Many people I know who profess to be pious and who try to follow the ways of God have expressed a universal feeling that we are living through the beginning of the end. No one knows exactly when the end is, no not even the Son knows, only the Father knows. But the Holy Scriptures have given us a hint to understand that when we see the signs, just like we can see that a fig tree is blooming with fruit, that we can assume that we are living through the end of times. Now the Good Book tells us of many signs of the end of times, but I will share with you just one that perhaps is not mentioned directly but I believe is one that forebodes the end. This sign is that the hearts of men will grow cold toward the end. One of the ways it has grown cold is that instead of administering love to their fellow man in acts of philanthropy they have channeled it to their love of dogs.
During many an outing in my home city of Manhattan, I see women pushing baby carriages but instead of babies, they are strolling along with their pet dogs, little Chihuahuas, or terriers, shitzus and the like. They push their pooch buggies through Central Park tugging a doggie diaper bag. These strollers are specifically made for dogs, not children. In Petco and other pet stores they are displayed in the windows– in all kinds of models and colors, all for the benefit of taking their little dogs for a stroll, to spare their little paws and hearts the strain and effort of actually walking the pavement. Just yesterday, in the village, I saw a “pet retreat” where they offer a spa experience to your pet, including massage, gourmet meals, including vegan ones if the owner is so inclined. Its slogan was “the most fun your pet can have without you.” New York City is bursting with many dog-oriented businesses–puppy and me yoga salons, take-out restaurants that you can call in for a specially-made meal to take home for your dog, not to mention the plethora of pet grooming, pet sitting services. There are even in the far frontiers of luxury pet care dog psychics and dog psychologists. High-end services include pet hotels with heated floors, fluffy pillows and VCRs. Other services include liposuction for dogs, animal massages, and aromatherapy treatments.
Luxury pet care products are popular as well. You can buy a plastic tray containing real sod. You toss it in the truck for your dog to use on long trips, or take it with you to the hotel room.
Other products include a treadmill for dogs, automatic timing feeders and automatic cleanup for cat litter pans. A Japanese company is selling a gadget that hangs around a dog’s neck. It tells you what the dog’s bark means. This item is so popular that they are making a similar product for cats. Some other products include personalized food bowls for about $22, jewelry – known as “doggy bling” – for less than $10,and $5 dog socks. I have seen plush dog beds go for close to $100, as well as seasonal pet attire that includes $27 goggles, $60 life jackets and $15 sunglasses. I believe there are also pet beauty contests, pet wedding parlors, and pet modeling agencies where the little pups parade their coutre designer doggie apparel down pooch pasarellas to the “oohs” and “ahhs” of their admiring owners.
While other industries are suffering during the Great Recession, the pet care industry in the US is turning a high profit. Americans spent $45.4 billion on pets in 2009, according to the APPA (American Pet Products Association.) That’s a 5.1% increase from 2008, and nearly double pet spending a decade ago. When close to 60% of all households in American own a pet, it’s a highly profitable business. According to an article I read dated from 2009, “PetSmart, the largest U.S. pet-products retailer . . . announced net profit of $46.3 million, or 37 cents a share, for the quarter ended May 3, topping analysts’ expectations and easily trumping last year’s results of $41.2 million, or 32 cents a share over the same period. Revenue for the quarter was up 9% to $1.33 billion on a year-over-year basis, while same-store sales rose by 3.9%. The company said it now expects its full-year profit to reach a range of $1.42 to $1.52 a share, compared to its earlier forecast of $1.40 to $1.50 per share.”(http://moneymorning.com/2009/05/29/pet-care-industry/)
Now, I have a wonderful faithful dog too; he’s a 135-lb lovable Golden lab. I love Titus to death. He is so patient; he instinctively knows when someone in the family is sick or depressed and so comes and sits at the edge of their bed. When my mother was recovering from surgery, he was faithfully glued to her bedside for weeks. He never talks back to me like my unruly teen; he greets me no matter how many times I leave and come back into the house with unconditional love and whimpers when he cannot find an object of affection, whether it be a stray slipper, a random stuffed animal, or an empty water bottle to give me as a gift. He is a beloved part of our family. He never complains, except to get an extra dose of love in the form of a scratch on the belly or a dog biscuit. Many times I have said, “If the world were more like Titus, it would be a better place.” Everyone knows that animals reduce stress, unify families, and bring health benefits to their owners.
However, the bark stops here. A dog is still a dog; it is not a human being. There is something wrong with a society that elevates animals to the level of human beings, that grants them the same rights, perceives them as having the same needs as people. While bonding with a domestic animal is generally a beneficial thing, there is a real ethical, psychological and logical danger in substituting an animal relationship in the place of a human, person-to-person one. I would define the obsession the West has for animals, especially dogs, as skilolatreia, or dog idolatry. I would venture to say it is a sin.
The wake-up call for this dog idolatry came when my next-door neighbors gave me an invitation to the funeral for their 17-year-old German shepherd. It was expected that the two sisters, one childless and the other never married, would be distraught when their “son” died. The older one was especially intense in her grief, wailing and wearing black as they do to mourn the passing of relatives in their village in the south of Sicily. They kept vigil, did not venture out of the house, until the day of the funeral. Although very frugal throughout their life, they splurged on the funeral expenses; they found a “permanent” pet cemetary in a posh northern suburb outside the city, with a dedicated plot, and marble-engraved headstone. I was expecting a quick simple ceremony, but I was shocked to find that the ritual was identical to one you would expect for an actual human being. First, the dead animal was put on view in a “wake room” so that everyone could pay their last respects. His miniature plastic coffin lay open so that all could view the serene body of Orfeus, his head lovingly resting on a satin white pillow. He had been delicately embalmed and was wearing makeup. A family member, before the cover of the coffin was closed, lay a wooden cross on its body in solemn gravity. Four pall bearers then carried the coffin on their shoulders to its final resting place. After the ceremony, the friends and family gathered in Orfeus’ memory for a full-course lunch at a favorite Italian restaurant. Needless to say, the whole ceremony cost as much as a regular funeral, and then some as this particular pet cemetary charges a monthly maintenance fee for the upkeep of the plots.
Although I can very well empathize with the loss of a family’s best friend, to go to these lengths for an animal, that technically does not have a soul, is at best ridiculous and at worst sacrilegious.
The excessive love people show their animals is indicative of the troubled times we live in. In many ways having a relationship with an animal, and one as faithful and self-sacrificing as a dog, is easier than having one with a human. It takes less work to get along with Pete than his master Peter. Animals are not mean, are not as moody, they will never abandon you unless you mistreat them. They will never run away with your best friend; they don’t nag you to death (except if you have a cat maybe). They provide you with stress relief in contrast to most of our significant relationships which only pile on stress. And pets provide as much tenderness and affection as humans (if not more.) But, the buck stops at some juncture on the tracks of this line of reasoning. Animals, however warm and wonderful, are not human. They cannot serve as a substitute for genuine human interaction. They might ward off loneliness but when they actually substitute for the potential in a person-to-person relationship, they become a crutch or a scapegoat for loving other human beings. To replace human companionship for animal can be a sign of emotional unhealthiness. We have all heard of stories of the eccentric cat lady who keeps 150 cats in her two-bedroom apartment or the dog lover who bequeaths his entire multi-million dollar estate to Fido.
In the 60’s, dog worship entered new heights. There was an actual sect, the Dog Commune, an offshoot of the Universal Life Church, outside of Los Angeles that started by no doubt an LSD-hallucination/revelation that proclaimed that the reason for all the evil in the world could be directly attributed to the abuse and mistreatment of dogs. The reason behind the dogma? Because in English the word for GOD is DOG spelled backwards. Members of the Dog Commune herded dogs, raided animal shelters to liberate their canine deities, and were among the first animal rights groups in the United States to try to stop exploitation of dogs in scientific experiments. (http://www.maps.org/news-letters/v12n1/12117stu.html)
Although American society has come off the high of the 60’s, it is still a pathetic state of affairs when people revert to channeling their needs for love, care, and acceptance onto animals. Because this signals that they have either given up or become so disillusioned with their fellow men that they would rather kiss their dog on the lips than actually venture into the dicey waters of genuine human love. (Yes, there are the stories of those perverted few who actually look for sexual fulfillment from their pets too. Wasn’t Catherine the Great part of this statistic?) No cat can be the soul mate a woman yearns for; no cute Maltese puppy complete with manicured paws, smelling of baby powder can ever take the place of a bonafide baby.
This is why I see women pushing their pooch prams on the sidewalks of Park Avenue and wag my head in pity. For all the doggie bling bling and their luxurious penthouse suites, they are so very lonely. Frame this next to the drunk, scraggly homeless man who is lying on a piece of cardboard they are walking past in their doggie strollers and the image becomes ironic. In this country dogs have more of their daily necessities taken care of and lead a more glamorous lifestyle than human beings. How many lap dogs get more love and affection than the thousands of orphaned and abused youngsters in this city? How many canines have a direct, no-waiting line into the emergency room at the Bobst Animal Hospital on York Avenue than the hundreds of thousands of uninsured unemployed people who give up their spirit waiting for urgent medical care or are denied it because they lack insurance? For all the billions of dollars that Americans spend on doggie chew toys and all-natural organic dog food, if only a small sliver went to feeding the homeless and donating to children’s charities or better yet forging a viable relationship with a needy youngster, there would not be such an obsession with animals. If as a society we garnered our energies and our resources for genuine acts of love toward other human beings, I believe we wouldn’t be so miserable and unfulfilled emotionally that we would run home to tuck our baby Chihuahua to bed. The one true way to genuine happiness is through the development of real human fellowship and philanthropy. Because our love for our fellow human beings has gone to the dogs, we are living in the extremes of pathetic perversity making idols out of our pets. Lord have mercy.