I recently read that 62 percent of all Americans own pets — 78 million dogs and 86 million cats. This is an amazing statistic. Many of us who own pets have formed deep and powerful bonds with them. They are our faithful companions. My family and I have owned dogs almost my entire life. Anyone who has ever had a pet knows what a wonderful companion it can be. Pet ownership also has the additional benefit of teaching children how to care of another creature. George Eliot once wrote that animals are such agreeable friends because they ask no questions and pass no criticisms.
According to the Bible, it was Adam who was charged with the task of categorizing and naming all the creatures of the world. In our household it is my wife Leora who has been naming our dogs. In recent decades all of them have been named after anti-depressant drugs since they reduce our stress and raise our moods. Our beloved golden retrievers have been named Zoe (Zoloft), Lexi (Celexa), and now Reba (Reboxetine).
Part of our daily routine during the weeks of the pandemic has included a long walk with Reba. She looks forward to these outings, and actually asks for her walk at 2 PM each day. We also look forward to this regular activity. We have come to appreciate the benefit of the routine that Reba provides us. This is especially valuable for people who are not accustomed to working from home or not used to being stuck at home. Caring for a pet provides a structure to the day, knowing that they rely on you for food, exercise, and care.
Our pets may provide more global benefits, as well. A British charity, Medical Detection Dogs is researching whether dogs might be enlisted in the fight against COVID- 19 using their acute sense of smell. According to its website, “Dogs searching for COVID -19 would be trained in the same way as those dogs the charity has already trained to detect diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s and bacterial infections—by sniffing samples in the charity’s training room and indicting when they have found it.”
I recently saw several television segments highlighting the enormous upswing in recent weeks in adopting dogs and cats. Since the start of the pandemic, waiting lists for pet adoption have swelled to hundreds of people, and some local shelters have emptied out because so many people have come forward to foster or adopt pets. The need is reciprocal: The shelters have reached out to their communities because with more shelter workers and volunteers needing to stay home, there is greater urgency for finding more for the animals. At the same time, the adopted animals fulfill the human needs amplified by physical distancing and isolation.
The writings of the ancient Rabbis teach us valuable lessons about what people can learn from animals. They remind us that while human beings like to think of themselves as the pinnacle of creation because they were created on the sixth day, we should remain humble and remember that the creation of even the smallest animals preceded the creation of humankind and that we are all God’s creatures. Each of us has a God-given part to play in the universe. As we read in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 38), when we encounter human arrogance, we can reply, “A mosquito took precedence over you.”
Stay safe, stay well, and let us continue to hope and pray for brighter days ahead.