—restaurants, stores, schools, and even churches!  Think what an impact it would make if you or your child were to bring one of these puppies to school!

            Some years ago, a television program documented how ten hardened criminals raised service puppies in prison.  Prisons, as it turns out, are excellent places to socialize dogs.  When it came time for the dogs to be given to their new owners, all ten prisoners blubbered like babies.  Yet when asked if they would be willing to raise another service puppy, all ten responded YES.  One of them exclaimed, “This is the first time in my whole life that I’ve done anything for anyone other than myself!”  Apparently, raising service puppies is a blessing, not only for those who receive the dogs, but also for those who raise the puppies.  As Pope John Paul II said in Salvifici doloris, his wonderful 1984 encyclical on human suffering, “Suffering serves to unleash love in the world.”  In the case of service dogs, this is literally true!

            So remember Canine Companions and other similar organizations.  They remind us that dogs are made for human beings, and not the other way around.  They embody one positive and joyful way in which we can combat the Culture of Death!  Besides, service dogs have always been a pet interest of mine!

To learn more about service dogs, here are two good links:

Canine Companions – www.cci.org 

The Seeing Eye – www.seeingeye.org