Do animals have souls? Who knows? I think they probably do. There is no evidence pointing to the region where the soul lies. There’s no blood test, diagnostic image, or surgical procedure that can go in and extract the soul for closer examination. We like to see human beings as the top place holder over every other living creature, and this somehow entitles us to exclusivity over all other creatures as the recipients of a soul. For me this just doesn’t add up.
It’s somewhat controversial to mention the issue of soul in veterinary medicine. During my time in vet school the topic simply wasn’t mentioned. There were piles of physiological, pathological, ontological, and parasitological facts to memorize. We were cramming as many facts into our wet brains as we possibly could. The luxury of a good philosophical debate was not included on anyone’s syllabus. Animals were just a bag of biochemical reactions and it was our job to sort out their systems when things went wonky.
Vet medicine mostly is taught in a format that resembles a rubric. Is scenario “A” happening? Follow the arrow to the next step. If the answer is “No”, look at this and that. If this is happening, go here. If that is happening, try this. On one hand it’s a great system which enables younger practitioners to move through cases safely and with more confidence. It also stands on the back of many decades of research from vets meticulously studying the outcomes of different diagnostic and treatment options. The downside is that it doesn’t do the best job of teaching vets to think. For my money the best education is the one that teaches students how to work through difficult scenarios, not memorize facts and follow arrows. We need to know how to think. The majority of things we labored over cramming into our heads didn’t stick.
Back to the soul. Again, the soul wasn’t even mentioned. This on one level is understandable. What heavily credentialed scientist is going to step out on a limb to argue for the existence of a dog’s soul? Or a cat’s soul? We can’t see it. We can’t even see our own. And, we’re heavily divided in the first place over the idea that we have one. I like looking at the example of “love.” It’s widely accepted that human beings have the capacity to love. I love my wife. I love my children. I can’t prove or quantify either of those two statements, but anyone reading this understands the concept. There is a flood of emotion when I focus on these people in my life, especially if I’m traveling alone or the kids are off at camp. And I think that’s more than just the endocrine system cranking out hormones. I love carrot cake. How do we handle that one? I do love it. But that’s a very different thing than my family.
I also love my animals. And I witness love from them in return. This isn’t the case with every animal I’ve ever had. Some are completely unattached and operate with their own agenda (just like many people). But when it comes to those pets that really do love us – the ones waiting for us every single time we come through the front door and act like you’ve been gone for months – I believe there is more going on there than a set of conditioned responses. I see it as one soul recognizing another. As Ram Dass says, someone operating on a spiritual plane is able to look at another person and think “Are you in there? I’m in here. Far out, how did you get into that one?”
So, I’m officially going out on a limb and saying I believe dogs, cats, all animals for that matter, have souls. I’m not sure if it’s bigger, smaller, more round or square, some looking like a faint blue light, while others take on the appearance of a metaphysical firework show. More likely they are perceived by some sense of awareness we can’t even understand. All this said, Mary Oliver’s poem “Some Questions You Might Ask” says it a whole lot better. And I’ll leave it at that…
Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?
Who has it, and who doesn’t?
I keep looking around me.
The face of the moose is as sad
as the face of Jesus.
The swan opens her white wings slowly.
In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness.
One question leads to another.
Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg?
Like the eye of a hummingbird?
Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
Why should I have it, and not the anteater
who loves her children?
Why should I have it, and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass?
Animal souls? | Boulder veterinarian for dogs and cats
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