Last week Otto, my beloved English bulldog, died. He died as he lived: in peace. His presence in our home for 12 years was an unmitigated joy. He too, surprisingly, became America’s best-known dog by pure chance; he was on camera for nearly all of my nearly 300 weekly fireside chats for PragerU and became the hero of a PragerU children’s book series. Also, as I have often pointed out, none of this fame went to his head.
My sadness at Otto’s death and the outpouring of condolence messages to my wife and I have made me reflect on two long-standing concerns about pets.
Concern No. 1: I have long feared that too many people are replacing love for humans with love for animals. When I started public speaking at age 20, I would ask high school students: “If your dog and a stranger were drowning, which one would you try to save first?”
From the first time I asked this question to this day, in almost every case, one-third of the students voted to save the stranger, one-third voted for their dog, and one-third refused to vote. In other words, for more than 40 years, two-thirds of high school students have not voted to save a human being they didn’t know before their dog.
The main reason they have always given is that they love their dog, not the stranger. I realized two things as a result of this answer. An era that we are living in what I called the Age of Feelings a long time ago. Feelings have replaced values as a guide to people’s behavior. The other realization was that as a result of society increasingly abandoning Judeo-Christian, i.e., Bible-based values, the premise that humans are special because only they were created. “in the image of God” has diminished. Secular society has no basis for declaring humans inherently more valuable than animals, especially an animal one loves.
Also, I am concerned about the number of people who announce that they do not want children and then refer to their dogs or cats as their “children.”
Concern No. 2: While it is well known that people who are cruel to animals are very likely to be cruel to humans, the reverse is not true: kindness to animals does not necessarily lead to kindness to humans . The Nazis provided horrifying confirmation. No Western nation was as concerned about animal rights as Nazi Germany. In fact, the Nazi regime banned medical experimentation on animals. However, he performed horrific experiments, without anesthesia, on human beings.
And you don’t need the Nazi regime as proof. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is so concerned about animal rights that it opposes killing a pig even if its heart valve could save a human. And compare the chicken barbecue to the cremation of Jews by the Nazis.
I think these concerns are still valid.
But as long as people don’t deny the greater innate value of being human and don’t equate animals with humans, I’ve come to see the love of pets as a thing of beauty. Given the extraordinary bond between people and dogs (and often cats, but I’ll focus on dogs), I now entertain the belief that God created dogs for people.
My wife and I love our children with the love that all normal parents have, and nothing is like the love of a parent for a child. Even as we look for another English bulldog to help fill the void left by Otto’s death, we are well aware that no one looks for another child if one’s child dies. As much as we love our dogs, a genuine and deep love, we know that we can have another dog, but we can never have another human being after the loss of a child or any other human being.
A dog provides genuine companionship. That’s why any widow or widower who can care for a dog—in fact, anyone who lives alone—should consider adopting a dog. The numerous studies that show that people who own a dog live longer are undoubtedly correct.
My wife and I are not alone. We have each other, as well as children, grandchildren and precious friends. But only those who own a dog know how much one dog (or, ideally, two dogs, since each dog must have a companion for when no humans are around) adds to a home. They are life enhancers. And when they leave, part of the life is sucked out of any home, even one full of people.
The Hebrew word for “dog” is “kelev.” Since Hebrew has no vowels, the word is actually written “klv.” Those three letters can also be seen as a contraction of “kol lev,” it is understood what it means “from all my heart.” It may be a coincidence. But I no longer believe it.