No, Animals are not Better Than People, and they are not The Same as Family.
Updated: Aug 4, 2021
A local Florida news article of the Camplain Towers collapse, and reading the comments, prompted me to write this. Found here...
Some residents expressing concern about pets possibly still inside soon-to-be-demolished Champlain Towers South condo.
Some of the comments are as follows (unedited).
"Poor Pets.. they were in those rooms still. Many. Absolute Nightmare. Shame on those involved."
"I will never understand how people can just leave them, there like a kid, better then a kid...would you leave your kid behind?#AnimalsAreBetterThenPeople…"
"the pet is not a pet that pet is like a son or daughter of yours is family... they feel that you are their parents."
"I like my dog more than people."
"Pets are better than people any day."
"Pets are more loyal and honest than humans any day."
My oldest, who is 16, had a friend tell her recently that "losing a dog is like losing a family member." In which she replied, "losing your dog, is like losing your mother?" I had a proud father moment at her witty response.
There are numerous polls on the internet that show people would rather save their drowning pet than a stranger. G.K. Chesterton was right again, "Wherever there is animal worship there is human sacrifice."
Our treatment of animals is certainly as good if not better than the treatment of others. We spend untold amounts of money on them, pay lavish vet bills. Spend more "quality" time with them than we do with people. Our patience for them extends further than our patients for other people.
What is my point?
Our unhealthy attachment to animals prevents us from entering and having real personal relationships. The comments above say as much. Face it; many people would rather have a relationship with a pet than another person and it is not (mentally) healthy. Many people even go as far as saying they are needed for emotional support. However, there is little evidence that emotional support animals even help. Yet here we are.
A United Airlines passenger attempted to board a flight with a peacock. Another air passenger boarded a plane with a turkey. Another brought on a duck wearing red booties. A Delta passenger claimed that the seat on which he was sitting was covered in dog feces.
It is unclear why emotional support animals have not been proven to help, but I will go out on a limb here and say that social interaction with people is more necessary and beneficial to one's mental health than any animal.
Our pets are always excited to see us when we get home, always eager to give us attention. You can count on your pet. You can trust them. They will not lie to you; they will not hurt you, or cheat on you, or abandon you. But they cannot love (in any real sense of the term) and have a deep, profound personal relationship with you. That is because their nature is not like our own. Compared to that of animals, the intellect and will of humans give rise to an immaterial soul oriented towards universal goods and transcendent ends, whereas animals who possess only sense knowledge are oriented to immediate sensual goods.
Our cognitive abilities allow us to consider individuals on a personal level and to conceptualize how they may feel in return. Animal senses are ordered to action or passion and do not consider anything insofar as it is an individual, but insofar as it is the terminus of their passion. "An animal may recognize its young, i.e. the individual, it does not do so insofar as it is a particular thing but as the terminus of its action." (Rippiger 2007, p. 151). Mother, whales do not mourn the loss of an individual that existed for an end in and of itself; a baby whale that will grow big one day and swim amongst the others doing whaley things. The baby is an end to her inherent mothering passion, acting out of instinct, not love. Again not in any real sense of the term.
Many readers may get bent out of shape over what I have stated here. But this popular opinion and theory is already applied to humans in what is known as materialism. Materialists believe that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, including mental states and consciousness in humans. We question whether or not humans act out of altruism or mere pleasure, as in Freud's pleasure principle. These fundamental questions stem from a materialistic philosophy that most people have not bothered to adequately question. All I am saying is this does not apply to human persons who can consider and acknowledge that our senses orient us toward the good of the other and that we can choose to act for the good of the other willfully apart from any sense pleasure. This is not the case for animals. There is no moral dilemma when a dog acts instinctively. They are not put on trial to determine their motive. An animal mother is not convicted of a crime for abandoning or cannibalizing her young.
G.K. Chesterton again sums up the difference in animals and humans, and he answers the question, are animals better than humans? "Man is always something worse or something better than an animal, and a mere argument from animal perfection never touches him at all. Thus, in sex no animal is either chivalrous or obscene, And thus no animal invented anything so bad as drunkennesss- or so good as drink."
It is for this reason that animals cannot satisfy our ultimate longings. "Human persons are intrinsically receptive and oriented towards other persons. This orientation is expressed through communicative acts of receiving and giving. Furthermore, social acts serve personal flourishing only inasmuch as they serve the good of other persons and the common good." (Vitz, Nordling, Titus, 2020, p.32) and "Man cannot find himself except through a sincere gift of self" (GS §24). Animals will not satisfy this longing. We cannot give ourselves completely to something we do not share a common nature with, nor can they properly receive all of you. We must find real personal relationships that lead us to fulfilling lives if we want to truly flourish to our full potential.
Enjoy your animals. Treat them with love and respect. You will always know the heart of a person by the way they treat animals. If they worship them there will be human sacrifice, if you mistreat them there will also be human sacrifice. As usual the virtue is in the mean between two extremes.
Pope John Paul II (1980) The Human Person Becomes a Gift in the Freedom of Love
Ripperger, C. (2013). Introduction to the science of mental health. SensusTraditionis Press.
Titus, S., Vitz, P., Nordling, (2020). A Catholic Christian Meta-Model of the Person. Divine Mercy University, Sterling, VA.
Odell Terrell is a mental health counselor in Greensboro, NC. He graduated with a MS in Counseling from Divine Mercy University in Arlington, VA, and places an emphasis on working with spiritual integration, adults and adolescents, trauma, family and children, and grief and loss. Odell received his undergraduate degree from the University of St. Leo's in St. Leo Florida, with a degree in Psychology. He has spent his last 15 years working in the field of emergency services. It is in working with people in emergency situations, both patients and first responders, that Odell has learned how to deal respectively with people in crises mode, helping instill a sense of hope and healing. Odell is happily married, for 16 years, and is the father of 9 children and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his family and child therapy practice.