I just watched a news piece on one of the major networks telling of a strange “custody” battle in California. A woman owned a parrot for ten years until one day the parrot escaped and flew away. Another woman in the same city found the parrot and “adopted” it as her own. After three years the two women (who had been strangers) met, quite by accident, and struck up a conversation about their love of animals and their special fondness for parrots. As they talked about their pets they realized that they were both talking about the same parrot.
A lawsuit followed with the original owner demanding that her missing bird be returned to her; while the other woman insisting that the parrot had found a new home with her and ought to remain. In the end the judge ruled in favor of the original owner. In the judge’s words, under California law “pets are chattel; they're no different from your automobile.” In other words, pets are property. We OWN pets and the rights of the original owner must be honored.
The woman who lost the case lamented the decision, “This poor bird, he calls me 'Ma. He's very attached to me.” Noticeably distraught and in tears she wailed, “They treat a living, breathing animal like a car. Is that fair? Is that justice”
YES! It is fair! It is justice!
An animal is not a child. A parrot is not a member of the family. The fact that a parrot can mimic the human voice is quaint and causes their owners much joy, and this ability makes them a desirable pet for many people…But they are still just PETS, not children – even if they do call you “Ma.”
I changed the channel to another news program and, coincidentally, I landed upon a story about the chimpanzee that recently achieved national infamy for literally tearing the face off of its owner’s friend. This particular news report was an update of the victims recovery (which is improving), but imbedded in the story were some comments from the chimp’s former owner. She claims that the chimpanzee’s rampage was a freak accident. She maintains that she has been wrongfully blamed for not keeping the animal in a cage or somehow contained, and that his frenzied attack is no different than when any human suddenly snaps and murders someone unexpectedly…sometimes these things just happen without warning.
But it IS different!! A chimpanzee is a wild animal and should not be compared to a human person. The owner of this chimp treated her pet as though it were her son. He ate and slept with her, and roamed around the house as though he were one of the family. His violent outburst was not like a human who commits murder; the two should not be equated. The chimp was only acting as a chimp. We should not be surprised when a 200 pound male ape attacks a human who enters his territory. We should, however be surprised that society has accepted animals as our equals. We should be alarmed that a wild creature can live among us as though they are part of our extended family. A wild animal taken out of the wild is still a wild animal.
Don’t get me wrong. I love animals. The Catholic faith has a rich tradition of respecting and loving God’s gift of creation. Saint Francis gives us a wonderful example of how we are called to love and care for all of God’s creation including the beasts, wild and tame, who share our planet with us.
But as with all things, love must be properly ordered. Love of fellow man is not the same as love of animals, just as love of fellow man is not the same as love of God. There are different kinds of love and different expressions of love. To elevate one species or one Being is to necessarily diminish another. If we love ourselves as we do God, we diminish our love of God – we drag Him down to our level. If we love animals as we do ourselves, then we drag ourselves down – we risk losing the dignity that separates mankind from animals. Indeed, many on the cultural left would do just that. They see no difference between the dignity of a dog or a cat and the dignity of a person. And many would tear down our notion of God and remove the sense of the sacred. They deny and image of God in man.
A couple of years ago PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) ran an ad campaign that compared the butchering of chickens for Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants to the murder of the Jews in the Holocaust. There was, of course, an immediate outcry from the Jewish community and the ad was scrapped. But PETA (a very left-leaning organization) saw the comparison as appropriate and justified. The killing of Jews and the killing of chickens is of the same order of evil. The chicken has been elevated, but in the process, humanity is degraded.
To paraphrase the woman who lost the parrot custody case: “They treat humans as though they were chickens. Is that fair? Is that justice?”
There is something drastically wrong with society when our sense of reality can become so morbidly twisted. After all, our REALITY is what this is all about, not simply some woman’s eccentric attachment to a chimp or a parrot. But how do we answer certain fundamental questions – How do we define the things around us? What is a “family”? Does it include parrots? What is “motherhood”? Are you a “mother” to a chimpanzee? What does it mean to be “human”? Are we nothing more than animals with large brains? How do we react and interact with the world? How do we love?
Love is a beautiful thing…but love misdirected can be destructive. Loving something for what it truly is gives us a sense of order to our world; but loving a thing for what it is not distorts creation and can lead to a multitude of errors.