Caring for Animals: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

Dear Friends,

As our recent letters indicate, it is a sublime mitzvah to provide for the needs of the animals in our care. There are some people, however, who project on to their pets their own needs and fantasies, and this leads to behavior which is simply ridiculous. As the attached article indicates, there are many affluent people who spend huge amounts of money to give their pets designer clothing or to provide them with dancing lessons! One does not have to be a psychologist to realize that such behavior is not a sublime example of love for animals; in fact, it is often a prime example of self-love.

In addition, one does not have to be a Torah sage to realize that it would far better if these affluent people dedicated this money for tzedakah the mitzvah to share our resources with those in need. And if they are truly concerned about animals, then let them contribute to trustworthy organizations that are working in a responsible and ethical manner to alleviate the suffering of animals. Those of us who have genuine love and concern for animals therefore need to point out that the behavior of these affluent individuals does not represent our cause.

The following excerpts from an article in the Washington Post can serve as an example of the "ridiculous"; and it will be followed by a story in the Midrash which can serve as an example of the "sublime":

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The "Ridiculous":

Puppy Love, at a Price
Affluent Owners Find More Ways to Pamper Their Pets

By Jenalia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 11, 2005; D01

Sherry Shumaker has grooved to "Dancing Queen," "Wild Thing" and "Doo Wah Diddy" with her dancing partner Heidi -- a Doberman pinscher.

At a Woodbridge studio, Heidi has taken lessons in standing on her hind legs, walking backwards and spinning, all in time to music and in sync to Shumaker's dance steps.

...Last year, pet owners across the country spent plenty of pennies -- $34.4 billion -- caring for their pets, more than double the $17 billion a year spent a decade earlier, according to American Pet Product Manufacturing Association Inc., a Greenwich, Conn.-based trade association. Much of that cash went for routine veterinary visits and over-the-counter food, but more owners are paying for toys, gourmet biscuits and a nice haircut, as well. Cats outnumber dogs, but more of the money is going to the dogs.

Reflecting the trend, services for dogs have become big business in the Washington region, where suburbanites caught up in long commutes and unable to spend much time with their dogs make it up by shuttling them to day care, dance lessons and swimming classes.

"The owners are treating their pets more like family members," said Robin Bennett, who owns All About Dogs Inc. in Woodbridge. Her business specializes in obedience and agility training, including the freestyle dance class that Shumaker takes her dog to.

Besides special services, people also splurge on pricey products for their pets. That's why companies that once served only humans now consider their animal companions their customers, as well. Paul Mitchell, Omaha Steaks and Harley-Davidson are among the companies extending their brands to pets by offering shampoos, treats and attire, respectively.

Rebecca Kalch carries brand-name pet clothing, leashes and collars at her Four Paws Bakery Inc. in Occoquan. For example, there's the Ruff Wear clothing line, including boots. "This is for the canine that's going places," said Kalch, who also sells polos to match an owner's shirt.

...In April, Peter Perretta, owner of Yappie, transformed his grooming business into a pet resort, housing it in a fancy lodge with granite floors in the lobby. The building dwarfs the children's day care next door.

Perretta sells spa packages that include a 30-minute run on an underwater treadmill. Suites for overnight guests include beds. Yappie hosts birthday parties to which dogs can invite their closest canine pals. At the day-care center, they can watch episodes of Lassie or classic Benji movies on satellite television.

"A few years ago, I wouldn't have done it," Perretta said. "The mentality has changed in the past five years to the point where people are ready to pay the money for the service."

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The "Sublime":

in the following story, the Midrash cites a dialogue between Avraham, our father, and his ancestor, Shem, the son of Noah - who was also known as "Malki-Tzedek":

Malki -Tzedek and his family were in the ark during the great flood, and Avraham asked Malki-Tzedek: "By what merit were you able to leave the ark and begin a new life?"

Malki-Tzedek responded: "Through the merit of acts of tzedakah that we performed in the ark."

Avraham then asked" "To whom did you give tzedakah? There were no poor people in the ark; there was only you and your family."

Malki-Tzedek replied: "All night, we were busy feeding the livestock, wild creatures, and birds; in fact, we were too busy to sleep!"

Avraham said to himself: "If they were able to leave the ark because of the tzedakah which they gave to livestock, wild creatures, and birds, then how much more would I accomplish if I performed acts of tzedakah for human beings who are created in the Divine image!" He then opened an inn for needy travelers (Genesis 21:33), and he provided them with food, drink, and escort. (Yalkut Shimoni on Psalm 37)

Avraham lived in an age when the poor were viewed as a threat to society and few people bothered to help them. When Avraham heard that the nurturing of animals was sublime, he realized that nurturing needy human beings created in the Divine image can be even more sublime, for human beings have the unique potential to emulate the universal Divine nurturing. It is because of this unique potential that the Creator gave humankind the sacred task "to serve and to protect" the Garden (Genesis 2:15).

Our father, Avraham, therefore passed on to us the mandate of tzedakah, as the Compassionate One said about Avraham: "For I have loved him because he commands his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Compassionate One to do tzedakah and justice" (Genesis 18:19).

And as we pointed out in our series on tzedakah, the Jewish people still excel in this mitzvah.

Shalom,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)

Related Comments:

1. There are people who believe that animals especially their pets - were created to be their "toys" and to serve as a source of entertainment. This is not a Torah view, which is why traditional Jewish culture did not develop circuses or allow "sports" such as hunting and animal fights. It is a topic for a future discussion.

2. Our series on the mitzvah of tzedakah appears in the archive of our website, and it includes sources which indicate that non-Jews are also obligated in this mitzvah.

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