I am about to go to our veterinary clinic and pick up our 12-year old dog, who yesterday had her spleen removed because of a growth that seemed suspicious. She also has been diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease and so will be treated for that once her incision heals. We thought nothing of taking her for an ultrasound when she seemed to be lethargic and when she began having ‘accidents’ on the rug – although it seemed quite deliberate to me, not accidentally!
We lost her sister to bladder cancer earlier this summer, and were so afraid that she might have the same condition. We didn’t hesitate to follow the recommendations of our vet about surgery and treatment. So, we are hoping that soon she will be back to her perky, funny self.
For many of us, we treat our pets like members of our family…because they are. Other cultures do not give dogs or cats the same free reign of the household; in Senegal, on a student trip several years ago, I saw carcasses of dead dogs on the side of the road that would never be collected, because it was forbidden to touch them. In Puerto Rico, there is a beach where dogs are abandoned and discarded, alive and dead, because people do not want to care for them and have not neutered their own dogs to prevent litters of unwanted puppies.
|Dead Dog Beach, Puerto Rico|
I have had conversations this fall with congregants in emotional agony because they are separated from their pets while hospitalized, or because they have to make decisions about their pet’s treatment in the face of possible terminal conditions. And I have heard stories about how, when, in the past, church members have shared during Joys and Sorrows their sorrow over losing a pet, they have been ridiculed for doing so by other members.
Next month we will be having a Sunday morning Blessing of the Animals. I understand that some people just don’t have pets; others can’t because of allergies, and for them, this is not a service they will care to attend. But for so many of us, the furry family members we will bring to the service (on leashes, along with scaly and feathery creatures in cages) add value to living. We are fascinated with them, we spend hours looking at them, playing with them, grooming them, not because they reflect anything about us, but because they are so different from us. They make us aware that we are only one species; and that we have a responsibility to respect and care for the other members of the animal kingdom.
We are most keenly aware of this when we see the headlines about Cecil the lion being killed for sport, or the most recent local headline about Moxie, the beautiful puppy who was found beaten and buried, barely alive, not so far from this church. He is surviving, possibly against all the odds; he may not recover fully because of the head trauma he suffered; but the loving treatment he has received from the veterinary clinic that took him in has made the news locally and nationally.
St Francis of Assisi is the Christian saint whose feast day is October 4th, which is the customary date for the Blessing of the Animals. He is said to have had a loving relationship with all of Creation, and these are his words:
“If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men.
All creatures have the same source as we have. Like us, they derive the life of thought, love, and will from the Creator. Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them; but to stop there is a complete misapprehension of the intentions of Providence. We have a higher mission. God wishes that we should succour them whenever they require it.”
St. Francis has become the patron saint of animals and many in the animal rights movement try to emulate his care and concern for Creation. Many Unitarian Universalists take this to mean that our First Principle, by which we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of each person, should be amended to read “the inherent worth and dignity of every being”.
I recommend that you go to the First Principle Project website and read more about this proposal: http://firstprincipleproject.blogspot.com/p/faq.html . I’d be interested in your thoughts and reflections.
And I’ll see you – and your non-human family members – in our Sanctuary on October 25th!