By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, FEB. 14, 2010 (Zenit.org).- In the lead-up to this year's celebration of St. Valentine's Day, a surprising poll came out that revealed about a fifth of adults would prefer to celebrate the occasion with their pet rather than their partner.
The survey polled 24,000 people in 23 countries, according to a Feb. 8 report by Reuters. It found that age and income were more of a determining factor than gender or nationality. For those aged under 35, around 25% opted for their pet over their partner. This compared to 18% of those aged 35-54 and 14% of people aged 55 or more.
Those choosing pets over people were also more likely to be those who have a lower income compared to those who were middle or higher income earners.
The survey was only the latest news in the growing trend to the humanization of animals. On Jan. 23 the British newspaper the Telegraph reported on the return of the ancient pagan practice of pet owners being buried with their animals.
The newspaper reported that earlier in January planners in Lincolnshire approved the latest in a series of joint animal and human cemeteries.
The article quoted Penny Lally, who runs a woodland burial place in Penwith, west Cornwall. Lally told the Telegraph that she has laid to rest more than 30 owners alongside their animals since she began allowing joint graves in 2003, and has more than 120 future bookings.
"For many, the grieving process for a pet is no different to losing a member of the family, particularly given that pets bring such a structure and routine to people's lives and company for older people on their own," commented Elaine Pendlebury, a veterinary surgeon with animal charity PDSA.
The idea of joint burial builds on the already existing custom of pet cemeteries. Last Oct. 26, the Chicago Tribune published an article on this in which they noted that one of the oldest in the United States, the Hindsdale Animal Cemetery in Willowbrook, Illinois, has more than 15,000 pets buried there.
The article cited Michael Schaffer, author of the book "One Nation Under Dog," who said he has noticed the messages on pet epitaphs have evolved over time, reflecting how many people have promoted their pets to "full-fledged members of the family."
"If you visit old pet cemeteries, the oldest headstones might say 'Here lies Fido, a loyal servant,' or 'Here lies Fido, man's best friend,'" said Schaffer. "Nowadays it's 'My little girl,' or 'Mommy and Daddy miss you.' People have developed a conception of their pets as children. That is quite a dramatic development."
It's not just emotions, as increasingly people are prepared to spend substantial sums of money on their pets. The Chicago Tribune article reported that one pet owner, Ernie Yamich, spent $2,100 on the funeral costs for his pet, after having spent more than $7,000 on medical treatment trying to save his dog's life.
In fact, spending on pets has risen notably in the last few years. On Feb. 8 the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, (APPA), released its latest annual review of spending data.
Spending in the pet industry grew by 5.4% from $43.2 billion in 2008 to a little over $45.5 billion in 2009. The APPA commented that while U.S. Census Bureau figures on the retail segment of the economy showed 2009 down overall versus 2008, the pet industry continued to grow. They also forecast a 4.9% increase in spending to $47.74 billion in 2010.
The biggest increase in spending in 2009 was in health care categories, with an 8.5% increase from 2008. The report noted that pet health care now ranges from CAT scans, to root canals and cancer surgery, as well as anti-depressants.
APPA President, Bob Vetere commented that due to the humanization of pets, the gap in quality of life between humans and their pet companions is quickly disappearing in all categories from food and clothing to health care and services.
As recently as 1998, total spending in the pet industry was only $23 billion, according to data posted on the APPA Web site. That has more than doubled over the past decade.
Another recent study, also released by Global Industry Analysts on Feb. 8, looked at the pet accessories market. They calculated that the world market for pet accessories products will reach $17.2 billion by the year 2015.
"Humanization accounts for one of the most important reasons for the growth in the pet accessories market," the press release by Global Industry Analysts affirmed. "Owners perceive pets, particularly dogs and cats, as their true companions, and wish to give them as much care as their partner or child," it added.
Margaret Somerville, director of the Center for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University, Canada, commented on the humanization of pets in an article posted on the Mercator Net Web site, Jan. 27.
Some ethicists propose granting animals a personhood status, she noted. This is not a good idea, however, according to Somerville, as it would undermine the idea that humans are special and deserve to be treated differently.
"In other words, if animals become persons, human persons become animals," Somerville observed.
Instead, she argued, we should continue to maintain that all humans are persons that and only humans are persons.
Restricting the category of personhood to humans is a way by which we can foment a greater respect for human life. In fact, abortion is justified by the courts by their refusal to recognize unborn babies as persons, Somerville pointed out.
The seeming contradiction pointed out by Somerville between losing respect for human life and at the same time placing animals on a sort of quasi-human level has an underlying theological dimension.
Benedict XVI briefly referred to this in a general audience back on Jan. 11, 2006. At the time he was commenting on the psalms and the one under consideration that day was Psalm 144.
Part of the text says the following: "'Lord, what is man that you manifested yourself to him?' [...] It is a great happiness for men and women to know their Creator. In this we differ from wild beasts and other animals, because we know we have our Creator, whereas they do not."
The Pope referred to the commentary on the psalm made by one of the Fathers of the Church, Origen. "It is worth thinking a bit about these words of Origen, who sees the fundamental difference between the human being and the other animals in the fact that man is capable of recognizing God, his Creator, that man is capable of truth, capable of a knowledge that becomes a relationship, friendship," the Pontiff said.
"It is important in our time that we do not forget God, together with all the other kinds of knowledge we have acquired in the meantime, and they are very numerous!" the Pope noted. "They all become problematic, at times dangerous, if the fundamental knowledge that gives meaning and orientation to all things is missing: knowledge of God the Creator," he concluded.
Indeed, one of the notable trends in contemporary society is how losing sight of God has led to a mentality that also loses sight of the dignity of the human person. So, there is a link between the lack of respect for human life, increasingly viewed through a utilitarian perspective, and the humanizing of animals. One more step in the return to a pagan culture.