Jasper and I get on well. In many ways I admire him. He is surprisingly athletic for his age and often thought to be much younger than his 11 years. He doesn't seem to suffer from any anxiety about his body odour or appearance. He can sleep anywhere and at anytime. He's perpetually happy to see just about anyone and thinks being taken for a walk is almost unbearably exciting. Like the rest of our family, he enjoys cheap food bought at Lidl. There are many ways that I'd like to be more like Jasper.
Sometimes I call him "my friend". Occasionally when my wife isn't looking I let him clamber onto the sofa beside me. Once in a while I give him a treat bone (this is especially loving as it usually means that I have to pick vomit and liquid poo off the lawn for 24 hours afterwards - but he enjoys it!).
But he is a dog. An animal. He might have come with a name appropriate for a boy at Eton. I might think that he is deeply loyal and part of the family. But in essence he is no different from the fox that keeps strutting through our garden or the pig that gave it's life for the sausages I ate at lunch time.
One of the strange things that is happening to our culture, as it abandons a biblical view of humanity, is that human beings have merely become animals and animals are being treated like human beings.
There was an article on the BBC today which both made me smile (I know it shouldn't have!) and was a case in point. The headline "Hamster fed LSD-spiked Tizer and cannabis in Heysham" demanded my attention (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-38906351). A man has been jailed for 4 months for conducting cruel experiments on his hamster and not looking after his dogs properly.
Now don't get me wrong, I am in no way in favour of animal cruelty. I do think that people should be held to account for the way they treat animals. However, I think that a custodial sentence might have been a bit over the top in this case. Especially as all round the country other rodents are being experimented on and killed in the name of cosmetics and medicine. Whereas this hamster appears to have had an out of cage experience and gone on to live happily with some more caring owners.
The tendency to anthropomorphise pets is very common. There are whole shops devoted to clothing for your hairy friend. Beds to ensure that he gets a good night's sleep. Food that comes with more nutrients than is legal for an Olympic sprinter to take. As veterinary medicine has developed thousands of pounds is spent prolonging the life of animals that would not so long ago be "put out of their misery". Even after death animals are commanding the money of their owners. Rather than having the vet "dispose" of them, you now can get them cremated and popped in a little casket to sit on the mantle piece or be buried at great expense is a beautiful animal cemetery.
Now none of that really matters that much.
What does matter is the move the other way. The increasing belief that humans are merely the most developed animal. So that like my dog, my life is only worth living when I have "quality of life", so the best thing for me if I'm suffering is to help me put myself out of my misery. That like an unwanted puppy might be quietly disposed of, an unborn child can be surgically killed in the womb. That when a baby is diagnosed with a disability before birth, they are deemed to be better off dead than alive, because only healthy specimens will be happy and useful to society. I wonder how long it will be before parents are allowed to have children with undiagnosed disabilities "put down" immediately after birth.
The Bible makes a very clear distinction between humans and animals. "Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26).
We are uniquely created in God's image and therefore we rule over the animals. That's why human life has a unique value. So whilst I love my dog and undoubtedly I will spend far too much on it's health care and be devastated when it dies. In the end it's a dog. Not a person.