Friends of the family texted one of my daughters this weekend to say, “Are you sure you don’t want to take our dog? We’re thinking of giving him to a shelter.”
This dog, a six-year-old wheaten terrier, is totally in love with my daughter, and she with him. She will often take him for a weekend just so she can give him some much-needed exercise in the woods near our house. He goes absolutely mental when she picks him up for his visit. Once at our house, he whines pitifully when he is separated from her by as much as a bathroom door, refusing to be consoled by anyone else.
How would he feel if he were in a shelter? Would he wonder what he had done wrong, or why nobody loved him anymore? And how could my daughter bear it? The tragedy would be unfathomable.
We are able to form these deep, empathetic attachments to members of other species because we know they are much like us. We think of them as cousins, and that is what they are.
They may not think as deeply about their attachments to us, but I’ve blogged before about how “selfish-gene” theory explains why one species would evolve loving and even self-sacrificing behavior toward members of a closely related species.
And that brings me to the point of this post. Now and then, we’ll hear someone opine, “When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it.” (Although pastor Rick Warren has denied that this Tweet, sent within hours of the Aurora, Colorado school shooting, was an attempt to blame the event on the teaching of evolution, plenty of people gave a hearty “Amen” when they thought it was.)
Rick Warren aside, I have been told personally on multiple occasions that the teaching of evolution is to blame for various ways we treat each other poorly.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Before we humans knew that we were of the same stuff as the animals, we were not only crueler to animals than we are now, but crueler to each other as well.
I think there’s a connection.
When we finally became humane enough to ban bear-baiting in the 19th century, we became more likely to ban gay-bashing and lynching in the 20th.
Our growing empathy with animals has made us better people.
P.S. – Of course we have no choice but to take that wheaten terrier — at least until a good, permanent home can be found for him. We’ll see how that goes — haha!