How should we relate to having animals as pets in an ideal spiritual society?

Question.. Should we, as spiritual people, keep and encourage the keeping of pets? I guess my point is that I can’t bear to keep fish or birds as I believe they should be free to swim and fly where they want, but I don’t feel that way about domestic animals like cats, dogs and rabbits. Yet should we even have these animals as pets if we were designing the ideal society? So, how should we relate to having animals as pets in an ideal spiritual society?

Reply. A very interesting question. Perhaps it might be helpful to start with the ‘bigger picture’, and remind ourselves that all species of life on earth are part of one life and are therefore all linked up in one great web. Gurdjieff’s theory of the ‘Reciprocal Maintenance of Life’ propounds the notion that all of life exists to support all the rest of life, that is, plants grow to be food for certain animals whose droppings then fertilise other forms of life ,etc, etc. For example, we see this interlocking ecosystem operating well in rainforests. And then there is Lovelock’s ‘Gaia Hypothesis’ suggesting that our planet is an evolving, intelligent being, able to regulate its temperature and that all species of life on it constitute its intelligence and therefore all have a role to play in its evolution.

Basically, what all these theories tell us in a slightly different way is that ‘we are all in it’ together! And that doesn’t just mean us human beings but all species of life. So just as there ought not to be divisions separating those of us who belong to different races, nationalities, religions and cultures, so similarly, we human beings ought not to feel separate from the many other ‘kingdoms of life,’ including, in particular, the animal one. I personally think that human and animal evolution are particularly closely linked and that species such as lamas, camels, horses, cats and dogs, all of whom contribute enormously to our lives in many different ways, have probably chosen to align their evolution very strongly with ours. (If we look back over the centuries, man could not have survived without horses or camels!) There are benefits on the animals’ side as well. If those who look after them, do so in a good way, the animal will be comfortable and its evolutionary intelligence will probably also be boosted through human contact.

I never like the word ‘pet’. It always sounds belittling as if the pet is our little plaything, which sadly, is how many people relate to animals they possess, especially if they are small in size!

Thus I prefer the term friendship and I think we need to think in terms of creating bonds of friendship with animals, although of course this will manifest in a very different way to human friendship. I have a dog and I see her as my good buddy and I am her good buddy. We have a mutual understanding, respect and love for one another. I do my best to look after her and take care of her needs, and she, in her doggy way, reciprocates. I have friends who are very close to their horses and the same thing is also true.

The point is that animals are not lifeless, feelingless entities. They have souls and the more evolved species also possess feelings, so, just like us, they can, say, experience jealousy or feel neglected and are highly sensitive to how they are related to. Dogs and horses, for example, are terrific companions and their presence can hugely uplift us. Dogs, especially, can teach us a lot about loyalty and unconditional love.

I don’t think the issue is about whether an animal is kept in domestic surroundings or not, but how well it is treated, how much its ‘animal rights’ are respected.

So I am not against animals being kept in zoos, provided all efforts are made to allow them to ‘do their thing’ and to ensure that their creativity is not stifled. If the animal is given freedom to roam and has a sympathetic keeper looking after it, and is not kept locked up in a cage all day (equivalent to our being kept in prison), there is no reason to believe that such animals are unhappy. 

I think what is most important is not where an animal lives but how lovingly they are cared for. Just as we human beings are very adaptable, so are many animals.

Many years ago, I moved to live in a small village in Gloucestershire where my next-door neighbour was a lady who kept and bred Mc Caw parrots. (In fact, she was the only person ever to have succeeded in breeding this species in captivity). She was a very special person. She adored her parrots and had an extraordinary affinity with them. One could say she understood their language! In fact, they were her whole life, and as is always the case when anyone or anything is loved, her parrots thrived. They would be let out to fly wild every day and they would always return in the evenings to her. They shared her whole house with her. I was taught to have a good relationship with them as well and they used to welcome me whenever I would come in. I am sure they benefited from the human connection and would not have bred if they had been unhappy.

Before knowing her, I would have said that certain species ought not to be taken out of their natural habitat, and now I think that if love is involved and when respect is present (these two always go together) and if one knows how to look after a particular animal, the animal simply enters a new kind of habitat.

What I think is wrong is keeping an animal if we don’t have an affinity for them and if they are not held in our hearts, as this will be communicated to the animal. (They will feel ‘captured.’)Thus, I am against those who collect exotic species because it is fashionable to do so, as in such instances, the animals are just there for them, and they are not there for the animal. In other words, there is no real reciprocation and the animal will pick this up and will suffer.

I have a good friend who lives in Bali who recently had a new house built. (In Bali, most houses are pretty open!) ‘Why haven’t you moved in yet,’ I once asked him? ‘I have to wait a bit’, was his reply, ‘I need to give the animal life around here time to establish itself there first and then I’ll move in.’

That touches me. I think in a new spiritual order, there is no ‘one way’ to do things. Rather, we need to experiment and see what works best. But if we do what we do with love in our hearts, we can’t go too wrong.

(How should we relate to having animals as pets in an ideal spiritual society?)

Serge is a Transpersonal Psychotherapist, Organisational Consultant and Seminar Leader. He works with both individuals and couples from all over the world on SKYPE. He has recently created some interesting new programmes to help people with their spiritual development.
To contact him, email him on info@sergebb.com

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