Miaow

I could hear my wife’s voice in the kitchen. She was clearly speaking firmly to a neighbour, or perhaps a tradesman. But I was wrong – she was speaking to a cat, and explaining to her with some firmness, the virtue of going outside to relieve herself rather than secretively preferring a corner of the room. The cat knew she had done something wrong, but was indifferent to chapter and verse.

That’s the problem when one’s large family of children have hauled up the anchor, the cats have to take their place. Our pair (brother and sister moggies) are intensely conservative. We are required to be in the same places at the same times, just as we and they need to be sitting in the same chairs. They talk in a stream of miaows and whimpers, and we talk back. The conversations are surprisingly lucid, though somewhat dependent on non-verbal communication – which is well understood by all four of us.

So while my intellect suggests to me that animal have no rights, my emotions tell be that they have. The cats have a right to proper food, reasonably available company, feline freedom, the vet when needed, a merciful death, and a respectful burial. But however closely we may have grown together they must ultimately be treated as cats, not as quasi humans.

Do cats have souls? Yes, but animal souls, taught Aristotle. They are sentient, of course, but we do not see them as reflective and rational. What does it mean to a cat to be conscious? I can’t get my imagination around that. And if they do not make choices through reason, their choices are usually rational. Certainly our cats have achieved safe and comfortable lives for themselves.

I note that animals appear to be acquiring increased rights in the secular world. In some dispensations they can inherit property, and have their own lawyers. Their owners can sue for emotional damages. Vets are vulnerable to malpractice suits. There are growing pressures to defend animals from being used in experiments. There was one owner, I recall, who put his investments in his dog’s name – on the grounds that dogs are not liable to Capital Gains Tax. I don’t think it worked.

The great name in all this is the Australian, Professor Singer, whom I have interviewed in the past. He has no truck with any issue of souls; his fundamental criterion is mental awareness, and conscious investment in one’s own survival. By this measurement, for instance, a mature ape would have a better right to live than a new born human, or than someone with a severe mental disability. And he accepts animal experiments only if we would be prepared to use them on a human of similar or less awareness.

When I was a small boy at boarding school I overheard a friend ask a learned Jesuit whether his dog would get to Heaven. The answer was splendidly jesuitical: “Since you will be completely happy in Heaven, if you are unhappy without your dog, he will be there for you.”

I would like to know about people’s experience with pets – how they feel about them, what value they put on them. Can a non-human creature have rights? Does this cover all manner of pets, or just those with whom a relationship is possible? We have not been taught that the lower animals are immortal, but nor have we been taught that they aren’t. Will they participate in the Resurrection (glorified, perhaps?), or will we live in a petless world? Are we justified in using animals for experiments in developing cures for humans? Do you agree with the Singer views about the rights of animals? I am told that animals are not treated kindly in Catholic countries, as opposed to white, Anglo-Saxon (therefore decent?) countries, Why should this be?

Our cats await your answers.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Quentin queries and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Miaow

  1. Peter D. Wilson says:

    Salutations to your cats! I don’t have one, but a close relationship with my neighbour’s, who visits often though erratically and in his old age delights in a cuddle as prolonged as I’m prepared to give him, often stroking my face in return (unfortunately he can no longer retract his claws). It seems to be genuine affection, as I don’t feed him except when the owner is away.

    On animals in heaven, I’ve often thought on the same lines as your Jesuit’s answer. I have a theory that in heaven nothing good is really lost, and since love is the greatest good, I expect something of that shown even by animals to survive death in some way.

  2. Brian Hamill says:

    If heaven is truly ‘home’, then what was, is, and will be, in our home, including the pets, will be there transformed, like us, ‘from glory to glory’.

  3. John L says:

    God is Love. If we are to “belong” to God, we must love.
    Love for animals is still love, and surely must be part of God’s plan. It behoves us, only, not to place love of animals above love of fellow humans (sadly, I have encountered this).
    “Blessed are the merciful, they shall receive mercy”. We often have more opportunity to be merciful to animals than we have for people – actually, that’s not true, but unfortunately our perception often lets us down. I don’t know why “Catholic” countries torture animals for “fun”, but let’s not get on a high horse – it was (and still is in some places) a time-honoured British pastime.
    Pope Francis has warned of the dangers of substituting pets for children, but again, sadly, some do not have the choice.
    So – let’s hear it for the cats!
    I’m a lot less keen on dogs, but that’s just me.

  4. Singalong says:

    Woof! Woof! Pets are wonderful, especially dogs! I really wanted one as a child, after being very frightened of some earlier. I even wrote to Uncle Tony of the Liverpool Echo, sure that the reply on his page, hoping that I would get a dog for my birthday, would work wonders. Sadly it didn`t! My poor mother, with several children to look after, her husband still in Burma during WW2, and health problems, just could not have managed. We finally got one over 20 years later, and have had 3 more since, They certainly add an extra dimension to life, and are a blessing in so many ways.

    We do however, find ourselves wanting to justify having a pet, and spending money on food, and medical care, and insurance, when we know how many people in the world lack even the necessities of life. We see this horror in full and vivid detail, and I don`t think we should ignore the dilemma, but it is so good for our mental and emotional health, and especially for that of a son who lives with us, we still have one.

    We would not think it right to spend too much on silly pampering, or on expensive medical treatments. Fortunately, we only had to face such a decision once, and one dog we had lived to be over seventeen, and then died peacefully in his bed soonafter a little morning visit to the garden, very sad though it was to say goodbye to him.

  5. milliganp says:

    In the middle of a lecture on scripture, the Abbot who taught us interjected “dogs have owners, cats have servants”. In heaven will cats do as they are told?

  6. ignatius says:

    We like pets because they are in the same boat as ourselves – trying to make sense of a universe they cannot control while attempting to please a being they barely undestand…!

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      Yes, Ignatius, I think it helpful to think of pets’ relationship to us as a faint reflection of ours to a God who treats us with indulgence because He recognises how little we understand that relationship but for His own reasons values it.

  7. Iona says:

    Milliganp’s Abbott reminded me of an exchange I once read; an old farmer was asked whether he preferred cats or dogs. He said neither, he preferred pigs. “Dogs looks up to you, and cats looks down on you, but pigs – pigs is equal”.

  8. Iona says:

    It’s one question whether your dog will be in heaven “for you” (i.e., if you would be unhappy without him), but another whether he may be there in his own right. I knew an autistic girl who was extremely fond of tortoises (actually, I rather like them myself; she and I developed quite a fellow-feeling based on tortoises). Where do you draw the line? A prisoner in solitary confinement might become fond of a visiting cockroach.

    • Quentin says:

      An awful thought was triggered by your contribution. What if my cats get to Heaven — and I don’t?

      We had a cat who lived to be over 19. She looked after my wife during a period of several months of illness. I wrote a poem about her:

      Tyrant familiar zipped in velveteen,
      Who interwefts the warp of all my day
      To check out with your cheek your whole demesne
      And circumscribe for me your royal sway.
      You are my judge, my prophet, and my law;
      Cat-free to scold my love with your disdain,
      Or cuff me captive with your unsheathed paw
      Lest I should leave the bounds of your domain.
      And if I take an hour beyond your view
      Or from your Person my attention prise,
      You summon me with melancholy mew
      And hold me with imponderable eyes.

  9. Ann says:

    If I didn’t have my dogs I’m not sure if I’d be less happy, I believe I would be, but as the saying goes, “you don’t miss something until you have lost it” If my dogs were to be taken from me now having bonded with them I would be miserable.My dogs know my moods better than any person could. Animals can provide so such health and well being of ill or disabled people. Guide dogs, hearing dogs, etc. Cats are ok…..ha. God even created the animal kingdom before humans!

  10. John Candido says:

    In Shakespeare’s play of Richard III, there is a line about his kingdom for a horse. “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” I can’t live without my cat being a happy and contented pet. I have had cats all of my life. They are so cute and adorable.

  11. Quentin says:

    Latest news from ST JOSEPH. (I suspect that Our Lady is on the job, let’s encourage her.)

    Dear Quentin,
    A tiring day to Birmingham, the latest news and that is the team had a meeting and decided as I am medically fit I could have some chemotherapy but the risks would have to be discussed,I need to have my plastic stent removed and be replaced with metal one as that is what should have been put into the bile duct in the first place.

    I was not expecting that news as before it looked very grim but now after the meeting with the team in Birmingham they thought that the cancer could be held back and shrunk.I have an appointment in two weeks my doctor is going to rush it through faster as it is all to do with time.
    Thank you for your prayers and all those who are praying for me.

    I had no pain in Lourdes but needed morphine once since I came home maybe the stent was causing it also I am prone to on and off temperatures due to it also in the liver.

    Hope you are keeping well.

    Love St Joseph x

  12. Ignatius says:

    I reckon dogs go immediately to heaven, along with rabbits. Cats however go directly to purgatory for as long as it takes to twirl a dozen angels on the head of a pin…see…simple isn’t it. Hello St Joseph, better keep away from magnets with that metal stent girl!!

  13. John Thomas says:

    The concept of heaven, which seems to emerge from your words, Quentin, is a bit like a cleaned-up, nice version of our earthly life – and the Jesuit’s view on animals fits in very well, here. Suppose, however, it can not be seen as anything life present experience …? You must have had considerable patience, interviewing Singer (Australian, surely): consciousness, etc., should be the LAST source of worth …

    • Quentin says:

      I certainly can’t produce a picture of the resurrected world. And if I did, I would bear in mind that St Paul warns us that “eye hath not seen nor ear heard etc.” But the words of Scripture, however dummed down for our mortal minds, must correspond to some order of meaning. A good deal of doctrine, e.g., Purgatory, has no literal reality in our terms. yet we speculate – and so do I. I hope it may be that those things we find good in human experience will not be lacking.

      You’re right – Australian. (lapsus digiti)

      • johnbunting says:

        “….those things we find good in human experience…..”. I think you are in good company there, Quentin: “And He that sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new'”; and William Blake said “Eternity is in Love with the Productions of Time” , although he can be a bit inscrutable.
        We all have our favourite things, animate and inanimate. I’d find it hard to imagine a heaven where I couldn’t sail a boat, fly a glider, or try, however badly, to play Schubert on the piano.
        Talking of cats, my neighbour’s cat, who has been rather wary of me in the past, came up and head-butted me this morning. Why do I feel that was a compliment? Daft, isn’t it.

  14. milliganp says:

    There is a danger that we allow the eternal fate of the animal kingdom to shade our treatment of them in life. We have a duty to respect God’s creation and not abuse it. However we are allowed to husband and slaughter cattle, wild animals, birds and fish. So, if we overcome a merely sentimental attachment to our pets, deeper thought is needed.

  15. Ignatius says:

    “The concept of heaven, which seems to emerge from your words, Quentin, is a bit like a cleaned-up, nice version of our earthly life..”

    When we worked in China there was a monthly ‘thorough cleaning’ day when we all got out and cleaned the streets etc, didn’t see any angels though…..must have been a socialist heaven I guess….

  16. Iona says:

    Johnbunting – in Heaven, surely, you will play Schubert brilliantly on the piano.

    Good news about St. Joseph!

    • johnbunting says:

      Thankyou, Iona: a happy thought.
      By the way, I can’t let any discussion of cats go by without mentioning ‘archy and mehitabel’. If you haven’t made their acquaintance, just ‘google’ them and take it from there.

  17. claret says:

    A lot of sentimental ‘tosh’ on here with this subject. Animals (other than humans, ) are ruled by the need for food and to breed. Everything they do is geared to achieving those two things.

  18. Geordie says:

    Hear, hear, Claret. And I am speaking as a dog lover.

  19. John Nolan says:

    Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutor’d mind
    Sees God in clouds, or hears Him in the wind;

    He asks no angel’s wings, no seraph’s fire;
    But thinks, admitted to that equal sky,
    His faithful dog shall bear him company.

    Alexander Pope, that great Catholic poet, was a dog-lover, and immortalized his Great Dane bitch Bounce in his poetry. He presented one of Bounce’s pups to Frederick, Prince of Wales, and wrote an inscription for his collar: ‘I am his Highness’ dog at Kew. Pray tell me, Sir, whose dog are you?’

    Two years before his death he gave Bounce into the care of Lord Orrery. The dog died a few weeks before the poet himself, and is the subject of his last couplet.

    Ah Bounce! ah gentle beast! why wouldst thou die,
    When thou had’st meat enough, and Orrery?

    St Thomas Aquinas maintained that the higher animals had a ‘sensitive soul’ and were capable of emotions such as joy or sadness, even hope. But not the hope of the ‘rational soul’. As Yeats put it:

    Nor dread nor hope attend
    A dying animal;
    A man awaits his end
    Dreading and hoping all.

  20. Iona says:

    I love archy and mehitabel – I still have a copy – but could never interest my children in it. And now, of course, it’s been totally overtaken by events; archy could just have installed speech-to-text and his upper- and lower-case problems would have been over.

    toujours gai, archy, toujours gai and thank god i am still a lady

    Claret, that’s rather a sweeping statement. Many animals seem to enjoy simply playing (dogs, cats, dolphins…) And, unless they’re of the solitary type, many of them seek out and respond to company, either their own species or human company, quite apart from breeding (the neutered ones do it too. Possibly more so than the un-neutered ones).

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