Q: Expensive and time-consuming efforts are being made to rescue and rehabilitate animals threatened by the Gulf oil spill. Do animals have rights? Do animals have souls? What does your faith say about animal consciousness, suffering, sacrifice and stewardship? Dr. Paul Waldau, a lecturer in animal law at Harvard Law School , says, “Religion is a major player in the way humans think about other living beings.” What does that mean to you?
A couple of years ago, one of my Siberian Huskies died unexpectedly. Her sister, with whom she had spent countless play-filled hours, greeted me with only a slight wag of her tail when I got home. Her pain was palpable. I took the deceased Husky to the vet so that she could be cremated, and went back home. My normally frisky, bouncy Husky just lay in the middle of the kitchen floor. Normally she ate whatever food was in her path, but refused to eat or to drink water. I had to give her water with a spoon and cup, and forced only tidbits of food into her only now and then.
I took her on long walks, talking to her, petting her, holding her close, and she would just lick my hand or face forlornly. This went on for weeks.
Finally, one day she ate something that got stuck in her intestines. I took her to emergency care, scared to death that she had eaten whatever it was on purpose, so she could go and be with her friend. I was weeping as they took her to the back, wondering if I’d ever see her alive again. She didn’t even look back as they took her …
The next day, the vet called and said whatever it was had passed and she was OK. I went to get her. When she got into the car, she let out a howl, not one of pain, but just a howl. It was if she was squeezing out the last of her pain, the last of her “tears,” if you will. It was only then that she began to “come back” to me. It had been four months.
If that’s not evidence that animals have souls, I don’t know what is.
There is so much about life that we do not understand. Plants respond to voices and to music; birds imitate the voices of their owners; a wild lion cub remembered the two men who had raised her and when they went to Africa to look for her and see if she remembered them, years after they had released her, she jumped on them with the greatest joy and sense of recognition.
Animals feel. They have the right to be treated with respect; they respect humans who respect them. The souls of animals seem to have the capacity to get to places in human souls that not even other humans can reach. Think of the dogs and cats that are taken to nursing homes, and who make those forgotten human beings smile and feel again. When a member of my church was recently in hospice, another family whose loved one was there was comforted most by her cat.
In that these critters, created by God, have the capacity to reach our souls, it would seem that they have the right to be protected. They are helpless; we are our brothers’ keeper. We are certainly the keepers of the critters God has put on earth who do so much for us.
Yes, cleaning the birds off is expensive, but how can one’s heart not bleed when one sees these birds incapacitated because of human error? When Hurricane Katrina happened, I ached when I saw people and their pets joined at the hip, so to speak, neither one wanting to leave the other. That is a soul to soul relationship. There are no words. If, or since, the Lord God made all things bright and beautiful, all creatures, great and small, then this question is a no-brainer. Yes, they have souls, and yes, they have the right to be respected …in the name of the God who made us all