After writing the post on Big Red, this may seem a departure, but I am only trying to make sense about something that has bothered me for some time.
People are people. Animals are not people. But with a lot of my neighbors, it seems the other way around.
I love Mark Lowry’s “Dogs Go to Heaven” comedy routine. The scripture is Psalm 36:6. The second half of the verse says that God preserves both man and animal. Now Mark Lowry’s assertion that ‘every chicken that you ever ate will be waiting on you (in heaven)’ is cringe worthy, but we shouldn’t worry about the dearly departed Fido or Phydeaux (Cajun spelling).
We have lived on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, PA for over twenty years. People treat their animals better than they treat people. They aren’t pets. They are family members, more honored than the sons, daughters, or cousins. Something seems wrong with that. I knew a young lady who had a dog since she was young. It was fourteen or fifteen years old. She borrowed money and more money to give the dog surgery after surgery to keep it alive. You can’t stop the deterioration of the body. You are going to die, too. When I was brought up, if the animal was in pain, the humane thing to do was to put it down. The beloved pet wouldn’t be in pain any more. Preserving an old dog’s life is not playing and barking and chasing cats. It is simply existing. When that life is merely existing, preserving it is in some ways selfish on the part of the animal lover. People, dogs don’t generally live very long.
They didn’t live long at all where I grew up in Mississippi. I lived on a farm. There was a well-traveled state highway in front of the house. We had beagles. Beagles focus on scent rather than sight or sound. They often got run over by trucks passing through.
I wrote about Big Red. Big Red sired one litter of puppies that I know of. The litter was made up of four girl puppies. Two looked just like beagles like their mama and two were almost solid red like their daddy. Two of the puppies were run over before they were a year old. A few months later, a third died from a snake bite. The mama dog had already died. About that time, Big Red disappeared. We’d been offered a few hundred dollars for him, but he was my pet, and I wasn’t selling. When Big Red disappeared, we figured that someone stole him. That left Annie, the last of the litter. Annie was not just red (more of a burnt orange), but she was growing to be the size of her daddy. She’d always been a lot bigger than her sisters.
One day, I was trimming the hedge around the house and I saw Annie under the privet hedge, cold and in full rigor. There were no marks, nothing swollen. She probably died from poisoning. I picked her up and took her to my father.
My Dad said, “Stop that crying. It’s just livestock. The shovel’s in the garage. Walk down the hill behind where we burn the trash and bury her deep. We don’t need a wild animal digging her up.”
I wasn’t weeping, but my eyes were noticeably moist. Granddaddy had a beagle or two that were cousins, but this was the last of the line. We weren’t going to have any more dogs. My tears were for all of the dogs that my Dad and I had buried over the years, not just the last one.
Yet, I dried my face, and I buried my dog. After all, it was just livestock.
That event may have broken something inside me. The thought of ‘just livestock’ entered my mind at my Dad’s funeral. I admonished myself, but I couldn’t find any tears to shed either. Don’t get me wrong. I loved my Dad. He had a lot of good qualities, but he taught me the rule about men not crying a little too well.
But should I get angry at the TV news teams or advertisements? They barely mention that there were three murders in the city, but they spend ten minutes on a dog that was starving and abandoned. The advertisements about animal cruelty look like the way dogs lived when I grew up. When you see a snippet on TV, you don’t get the whole picture. I need context, but they don’t want you to see that the dog was really okay. They wanted to make you open your wallet and give.
When I have seen flooding and hurricane rescues, there are people rescuing people and other people rescuing animals. During Harvey, one channel talked about the people being the first priority. The animals in many cases could not be rescued. There wasn’t room in the boat. But if there were animal carriers available, the second wave of rescuers would go back to the houses and rescue animals. The announcer said that when you’ve lost everything else, holding a pet brings back a little hope. Attitudes change. My attitude toward the pet rescues changed with that. I couldn’t see pets being rescued while people were drowning, but with enough rescue personnel and equipment, it makes sense for psychological and humanitarian reasons to save some pets.
Of course, some animals go beyond the concept of livestock or even pets. Service dogs are used for the blind, for people with emotional disorders, and other such disabilities. There are still holes in the system, but we are getting to the point where these dogs are accepted almost anywhere.
So, let’s understand that God has preserved Fido and Fluffy. The lion will one day lay down with the lamb, but let us concentrate on loving our fellow man. We have animals for livestock; we have animals for pets; we have animals for comfort and service. But God told us to go to the ends of the earth to spread Good News to the people of this earth. If Fluffy gets in the way of that commission, we need to examine our hearts.
Yet, even if you can’t leave Fluffy behind, does Fluffy like to be petted? By strangers? Can you go to a nursing home and let the old people pet Fluffy? Even being tied down to your pet, you can still spread God’s love. Fluffy might enjoy it, too.