You must not think of a beast by itself, and call that a personality and then inquire whether God will raise and bless that. You must take the whole context in which the beast acquires its selfhood— namely ‘The–goodman–and–the–goodwife–ruling–their–children–and–their–beasts–in–the–good–homestead’....If you ask, concerning an animal thus raised as a member of the whole Body of the homestead , where its personal identity resides, I answer ‘Where its identity always did reside even in the earthly life— in its relation to the Body and , specially , to the master who is the head of that Body.’ In other words , the man will know his dog: the dog will know its master and, in knowing him, will be itself."
CS Lewis, "The Problem of Pain"
Maybe it's just me, but these words ring true to me. I think any pet owner will insist on some sort of "personality" in their pet, something that makes the animal something more than an animal...not a person, perhaps, but something similar. I think about pets a lot, and their proper place in the world and in families. And I've come to a few conclusions:
- Tame animals are, indeed, "natural" in the divine sense. As a cat owner, it pains me to see stray cats wandering streets and parking lots, knowing that they could at any moment meet their end by a careless driver. While such loss might be natural to a fallen world, it is most assuredly unnatural in the divine sense...it is a symptom of creation being "subjected to futility" and groaning in pain. The proper place of animals is in the care of - and under the authority of - humanity. And the proper place of Rory in particular is either purring on my lap, or sitting on his cat tree in a sun beam.
- Pets are NOT children, and shouldn't be treated as such. I think that any pet relationship that ends up essentially treating the pet as a substitute for children is disordered, an example of misplaced affections that will likely result in some degree of harm or distress. The pets will not be able to do what children do, and they lack the capacity to return the care and affection that child-rearing is supposed to result in. Child-rearing has a goal that pet-keeping is unable to fulfill.
- However, as any pet owner will tell you, pets are friends and companions. Anna and I joke that a tired soul can be revitalized merely by rubbing one's face on a soft cat belly. Rory and Martha are our friends. We play with them, we talk to them, we sit with them, we miss them when we're away...the are our friends, in just about every sense of the word.
- Finally, I will insist that Rory and Martha have personality. They might not be persons...but they are more than mere beasts. And I tend to agree with Lewis that what they get in personhood, they get through being part of a human family.
Had you asked me, before I got married and we got Rory, if I would EVER feel this attached to any animal, let alone a cat, I would have laughed at you. But now...it's different. I think that pets have a valid role and significance to us specifically as Christians, and that properly keeping a pet can be a microcosm of humanity's intended role for all of creation. Also, it's really fun.