This is not an opinion piece about becoming a vegetarian. It is not musings about the presence of pain receptors in different species. Although both of these topics are interesting, I am neither a vegetarian nor an extremist on the topic of animal pain, and I don't have anything against those who identify with either stance.
Instead I am addressing something which I often ponder. Something which makes me laugh, swoon, and weaken at the same time. My heart and mind roller-coaster when considering the emotional intelligence of animals. It sounds insignificant, but the emotional quotient (EQ) that animals, and in particular mammals, express is remarkable.
Are we alone?
Humans are unique in their ability to comprehend, justify, and reason complex emotional situations, but we are not entirely alone. Anyone who witnesses a Labrador's reaction when caught savaging a chocolate gateau knows that shame, embarrassment, and fear are by no means man's dominion. Anyone who, through tears, has felt the nudge of a warm nose and comfort of a soft purr can verify that animals both recognise, and personally experience emotion.
Sharing emotional experiences with animals is a means of grace which has helped me many times. As a teenager I remember feeling depressed, isolated, and rejected by people. But the emotional support I received from my cat and dog were often more consolation than any counselling session or self-help sought.
Well-timed words from a confidant are valuable, and a hug from a parent is indispensable. Yet it is the solace found in a furry friend which has often rendered my heavy heart genuine rest. I am so thankful for medicinal meows and pensive paws which have lightened many hard burdens.
What can we learn from emotional animals?
The gift of emotionally intelligent animals is something to be thankful for because God is teaching us something about himself through them. In the book of Genesis, God decrees that mankind is made in His image, and that mankind is greater than the animals we have dominion over. Nevertheless, God has not created animals as detached, blank shells. God has given each animal a unique nature with preferences and dispositions that reflect the diversity and creativity of God.
What do emotional animals point us towards?
In Genesis we learn that when God made animals, He looked upon them and proclaimed that they were good. Animals are, like all of us, affected by the broken world we live in. Despite the real emotional and physical pain they experience, they also inherit the glorious promise of Jesus.
Humans get the ultimate gift of salvation and eternal life in communion with God, but animals have not been forgotten. Animals will share in the end of mourning, fear and pain as Isaiah Chapter 11 foretells:
'The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea'.
So when you are disciplining your Doberman for demolishing your dining table, or banishing your tabby for trailing half a mouse through your bedroom, remember that they have feelings too. Emotionally intelligent animals were gifted to you to as a reminder of God's creativity and His all-inclusive redemptive plan.
One day, as surely as you will eat and drink at the right hand of Jesus, the lion shall eat straw like an ox. As truly as you will have no more fear of man or death, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and God's redemption will be complete.
Harriet Knox is a new wife living in windy Wellington, New Zealand. She works for the Government, loves animals, and cannot function well without a gym membership. She became a Christian at University and attends Gracenet Community Church.
Harriet Knox's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/harriet-campbell.html