Last December, I received a Christmas card in the mail with someone’s dog in the spotlight posing as Santa. Cute? Sure… until I read the caption which read, “Baby’s first Christmas.” This was just the beginning of such observations.
More recently, I met a rather chatty woman in the post office. She was in the process of picking out a Father’s Day card for her son. Her only requirement was that the card include a dog in its design. At first, I thought this to be an innocent request. After conversing longer, she shared that her son’s ex-girlfriend (who I gathered used to live with him) left her two dogs with this man after her departure. The mother was dully impressed with her thirty-year old son’s ability to take care of these creatures. So much so that that was, in fact, the motivation behind purchasing a Father’s Day card for him. So, would such a mentality make her a grandmother?
I found that encounter bizarre enough, and did not think it could be topped. I was wrong. In my neighborhood, it is not a rare sight to see folks taking advantage of trails that line the roads. On one occasion, I came across a woman roller-skating. As I passed in my car, I glanced over to see that she had a baby carrier strapped to the front of her chest. I expected to see a child, that’s not what I viewed. Instead, a dog was strapped in with its legs dangling and its ears blowing in the wind. I passed in shock.
A few days later, I ran a 5k in some brutal heat. Surely, if anyone had offered me water, I would have happily accepted. That didn’t happen, but I did overhear someone ask the couple behind me if their dog could use some water. I glanced behind me to see a bottle of water being held up to the dog’s mouth. But it is not just water alone that is being offered to dogs these days. The options are endless from doggie cones at the ice cream shop to the best beef in town in the dinner dish. With so many occurrences of dog doting, perhaps in this culture I am the one who is seen as odd. Minority belief or not, dogs will never be humans, and therefore we should stop pretending that they are.
After so many extreme episodes of canine care, I began to ponder why dogs have been promoted from pet to person. I believe it reveals a truth that is written on the human heart. The truth I am referring to is that humans are wired for self-donating love. Scripture reveals each person is made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 2:27). And who is God, if not Love? (1 John 4:8). The Triune God is a communion of Divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Call it a family of three.
Richard of St. Victor explained that a requirement of perfect love is sharing with another person, and perfect love between two requires loving for the sake of a third. All persons are made in the image of the Trinity, and therefore, are also drawn into communion. In marriage, God invites man and woman to model this triune love in their human family. We hear what is written on our soul echoed in God’s command to husband and wife: “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it’” (Genesis 2:28). The love of spouses continues outside of themselves in the flesh of a human person.
For conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs forth from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2366).
What does this truth have to do with dogs? If in marriage, husband and wife do not heed to God’s command to be fruitful in the begetting of children, then this hunger to love something outside of themselves, in union with each other, will find false expression. As seen, one example of this is in the adoption of a pet, where an animal gains the privileges of a person. The pet is seen as the “third” in this communion of husband and wife. It is a twisted truth, a pacifier. What these couples truly desire is a child.
Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents (Gaudium et Spes 50).