Posted on: Wednesday 12 June 2019
Posted in: Anglican Faith Connections
There is a YouTube film clip that begins with an English idyllic setting in a London park. There are scattered stands of tresses, gently flowing hills, soft sunlight and acres of green grass. There is also a herd of deer quietly grazing in the background. Suddenly there is movement and a bundle of canine energy bursts from the left and the deer take fright to the right. Following the dog is its owner who cries repeatedly and evermore desperately “Fenton!” But the dog continues on his or her merry way herding the deer. The dog is after all just following its nature.
I first saw this clip some years ago, but I remembered it on Saturday afternoon when I heard a commotion next door. Next door, there is Hugo who is a dog just growing out of puppyhood. Hugo is a Kelpie cross who is not large, but energetic. He belongs to our next-door neighbour’s son but he is not often home so Hugo spends most of his time lying down with his nose under the front gate watching the passing cars or barking at other dogs as they are walked past. Now and then he is overwhelmed with energy and runs around the garden looking for something to do. This often means digging up plants or destroying the garden furniture or knocking over pot plants.
On Saturday, he must have reached a peak of energy because our neighbour gave him a verbal serve of epic proportions. Her voice would have been heard all over the neighbourhood! Yet he was doing what his nature and boredom had led him to do and I felt sorry for him as he had been bred as a working dog and not one to live on a relatively small suburban block. These incidents brought two thoughts to my mind. The first reminded me that we as people are more fortunate than other animals for we are not just guided by our instinct and nature, but also by reason and understanding. As the Psalmist wrote, speaking of God:
“What are we that you are mindful of us, what are we that you should care for us?
Yet you have made them a little less than gods, and crowned us with glory and honour.”
My second thought flowed from the first. While we can train animals, we do not educate them. We can not explain to them in a rational way about the negative aspects of their behaviour. As humans we can be both trained and educated; for example, we can be trained in how to shoot a goal in netball but we can also be educated into a full understanding of the rules of that particular game. This idea is not surprising when you compare our physiology to other animals and to illustrate this last point, a dog’s face is full of nose while our heads are full of brain!
Fr Patrick Duckworth