In a moment of utter madness some months ago, I agreed to have a Pet Service. The dratted date comes up soon. Why did I do it? What will I say? I should make the point that we humans are mammals, just like cows, elephants, dogs, cats and most of our pets (though I feel that cats, to which I’m allergic, are best housed under the wheels of very heavy trucks). I should make the point that humans are apes—and that apes tend to behave rather better than the worst specimens of humanity. I should point out that by lavishing love and affection on our pets we are in fact making idols of them, worshipping them even. I might say how we eat animals, wear animals, and get glue from animals. I have been a medical scientist, and I could point out that the drugs that heal us are tested on animals, and how some surgical procedures were practised on animals. Pigs are very like humans in their internal anatomy, or is it the other way round?
Instead, I expect I’ll talk about companionship and care and how pets bring out the best in some of us. How they repay our love by guarding and sometimes leading us. How they can sniff out cancers. How the unconditional love of a dog can teach us a thing or two. How they don’t worry, so we needn’t. (How do we know they don’t worry?) And so on. But I feel strangely conflicted.
I asked some school pupils recently if they thought we were animals. They said not. Apes? ‘Certainly not’. Why is it that people can’t see that when we get down on all fours, we are just like other animals? that we are not better than other creatures, just slightly different from many of them? We are ‘creatures of this earth’ just like all the others, from viruses to Einsteins. We are to be custodians of creation, not rulers (the Hebrew of Genesis 1:26 is often mistranslated, with unfortunate implications). The privilege of our intelligence brings responsibilities. We need to remember that crocodiles have been around for aeons, that they and bacteria and insects will still be around long after we apes are extinct.
Ah well, we’ll enjoy ourselves, we’ll parade round church and I will bless the animules and their custodians. I will do my best to have All creatures of our God and King (some of the verses anyway) but not to have All things bright and beautiful which I dislike—no, I hate (the purple headed mountain in verse 2—I ask you!), and others.
Oh Lord, it’s just occurred to me: I hope this is not a slippery slope leading to holding stones, imagining my worries passing into them, and then washing them in water and feeling my cares disappear down the plughole. As if.