Dog Videos: a confession?


Like so many I have discovered You Tube, and in addition to many informative videos and access to musical recordings which I could not otherwise afford, most days I take a few minutes to indulge in a dog video.  O my God, am I falling into an addiction which I should root out tooth and nail?

Of course if I spent a good part of each day seeking out cute animals on the internet, something would be wrong, but why not take a bit of time for an aspect of creation which rejoices and relaxes me – especially since I am a dog person, but only had one dog in my life, only for a short time, and as a Jesuit for 62 years spent the vast majority of my years in animal-less communities.

Still I have a confession to make, but more like the confession of God’s glorious action that one also finds in Augustine’s book of the same name.

From my early studies of philosophy of man, in accord with the Jesuit curriculum of those days, I remember one basic point which stuck in my craw: the triumphant affirmation of the difference between humans and animals, the former rational and the latter not.

We were so much higher than them on the hierarchy of being. It’s almost as if we had to let the animals know it.

To the contrary, recognizing in its full range the potential of our furry friends –  dogs, cats, and all the rest – is not to denigrate humans but to exalt them, because what really distinguishes us from them comes out even more clearly, which is our ability to reflect on ourselves, to define how we will fulfill our very selves.

If they are abundantly gifted, how much more are we. As Saint Paul tells us, we are spirit, soul (in Greek psyche) and body. And if animals are not spiritual creatures for themselves, we are called upon to be spirits for them, whether adopting them into our own families or making sure they can thrive in their natural habitat.

And in their own way they respond gratefully to this care.

I remember the words of a fellow Jesuit many years ago who knew my predilection for dogs. After all, he told me, they are nothing but fancy digestive tubes. Was he joking, was he serious? I do not know. But his words help me to highlight something essential. Animals lack the spirit that defines humans, but they have psyches.

Their psychic functions may have begun to develop in evolution as an adjunct to make possible the physical survival of their species, and these functions continue to play that role. But they begin to further develop in terms of relationships with their fellow animals (as much an instinct as reproduction and survival), and we humans are are increasingly included in this network.

Some animals have a full range of identifiable psychic functions, such as love, hate, desire, aversion, hope, despair, despondency, daring, anger. And in some animals those functions are readily identifiable, such as in dogs.

And individual dogs like humans find their psyche shaped by their native temperament and their experiences, above all their earliest ones: they are alert, sleepy, affectionate, distant, serious, funny, gentle, or rough, and so on, and their owners know their psyches very well, their distinct personalities. They have quirks, like humans, some testing our patience and others endearing.

Of course individual animals, like individual humans, are at times extraordinary instances of their species, at other times average or below average. For instance, some may own a relatively stupid dog, but still one they love and care for.

Others might have an extraordinary dog that can read their moods and anticipate all sorts of ways of being helpful to them. That dog might be trained to perform tasks that would require refined sensitivity and keen skills even for a human.

And they love to be at work. The potential of a species is judged not by its least accomplished but by its most. We glory in human beings that are stellar examples of skill, accomplishment, relational skills. For an animal to be endowed with a high level psyche is a joy, and leads us to glory even more in God’s gifts.

Dog videos, as well as videos of cats, horses, donkeys, or many other animals, some quite rare, are a way for us to enjoy vicariously the relations which animals, some extraordinarily gifted, have with each other and with us.

There is a variety and a subtlety, not only in animals that are introduced into human families, but also in those whom we witness living in nature and fending for themselves.

Let us not belittle this part of God’s creation, but recognize it and glorify it. In this way we affirm both them and us, and we develop attitudes of respect which will help us better care for our common home.

Jean-Marc Laporte, SJ lives in Montreal where he is the socius to the novice director for the Canadian Jesuits.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 01:31h, 22 January Reply

    Thank you Jean-Marc!

  • Paul Desmarais S.J.
    Posted at 02:43h, 22 January Reply

    Thank you Jean Marc. And we can add to the list insects, etc. They can live without us but we cannot live without them. I am just learning about Rhizophagy. A most interesting and exciting understanding of how plants get their nutrition. Another example of how Nature works for us.

  • Peter Chouinard
    Posted at 05:37h, 22 January Reply

    Jean Marc.

    Miss you in the Maritime’s! Love this blog. Will share it with my dog friends.
    Peter Chouinard

  • Vicky Chen
    Posted at 08:26h, 22 January Reply

    Thank you for this delightful reflection. I echo with the sentiment of your public ‘confession’, Fr. Laporte. It is relaxing for me to watch these animal videos. I particularly enjoy seeing how dogs, cats and other animals are rescued. Their fear turns into trust and affection to their rescuers. I am touched by how they love to follow and spend time with their human ‘parents’ and am reminded that I too can be more grateful and loyal to my ‘Rescuer’…..

  • Charles S. Pottie-Pate
    Posted at 09:31h, 22 January Reply

    Jean-Marc, thank you for this enlightening article about dogs and humans and their relationship with each other. Never a dog owner, but more a cat person, I have come to appreciate dogs through their owners with whom I have a good relationship. But a question about dog videos: one owner who boasted that his dog has 200 different outfits! Some humans in our world have barely 1 or 2 outfits, not to speak of a lack of food and housing. Is there not some “unbalance”, if not “disorder” some humans give to dogs? They seem to be “idolized” rather than the proper glory for them and for all God’s creatures. A question that you might want to write an article on with your much appreciated insights.

  • Zulma Mc Dougall
    Posted at 21:31h, 22 January Reply

    Being an animal lover , I enjoyed the article, which brought me closer to “finding God in all things” and creatures. At 81 I live alone and often watch a neighbor’s
    cat taking naps on a chair on my porch. Every time I see him I am reminded of a God that loves me and gives me the simple pleasure of a cat’s “visit”.
    Thanks for the article!

  • Max Oliva
    Posted at 14:31h, 24 January Reply

    Thank you, Jean-Marc, for your thoughtful reflection on my second favorite animal (horses being the first; they too express emotions).

  • Peter LeBlanc
    Posted at 07:29h, 29 January Reply

    Jean Marc, who but you could write such a penetrating disquisition on dog videos. I miss the many times I was privileged to be present at the birth of amazing insights such as these springing from that amazing mind of yours.

  • Adrian
    Posted at 13:22h, 13 March Reply

    Thank you for this wonderful article. Theses wonderful creatures have been my spirit animals and have taught me a lot about myself. God Bless you for penning this.

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