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Daniel Lapin
 You're here » Christian Columns Index » Guest Writer

Pets are People Too, Right
by Daniel Lapin
August 5, 2007
Category: Christian Living
A BABY LLAMA joined the Lapin family a while back. He was a gorgeous honey white animal with big brown eyes. The children named him Llucky and petitioned my wife and me to modify the spelling of our name to Llapin. He slept outside on a bed of straw and breakfasted each morning in the kitchen with Mrs. Llapin. He endeared himself to me with two characteristics. One, he always deposited his odorless manure in exactly the same spot in the yard. Second, when we were entertaining, Llucky would enter the dining room and slowly circle the table, politely stopping to greet each guest before returning to the yard. The looks upon the faces of our dinner guests were priceless. I tell you all that only because I am now going to address the problem of pets and don't want to appear unfeeling towards them. I want you to know how much I enjoy having animals around.

Try guessing how many dogs and cats live with people in the United States. Let me give you a clue: We are about 300 million people here. If you want to guess at an average household size of two or three people, you'd come up with a little more than 100 million households which matches what the last census revealed. Now guess what proportion of households keeps at least one dog or cat? The answer: more than half. Our total dog population is about 75 million. For cats the number is more--about 85 million. That means about one dog and one cat for each three or four people in the country. That is a lot of pets but not in itself very noteworthy.

It only becomes really interesting when we find out how much money is being spent on all those pets. Now, I am fine with folks spending their money as they choose provided they acquired their money by supplying goods or services that the rest of us purchased freely, and provided the rest of us are not forced to pay for bad decisions on their part. Still, how we spend money as a nation definitely reveals trends that can shed light on our culture. What does it reveal when we note that we are now spending over $40 billion a year on our pets?

That is a very big number and hard to absorb on its own so let's compare how much we spend on other things. Movie tickets? Video games? Recorded music? About $11 billion on each. The U.S. Department of Education spends nearly $70 billion each year which means we spend on pets more than half of what we spend on educating children. We spend more on our pets than the total Gross Domestic Product of Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Uganda all together. The last piece of statistics I'll give you is that the amount we spend on pets has more than doubled in the last ten years. Does this tell us anything useful about our culture?

Because it is not easy to spend as much as $40 billion a year on food alone for about 160 million dogs and cats we'd be safe in guessing that we are buying much more than merely food for our pets. And we'd be right. We buy our pets clothing, therapy, kidney- transplants, cosmetic surgery, birthday gifts, orthodontics, spas, as well as grooming, hi-tech hip- replacement surgery, and burial. Go ahead and spend your own money as you see fit, but there is something going on here and this is what I think it is.

I think we're moving down the road of blurring the distinction between humans and animals. Lauren Slater writing in Oprah magazine sounds a bit like Princeton University professor Peter Singer when she insists "Traditionally, we have held human life to be of utmost comparative worth, but who's to say that stance is right or even productive for our planet?" Or further on in her piece, "Because perhaps valuing nonhuman animals as much as, if not more than, our own kind is not wrong at all. Perhaps it's in fact right." At Central Washington University, Professor Roger Fouts informs us "It is a fundamental misperception to think human life has more value than any other life form."

This is a basic but vital question that any group of people trying to form a cohesive and cooperative society must decide. Are we the result of a lengthy process of random, materialistic evolution that transformed primitive protoplasm into Bach and Beethoven or did God create us in His image? How we answer that question will determine how we set taxation policy, how we educate our children, how we provide health care, and how we defend ourselves. I would tell you much more about this but I have to take our llama to its dentist appointment.

Radio talk show host Rabbi Daniel Lapin is president of Toward Tradition, a best-selling author and popular speaker.

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