-Wendy J. Francisco
I had a professor who didn’t understand our “American fascination with pets.” In fact, he was straight up against owning a pet. Being “kingdom-minded,” he viewed pets as a distraction and a waste of important resources. He preferred to focus upon eternal matters versus temporal or finite concerns, and obviously hadn’t seen the Disney classic, All Dogs Go to Heaven. Oh wait – did I just become a pet universalist?
I agree we need to prioritize and shouldn’t allow for the cares of the world to distract us from God’s work in the world. Still, here is my humble submission for how a pet might help us learn more about God:
All great Trinitarian theology includes the concept of the sacrifice of self. Each person of the Trinity looks and submits to the other in the mystery of who God is. We are called to share in the same self-sacrifice. Different relationships can teach us how to do so. Often preachers use marriage as a reminder of self-sacrifice. What is our message to those who are single? Don’t all great relationships invite us to consider the interests of others? As a young couple trying to start a family, we learned very quickly about how an extra person in the family can change things. But even before our son taught us, we learned from our “first baby”: our dog. On days when we used to be able to sleep in, there was no such thing anymore. Dhani had to be walked and cared for. We had to choose someone else. Our life changed from that point. We couldn’t go to the places we used to easily go or participate in some of our favorite activities. Every morning and evening, we had a reminder that it is not about us anymore, but another that we need to care for. We had to sacrifice. It was a mutual submission though, the type all good relationships have. Our pet is left alone while we go out, and he eats the same food every day. Yet when we come home, he still chooses us as he welcomes us with excitement and joy.
- The Power of a Name
Pets can show the power of a given name. Each name has a background story or meaning to it. There is a reason why God told Adam to name the animals (Genesis 2:19-20). It changed his relationship with them. Naming something has great power. Dennis Kinlaw describes it this way:
When you tell another person your name, you allow that one to enter into a different relationship with you, a deeper relationship. The act of giving your name actually gives the other some control over you; it means that person now has the power to get your attention. You have invited that person into a closer relationship with you. 
When we name our pets, we take ownership and change our relationship with them. Remember the children’s story, Charlotte’s Web? Once they named Wilbur, he was no longer potential breakfast material. From Abraham and Sarah to Jacob to Peter to Paul, we see that God is also interested in the power of names. We have a name and God knows it. It reflects our character and gives us meaning and helps to tell our story. We knew what our pet’s name was going to be before we had him. We knew the names of our children before they were born. Why? There is power in a name.
- Resiliency and Dependence
Possibly the greatest thing we can learn from our pets is their balance of resiliency and dependence. While they reveal great moments of strength and independence, there isn’t any other place they would want to be than with us. The bond and relationship we share is one of trust and care. It reminds us that while we can believe that we have everything together, we are created to be in a dependent relationship with God. We are invited into a trust relationship where we find who we are in Christ. Our new life of sacrifice, our new name, and our new way of being is found in this relationship.
Some may find it foolish to compare the two. But I wouldn’t trade this relationship for anything.
“I’ve looked at love from both sides now;
It’s everywhere, Amen. Bow Wow.”
Dennis F. Kinlaw, This Day with the Master: 365 Daily Meditations, July 7, Francis Asbury Press: Nappanee, Indiana. 2002.