Last week, Otto, my beloved English bulldog, died. He died as he lived – peacefully. His presence in our home for 12 years was an unmitigated joy. He also, amazingly, became the best-known dog in America through sheer happenstance; he was on camera during almost all of my nearly 300 weekly Fireside Chats for PragerU and became the hero of a series of PragerU books for children. Moreover, as I have often noted, none of this fame went to his head.
The sadness I feel at Otto’s death and the outpouring of condolence messages to my wife and me have caused me to reflect on two long-held concerns about pets.
Concern No. 1: I have long feared that many people are replacing love of humans with love of animals. When I first started public speaking in my 20s, I would ask high school students, “If your dog and a stranger were both drowning, which one would you try to save first?”
From the first time I asked this question to the present day, in nearly every instance, one-third of the students voted to save the stranger, one-third voted for their dog, and one-third declined 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 primary reason they have always given is that they love their dog, not the stranger. I realized two things as a result of this answer. One was that we are living in what I long ago labelled The Age of Feelings. Feelings have replaced values as the 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 are created “in the image of G-d” has diminished. Secular society has no basis on which to declare humans inherently more valuable than animals, especially an animal one loves.
In addition, I have been troubled by the many 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 human beings, the converse is not true: Kindness to animals does not necessarily lead to kindness to humans. The Nazis provided a horrible confirmation. No Western nation was as preoccupied with animal rights as was Nazi Germany. In fact, the Nazi regime banned medical experimentation on animals. Yet it performed hideous experiments – without anesthesia – on human beings.
And you don’t need the Nazi regime for proof. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is so preoccupied with animal rights that it opposes killing a pig even if its heart valve could save a human being. And it compares the barbecuing of chickens with the Nazis’ cremating of Jews.
I believe these concerns are still valid.
But so long as people do not deny the innately greater worth of the human being and do not equate animals with humans, I have come to regard the love of pets as something beautiful. Given the extraordinary bond between people and dogs (and often cats, but I will focus on dogs), I now entertain the belief that G-d created dogs for people.
My wife and I love our children with the love that all normal parents have – and nothing is like a parent’s love of a child. Even as we search for another English bulldog to help fill the vacuum left by Otto’s passing, we are well aware that no one searches for another child if one’s child dies. As much as we love our dogs – a love that is genuine and deep – we know we can get another dog, but we can never get another human being after the loss of a child or any other human being.
A dog provides genuine companionship. For that reason, every widow or widower who can take care of a dog – in fact, any person who lives alone – should consider adopting a dog. The many studies showing that people who have 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 a dog (or, ideally, two dogs, since every dog should have a companion for when no human is present) adds to a home. They are life-enhancers. And when they leave, some life gets sucked out of any home, even those filled with people.
The Hebrew word for “dog” is “kelev.” As Hebrew has no vowels, the word is actually spelled “klv.” Those three letters can also be seen as a contraction of “kol lev,” understood to mean “wholehearted.” It may be coincidental. But I no longer think so.
This column was originally posted on Townhall.