If you think pets are a modern invention, you are mistaken. Dogs have been ‘man’s best friends’ for well over 10,000 years. The Egyptians began domesticating cats as early as 3500 BC. Ancient Romans kept birds. Even the Bible provides some early evidence of the close relationship between humans and animals. The second book of Samuel records the reign of King David (ca. 1000 BC) and tells the story of a ‘poor man who had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.’ (2 Samuel 12:3).
Sometimes the word ‘pet’ doesn’t quite capture it. It has been suggested that ‘companion animal’ might be a better term. You own a pet. But you live with a companion animal. The therapeutic benefits of living with animals are well-known. People often describe a feeling of unconditional love and loyalty. Companion animals can decrease stress and improve both mental and physical health, and they are known to help children with their emotional and social skills.
In the Christian tradition there have been several saints who built relationship with wild animals too. I love the stories of St Francis and the wolf of Gubbio, St Kevin and the Blackbird, and of course, St Cuthbert and the otters and Eider ducks of the Farne Islands (they still call them Cuddy ducks in Northumberland). Whether these stories are historically accurate or not is beside the point. These myths help us to express our deep longing for peace and harmony between all creatures – a vision which is found in the Bible too.
To celebrate the gift of our relationships with animals, we are holding a special service of thanksgiving and blessing next month. This could all go hilariously wrong, but you are invited to bring your Chihuahuas and Chinchillas to church. Even donkeys are welcome - it’s Palm Sunday after all – but we draw the line at snakes and arachnids, thank you very much.
Love and prayers