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By Julie Zimmerman

The following Links for Learners study guide is based on an article in the St. Anthony Messenger online edition. It is designed for young Catholics, particularly those in high school.

Links for Learners | July 2003

Will I See My Little Doggy in Heaven?



Finding Curriculum Connections
Understanding Basic Terms
A Love Affair With Animals
Effects of Overpopulation
Other Issues
Research Resources

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Links for Learning

Finding Curriculum Connections for High School Students and Their Teachers

This month’s Links for Learners will support high school curriculum in:

• Christian lifestyles—appreciation for God's creation
• Scriptures—God's covenant with his people; animals in Scripture

Understanding Basic Terms in This Month’s Article

Look for these key words and terms as you read the article.  Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself, or from the resource materials cited throughout the Link for Learners. 



God's saving plan

Canticle of the Creatures


Book of Revelation


Human chauvinist

Resurrection of the body


A Love Affair With Animals

Every year around Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, people around the world have their pets blessed, often with the following blessing: "Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen."

This month's article looks at what role animals play in God's saving plan. But beyond the issue of whether our cat will go to heaven are deeper issues of how we view animals, what their rights are, what our rights and responsibilities toward them are and how humans should treat these creatures of God.

Americans have a complicated relationship with their four-legged friends. Certainly pets in this country are loved and often pampered. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that there are about 68 million pet dogs and 73 million pet cats in the U.S. Another survey finds that about 63.4 million U.S. households, or 62 percent, include at least one pet. Those numbers reflect steady increases over past years.

As the number of pets has risen, so too has the amount of money spent on pets. The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association finds that the average American household can expect to spend $460 on its animals in 2003, for an estimated total of $31 billion. Although the majority of that money is spent on veterinary care, pet owners can also choose from a wide variety of toys, clothes, furniture and services for their animals.

An increasing number of local governments are replacing the phrase "pet owner" with "pet guardian" to reflect the changing status of pets from property to companions. So far, Boulder, Colo., Berkeley, San Francisco and West Hollywood in California; Sherwood, Ariz.; Amherst, Mass.; Menomonee Falls, Wis.; and the state of Rhode Island have all made such changes.

And some studies suggest there is a health benefit to living with pets. Different studies have suggested that contact with a pet can lower blood pressure and reduce the symptoms of attention deficit disorder, among other benefits.

Effects of Overpopulation

But even as Americans shower their pets with attention and possessions, millions are killed each year because of overpopulation. The Humane Society estimates that six to eight million pets enter shelters in the U.S. every year, and about half of those are euthanized because officials can't find homes for them.

The main problem behind overpopulation as a result of owners failing to sterilize their pets. Although 70 percent of dogs and 80 percent of cats are spayed or neutered, it doesn't take many animals to create an overpopulation problem. Just one female cat and her offspring can theoretically produce 420,000 cats in seven years, and a female dog and her offspring can theoretically produce 67,000 dogs in six years.

The Humane Society cites other problems as a result of animal overpopulation: "the transformation of some animal shelters into 'warehouses,' the acceptance of cruelty to animals as a way of life in our society and the stress that caring shelter workers suffer when they are forced to euthanize one animal after another. Living creatures have become throwaway items to be cuddled when cute and abandoned when inconvenient. Such disregard for animal life pervades and erodes our culture."

Convincing owners to sterilize their animals is the single most important way to reduce the problems of overpopulation. SpayUSA offers a nationwide network and referral service for low-cost spay/neuter services.

Other Issues

There are other questions to examine as we ponder the role of animals in God's creation:

  • Is it moral to spend money on clothing and fancy furniture for pets when so many human beings in this country live in poverty?
  • Some vegetarians believe it is cruel to eat meat products or wear leather or fur when alternatives exist. Where do you stand on this issue?
  • Many advances in medical research are tested first on animals to determine their safety. Is the potential for helping human beings worth the risk to the animal subjects?
  • Some animal-rights activists destroy property in an attempt to stop practices they believe are cruel to animals, such as breaking into research facilities or destroying development they think endangers animal habitats. Is it moral to do this?

St. Francis gives us a model for the treatment of God's creatures. Finding a way to apply that to modern situations is a challenge that we as Catholics must address.

Research Resources

Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further general reference.  Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives.

The New York Times

The Los Angeles Times

The Chicago Tribune

The Washington Post

The Miami Herald

The Associated Press

Time Magazine



ABC News

Channel One—online resource for the school channel

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