November 14, 2019

I Didn’t Pray for My Dog

Welsh Terrier

Last night I learned that dogs have “Do Not Recessisate,” or DNR orders, too. I laughed  to myself at the irony: I’ve signed two DNRs for my mother and would not consider it for my two year old dog. People who know me know that I am totally into my dogs. The walk at 5:30 am is not my favorite but, I enjoy my evening walks with them around the neighborhood. My daughters say my dogs rank above them. Not true. Close, but not true.

Late yesterday afternoon I took my youngest dog for his annual shots and my personal fight against Heartworm testing for a dog that stays on Revolution® year round. As customary, my youngest dog was excited at the notion of new sniffs and eagerly got out of the car at the vet’s office. Expecting  the usual doctor’s office delay, I was happy they took him right away. The doctor commented that he was in great shape. My dog didn’t even seem to notice the shots he was getting as he searched for the next treat the assisitant was giving him. After the shots they took him out to be weighed. When he returned, he was a different dog. My dog is not calm, especially in a veterinary office. The doctor, too, noticed right away something was different and began to examine him. She was first worried about the fever; then he went into anaphylactic shock. I was stunned.

Our quick acting vertinarian took him back and treated him for seizures and a monster dose of Benadryl®. As it was closing time, she came out and told me that my dog needed to go to the ER for observation. I knew it was serious when she said that she wanted to take him, not me. We arrived at the all-night veterinary clinic and the ER doctor immediately took my dog and started the IV. The two doctors now were comparing notes and what had already been done for him.

After our vet left, my wife and I waited at the clinic for an update. It had been a tough evening and now to top things off those darn Cubs were finally scoring against the Dodgers. For a Sox fan, the day was going downhill rapidly.

I texted an update to family and friends. My dog is quite popular in his zest for life. My oldest daughter replied that she was “saying a prayer to St. Francis.” With that it occurred to me, that I did not say a prayer. In all actuality, I never intended to. With the crisis in the Caribbean, recent tornados, and lives needlessly taken in Las Vegas, the life of a dog is not a subject of my prayer.

Yet, my dogs are among  the best Catholic examples of living I know. They greet everyone with the same excitement and joy. My littlest dog will chase a tennis ball thrown by anyone – white or black, rich or poor, Chrisitian or non-Christian alike. They take joy in God’s creation each time I open the door to go out and would only hurt someone in self-defense. They do not stress about politics and have no interest in Facebook, Twitter or the latest smartphone app.

Many people attribute the notion that dogs have no souls to St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas was a phenomenal philosopher and theologian. As a scientist, his biology was quite poor, like most in his era. The notion of whether animals have souls and have an eternity is a question of the ages. Thomas also wrote in Summa Theologica, that at birth, the souls of little boys are immediately activated. However, the souls of little girls only take effect after 28 days….

Shanna Johnson in her “A heaven for all” blog at U.S. Catholic reminds us of a story that I’ve seen in several emails:

A veterinarian wrote an article about one little boy’s acceptance of his dog’s passing. After having to euthanize his pet, the boy seemed unusually calm, particularly when the conversation turned to why dogs’ lives are so short in comparison to that of human lives.

The little boy said he knew why, stating, “People are born so they can learn how to live a good life—like loving everybody and being nice all the time.”

“Well, dogs already know how to do that so they don’t have to stay as long,” he finishes.

Except for some pit bulls that killed a buddy of mine years ago, I pretty much agree. For those dogs, I attribute the difference to poor owners.

The issue of whether animals have souls has not been defined in the Church. Pope Pius IX declared that animals were soulless and thus unable to enter heaven. Paul VI and Pope St. John Paul II made comments opposing this view. Pope Benedict XVI said heaven is only open to humans. However, none of these opinions were definitive. Pope Francis, in Laudato Si’, wrote that animals will join humans in the kingdom of heaven. By adding this to an encyclical, it becomes the current teaching of the Church. Most importantly, no one defines who goes to heaven and the Church would never make such a declaration either. Only God makes that judgement. I am happy to leave it to his wisdom.

The question remains, why didn’t I pray for my best buddy? It is simple. With people’s lives devastated by recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and throughout the Caribbean, the tragic loss of life in Las Vegas and hunger throughout the world, it just didn’t seem right to add my dog to that equation. Truly, I was sad during the experience and joyful when he recovered. Yet, we cannot equate the loss of a dog to the human suffering around us.

The issue is not that it is wrong to spend money on our pets. There is nothing but good in loving God’s creation. Sin creeps in when we do not spend an equal amount in charity. We must recognize our sin in building beautiful homes and neglecting the homeless. We must act on our sin of having excess clothes, keeping outfits that we no longer wear or have stopped fitting, while others go without and would happily receive them in donation. We must stop our sin in throwing out food while others are hungry. Our sin is not in the “having” but the “neglecting” of others still in need.

I had the resources to spend and save my dog’s life. I also have the resources to spend an equal amount feeding the poor. In my joy at his recovery I will send a check of equal amount to “Feed My Starving Children.” (https://www.fmsc.org/en) It shouldn’t take such a tragic event to remind us to share. Tragically, it often does.

Reflecting on this, I see another Gospel lesson my dogs have taught me.

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Written by
Deacon Gregory Webster

REVEREND DR. GREGORY WEBSTER is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He was ordained to the Permanent Diaconate by Francis Cardinal George in May 2014 and is assigned to St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Old Mill Creek, Illinois. Deacon Greg holds a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from Northern Illinois University, M.A. in Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary and an M.A. in Bioethics and Health Policy from Loyola University of Chicago. Deacon Greg and his wife have been married more than twenty-five years and are blessed with three beautiful daughters and two pretty cool terriers.

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  • How many more starving children could you have saved with the money you actually spent on you dog? How many children equal one dog?

Written by Deacon Gregory Webster
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