Blog: Pope Francis needs a pet … seriously

Blog: Pope Francis needs a pet … seriously

Comments reveal lack of understanding of the human-animal bond.
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Jun 03, 2015

My 92-year-old Irish Catholic mother isn’t going to like this blog. You see, Pope Francis is her main man. But I can’t resist after reading the pope’s astonishing comments about pets and pet ownership in a recent interview.

The pope apparently was shocked when he read about how people spend their money. “After food, clothing and medicine,” he said, “the fourth item is cosmetics and the fifth is pets. That’s serious.”

He continued, “Care for pets is like programmed love. I can program the loving response of a dog or a cat, and I don’t need the experience of a human, reciprocal love.” The pope concluded that this kind of trade-off is “worrisome.”

Creative Commons/Presidency of the Nation of ArgentinaWhere to start? That’s easy, as we’re talking about a pope who chose his pontifical name, Francis I, to honor the legendary friend of animals and all creatures large and small, St. Francis of Assisi. The pope’s namesake can’t be happy with these remarks.

To the merits, does our pope really believe that the human-animal bond masquerades a “programmed love” with our cats and dogs, like Pavlov’s bowl? If the science and evidence weren’t so overwhelming, we might excuse this as a regrettable “air ball” from an otherwise good shooter from all over the court.

But surely the pope knows better and has some advisors familiar with the literature. When it’s common knowledge that the criminal justice system views animal abuse as a potent predictor of adult violence, especially violence against women, does the pope really want to launch an international crusade against pet ownership and engagement?

We’ve come too far in understanding the extraordinary relationship between pets and people, kindness and empathy back and forth, to quietly acquiesce in the pope’s observations. In fact, dvm360’s readers know better: the world might be a much less violent place if a few more people had pets in their homes and practiced the patient, unconditional love these little pals prompt.

So I say we take up a collection (I had to bring up this Catholic mainstay) and buy the Argentinian pope a new friend for his Vatican apartment. Let the world see him tussling with an Australian shepherd puppy or, God forbid, a Corgi—and see if the relationship is quite as “programmed” as he suggests.

Relax, Mom, Francis will forgive your wayward son the minute his face gets that lick that wins all of us over. Just sayin’….

Mark Cushing, JD, is founding partner of the Animal Policy Group, providing government relations and strategic services for various animal health, veterinary and educational interests. He maintains offices in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., and is a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences.