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Best Friend or Baby?

Dogs are often given the title “man’s best friend.” I get that. However, a new title has surfaced which turns one’s dog from friend to family. These days people address their dogs as “baby.”

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).


Jennessa Durney has earned a MA in Theological Studies and an Advanced Apostolic Catechetical Diploma from Christendom College’s Graduate School. She also holds a Certificate in Youth Ministry accredited by Franciscan University of Steubenville. Jennessa is currently serving as the Coordinator of Youth Ministry at Our Lady of Hope in the Arlington Diocese, under the pastoral direction of Father Saunders. She is passionate about serving teens and young adults and seeks to enrich their lives through her speaking and writing apostolate.
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  • Thank you Jennessa for addressing this subject, which is one of my pet peeves. Pun intended.

  • I agree with this, I’ve seen it in several 40- somthing women without children who go nuts over cats and dogs. It is their natural maternal instinct being fulfilled with pets.

    However, I’d love to read comments about the rarer childless couple that is infertile. I know God has other things for them to do, but it really is sad when they want children but are against adoption and just choose to be childless. Any thoughts anyone?

  • Mary Kochan

    Gena, a childless couple are not obligated to adopt children. What they are obligated to do, is what all married people are to do, and that is to allow their married love to flow out beyond them in whatever way God should direct them. That may mean helping extended family, serving actively in their parish or community, extending hospitality to persons in need, going on mission trips — any number of things.

    The point is that their love will be fruitful in the way that God chooses it to be if they are open to life and seek to do His will.

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    Childlessness in all cases is a cross. In the cases of naturally infertile couples, it is certainly a cross, but even in the cases of couples who choose childlessness by means of contraception, it is a cross. A common lamentation of couples beyond their fertile years is that they did not have more children when they were able. There is no reason to believe this is any different of those who have zero children as opposed to one or two — whether or not contraception had anything to do with it.

    Moreover, two additional things are worth considering. 1) Couples who have lost children to abortion or miscarriage are not childless. They can and should have recourse to the intercession of their unborn children and should pray for those unborn children as well. 2) Couples who are now in their infertile years but may have practiced contraception or abortion during their fertile years can and should be reconciled with the Church. Reconciliation is available to all sinners, and it neither detracts from the seriousness of the sin nor from the glory (of God) of the reconciliation. Following such reconciliation, any such couple can and should choose to be open to life and to the will of God.

    Miracles such as those that occurred to Sarah and Elizabeth are quite rare though not unheard of. Miracles of life-giving love flowing from couples reconciled to the Church, whether or not they are able to physically give such life to a new human being any longer, can be commonplace. All that is required is a contrite spirit and the Sacrament of Penance.

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    It is worth mentioning further that naturally infertile couples have committed no sin — at least in this particular area of their lives.

  • fishman

    I think an interesting solution to this problem would be to open up a chain that served Dog meat.
    It would force people to start dealing with the reality of what a Dog or Cat is.
    The really sad thing is that treating a Dog like it is a person is often a kind of abuse. The Dog doesn’t really enjoy all the nice perfume, their sensibilities are far different from ours.
    By imposing our human sensibilities on them we do a disservice to the poor creatures.

  • I am a bachelor, and I have a cat and a beagle, and the beagle is my best buddy but treating him like a human would be an outlandish disservice to the Father whom we both have in common.

    We humanize pets by loving them. One of the things I learned working at an animal shelter years ago is that feral (wild) kittens do not purr. A cat only learns to purr through contact with humans. Similarly, a dog who is loved has much more “personality” than a dog who is tied in the yard all day.

    But dogs and cats are dogs and cats. We confer dignity upon them through love, but we also allow them to be as they are. To relate to them as if they are children is to dishonor God’s plan for people and for animals, who share with us a common destiny.