Going to the Dogs? Honoring Animals as Heroes Diminishes Human Beings

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 7, 2010 | Go to article overview

Going to the Dogs? Honoring Animals as Heroes Diminishes Human Beings


Byline: Father Michael P. Orsi , SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A police dog in Fort Myers, Fla., recently was ac- corded full honors commensurate with those given a fallen officer. The ceremony was held in a local Baptist church. The service included speakers, a 21-gun salute, Taps and the presentation of an Ameri-can flag to the animal's keeper. Other area police departments joined in the service and formed an honor guard as Rosco, a 4-year-old German shepherd was, as the media reported, laid to rest. Rosco was killed by an armed suspect during a shootout with police. (A teenage male suspect also was killed.) A local newspaper refused to print any criticism of the event. Yet it permitted letters that referred to the animal as the late Officer Rosco with wishes that he rest in peace.

The anthropomorphizing of an animal has serious consequences for society on a number of levels. First, it is indicative of the blurring that has taken place in human thinking regarding our ability to make distinctions between human beings and animals. Second, in designating animals as heroes, we diminish the accomplishments of those persons who, in fact, perform heroic actions. Third, honors are intended for heroes to celebrate their actions and encourage others to emulate them. Finally, when we honor animals in this way, we diminish the solace such services are designed to render the family of a fallen hero and send the message, Your late loved one has the same value as a trained animal.

Humans have always been regarded to be at the pinnacle of living beings, and our relationship to animals has always been one of utility. This has been commonly held by religious people and atheists alike. Dogs, like Rosco, are trained to do certain things to protect humans because the life of a dog is of limited value compared to the infinite value of the human person. This is because humans have reason. This rationality confers on us freedom as well as rights and responsibilities. A dog can lay claim to none of these.

In light of this, the designation of hero can be applied only to a person because the action applauded by society is one that was reflected upon and done through free will. A dog like Rosco is not free. He did not choose his job; he is simply conditioned to react in a certain way. No altruism is exercised. Animals operate on reward and punishment. Rosco undoubtedly received treats during his training for good performance, which was his sole source of motivation. In no way could he weigh the consequences of intervening on behalf of his human handler. …

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