Dogs that save human lives with devotion

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Dogs that save human lives with devotion

Saturday, 15 June 2024 | Hiranmay Karlekar

Dogs that save human lives with devotion

On the one side is canine unconditional love and care; on the other, human beings are indifferent or cruel to animals, hurting and exploiting them

From Oregon in the United States comes the report of a dog saving the life of his owner through a combination of devotion, will and intelligence. As reported by several newspapers, a gentleman by the name of Brendan Garrett, who was driving a truck, failed to negotiate a curve in the road, went through the embankment and fell into a deep ravine. He was injured, as were two of the four dogs travelling with him. One the four, Blue, a whippet, who was obviously not injured, ran through the dense forest covering the ravine and, travelling a distance of nearly four miles, reached a campsite where a friend of Garrett was waiting for him.

On Blue's arrival, the friend, who had been worrying because of the delay in Garrett's arrival, feared that that something terrible had happened and alerted Garrett's brother, Tyree. The family mounted a search of the area and Tyree Brandon managed to see the truck lying deep inside the ravine. Brendan Garrett and the dog were rescued and treated.

Needless to say, this was one of the numerous accounts of the loyalty and devotion the canines harbour towards humans who love and care for them, going to the extent of even dying for them. In this case, Blue has survived. He, however, ran the risk of being attacked by wild animals and run over by speeding vehicles, as he raced to the campsite.

Recognition of the deep and loving ties with which dogs attach themselves with humans who care for them, is one side of the story. The other is how humans treat them. There are doubtless those who care deeply for their dogs and other animals kept as pets, regarding them as family members and even dying for them. There are others who believe that all animals have to be treated with dignity and consideration. There, however, are others who are indifferent or cruel to animals, killing, injuring, enslaving and exploiting them at will.

The belief that animals are inferior to humans and are meant for their benefit, has emerged from the Judeo-Christian theological tradition and the anthropocentric world view rooted in the Humanist philosophy of the classical Greeks. Aristotle wrote in Politics that nature made all animals for the sake of man and that it was permissible to enslave people who did not possess reason as it was to enslave animals. Saint Augustine wrote in The City of God, "When we read 'Thou shalt not kill', we do not understand this phrase to apply to bushes, because they have no sensation, nor to unreasoning animals that fly, walk or crawl, because they are not associated in a community with us by reason…Hence it is by a very just ordinance of the Creator that their life and death is subordinated to us."

This attitude continued through history. In Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust, Charles Patterson points out that like Aristotle, whose work he incorporated in his theology, Saint Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the greatest exponent of medieval Scholasticism, believed that only the reasoning part of the soul survived after death. Since animals lacked the capacity to reason, he claimed that "their souls, unlike human souls, did not survive their death".

The European Renaissance, which lasted from the late 14th century to the first half of the 16th century, and the Enlightenment, which flourished in the salons of Paris in the 18th, revived the full tradition of Greek humanism, parts of which were marginalised by scholasticism because these were not deemed compatible with Christian faith. The result was a new emphasis on rationality as the species attribute of humans as well as the affirmation of the latter's supreme position in the universe as expressed in the Greek sophist Protagoras's famous aphorism, "Man is the measure of all things." This led to a further relegation of the status of animals who are treated with unprecedented savagery in animal food processing industries, avoidable medical research, cosmetic products testing, savage torture during bullfighting and holding of jallikattu, and mindless displays of sadism.

One sees the same process at work in India though its predominant spiritual heritage as expressed in the Vedas, Upanishads, the great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the Puranas, give an exalted position to non-human living beings and give them the same rights as humans. Swami Vivekananda summed up the essence of this heritage when he said in his seminal speech on Vedantism in Jaffna in January 1897.

"In every man and in every animal, however weak or wicked, great or small, resides the same omnipresent, omniscient soul. The difference is not in the soul, but in the manifestation. Between me and the smallest animal, the difference is only in manifestation, but as a principle he is the same as I am, he is my brother, he has the same soul as I have. This is the greatest principle that India has preached. The talk of the brotherhood of man becomes in India the brotherhood of universal life, of animals, and of all life down to the little ants - all these are our bodies …. as our scripture says, "Thus the sage, knowing that the same Lord inhabits all bodies, will worship everybody as such."

(The author is Consulting Editor, The Pioneer. The views expressed are personal.)

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