From the Catholic Times
dated September 11, 1994:
'Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential
care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory.'
Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Since coming to the Welsh countryside, after two decades in Africa,
the Middle East, the USA and Middle England, I've woken up to animals.
They did not impinge very much upon my consciousness while I was
growing up. Not quite sure why. I had a rabbit, whom I shamefully
neglected. Cats visited but received no welcome from us. They were
enemies who behaved disgracefully in our flowerbeds. Dogs were foulers
of pavements and parks, chased me on my Fairy Cycle, ate perfectly good
'One can love animals; one should not direct to them the attention
due only to persons.' CCC
At university, I studied American literature. I was never really sure
why Edward Albee in The Zoo Story had his character, Jerry,
remark that in the developing of relationships it was necessary to start
somewhere: 'With a dog, with something!'
The play, which takes place on a park-bench, is about alienation. I
thought I'd have to be pretty damned alienated to start so far down the
ladder of evolution.
Well, time has passed.
I've passed the age when Alastair Sims decided, 'I am a fool, and
after that life became easier.' I concur with Mr Sims, feel myself
to be in the same boat when confronted by the world and its nagging
And I've just decided that dogs and cats are amazing mysteries. And
may be more than I know, for all I know.
Molly, the golden retriever here, is not mine.
Thankfully. But I share her, take her for walks, fill her bowl with
food, stroke her, discipline her, smack her when she dares to aim a
second glance at sheep.
It's taken a year to establish a bond with the animal - a common
enough thing for humans, a new experience for me - and I can now see why
people go dotty on dogs.
It's Molly's lack of guile that I like best. She is quite incapable
of deception. She is innocence and honest, has down-to-earth yearnings.
She is also very beautiful with her golden-white coat, her long face and
I remember a 'New Yorker' cartoon. It shows a dog eating its
dinner while a man plays a violin next to it. The man's wife says,
'You spoil that dog!'
A year ago that cartoon would not have been as funny, as apt, as it
Molly sits next to me at table. She does not move. She is intent on
watching me eat and hoping against hope that something will come her
way. Inevitably, it does. 'You spoil that dog!' say my friends.
Another 'New Yorker' cartoon; a dog is sitting next to its
master's armchair. The owner is reading the paper. The dog is saying,
'I love you. Can't you see how much I love you? You know I love you like
crazy... I can't sleep sometimes for my love of you - NOW can we go for
Molly looks at me that way whenever I give a sign of going outside.
In the forestry she is a different, more independent creature. She
likes to keep me in sight, but is off on her own errands, marching to
her own drummer.
I can only surmise what that drummer consists of. I know that it is
centred on her fine nose. She lifts her head and a symphony of smells
enters her brain through her nose and sends her off on a marathon of
It is a truism to say that a dog's sense of smell is acute.
But I wonder if that heightened faculty might not add up to a form of
consciousness to which we are not privy.
What is going on in a dog's head when it sniffs about?
It is mysterious.
So, having been close to a dog for a while, I have more sympathy for
animal rights than I once had.
Animals are their own best apologists. I agree with the new
Catechism in its assertion that in a choice between human welfare
and animal welfare, human beings should be the winners.
But I would like to have seen more about animals' virtues.
As Jerry said in The Zoo Story, animals are wonderful
A child can be allowed to touch a kitten or a hamster before it is
allowed near a baby.
Identifying with how a different species feels and reacts must help a
person to master the nursery-slopes of relationship.
'We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St Francis of
Assisi or St Philip Neri treated animals.' CCC
The problem is that animals are much nicer than people. They don't
have all those difficult cutting edges, those moods and anxieties and
such a deal of cussedness.
An animal rights advocate of the more extreme wing, who sees no
difference in value between an animal and a human being, may be 'off the
wall' when viewed from a Christian - or Jewish or Islamic - viewpoint,
but they nevertheless do have a kernel of truth nestling in their woolly
Human beings have taken at least one biblical concept to heart and
obeyed it to the letter. We are all very happy to maintain our place at
the pinnacle of creation and take the rest of it as our chattels.
Animals belong to us. It is all very simple.
But with the ownership comes the stewardship; the obligation to be
kindly and just overlords. And as in so many other departments, we have
We use and abuse animals as if they were mere things. I do not need
to go into detail. They are as obvious as the battery-farm sheds down
'It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die
Was it Heine who said that the society who burns books will one day
I wonder if it might not also be true that the society who abuses
animals is the society that abuses people.
For just as animals are good practice for learning to understand how
human beings feel; are fragile, can be hurt; so the abuse of them maybe
has the effect of numbing the sensibilities towards our own species.
When as children we buried dead birds in the garden and set up a
lolly-stick cross to mark their graves, we would debate about animal
The consensus we reached was that St Francis could never be happy in
heaven if animals weren't allowed in. Therefore, St Francis would have
made sure that some provision would have been made.
This theory was encouraged by a print illustrating the hymn, All
Things Bright and Beautiful that hung on the wall over my bed. It
showed a blond baby Jesus in company with the animals of the forest in a
Then, later, statues of St Martin de Porres, holding his brush, with
a dog at his feet.
One suspected that the first thing St Martin would have asked when he
got upstairs was, 'Where's my dog?'
Well, if I make it up there, I'll definitely be looking round for
I wonder if I'll have extra time in purgatory for that poor rabbit I
Animals, their exact nature, their place in the scheme of things are,
it seems to me, a neglected area. They are mysterious and mysteries,
apart from adding immeasurably to life, they are to be treated with a
reverence tinged with awe.
Now I'm off to take the dog for a walk. It's a labour of love.