About the discipline
Those entering the veterinary field may learn more about their human and animal customers by understanding religious beliefs. Humans have a long history of sharing their lives with animals, from the Egyptians, who often were mummified with their pets so they could accompany them in eternity; to domesticated animals that provided wool or eggs; and today’s array of household pets. Religious beliefs may define how individuals feel about the animals in their care, as well as their ethical beliefs about how animals should be treated, especially in times of illness or death.
Religious beliefs: Many faiths teach respect for the creatures that share Earth with humans. A long debate in Christianity has been over interpretation of Genesis 1:28 in the Old Testament, in which God blessed the man and woman he had created (Adam and Eve) and told them: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
Scholars and believers have tried to discern whether “dominion” means using animals for humans’ purposes, or that humans bear responsibility for a benevolent stewardship of animals. As people’s relationships with animals have grown more emotional in the modern time, and awareness of environmental issues has increased, the stewardship perspective has grown popular.
The most famous Christian saint associated with animals is St. Francis of Assisi, who renounced his monetary prosperity to live a life of poverty amid the natural world. He praised the earth, sun, plants and animals and was known for preaching to birds and picking worms off the road and carrying them to safety. Founder of the Franciscan Order, St. Francis is known as the patron saint of animals and is a favorite among many Catholics. Christian churches of several denominations mark St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day on Oct. 4 with blessings of congregation and community members’ pets.
In Islam, a saying of Muhammad, known as a “hadith,” tells of the prophet being asked whether those who are kind to animals are rewarded. Muhammad reportedly answered: “There is a reward for kindness to every living animal or human.” He also related the stories of a woman who was condemned to hell because she imprisoned a cat until it died; and a man who gave a very thirsty dog a drink, and was forgiven of his sins by God. If they must kill an animal, Muslims are commanded to do so in a manner that causes the least amount of fright and suffering.
Issues today: Veterinarians will encounter similar issues as human doctors in terms of determining patients’ quality of life and recommending life-sustaining or life-ending treatments or technologies. Understanding that humans may have particular feelings about their animals because of personal or religious beliefs will inform a veterinarian in recommending treatment. Recent studies show that people often grieve the death of a pet in the same way they grieve the loss of a family member. Veterinarians can be sensitive to the grief process, and understand that religious beliefs may also inform people’s views about the afterlife and whether animals may share it with human believers. Veterinarians also may face ethical issues of when to try to preserve an animal’s life, the mounting financial cost to human owners of animal health care, and expert opinions about animal abuse and proper care.
- “Dogs, Cats and Catholic Parochial Clergy in England and Wales: Exploring the Relationship Between Companion Animals and Work-related Psychological Health” by Leslie J. Francis, Douglas W. Turton and Stephen H. Louden. Mental Health, Religion & Culture. Vol. 10, No. 1 (2007): 47-60.
- “The Evolution of Morality” by Donald Maurice Broom. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Vol. 100, No. 1⁄2 (2006): 20-28.
- “Framing the Issue: Religion, Secular Ethics and the Case of Animal Rights Mobilization” by Marie Mika. Social Forces. Vol. 85, No. 2 (2006): 915-41.
- “Religion and Animals: A Changing Scene.” Deborah J. Salem and Andrew N. Rowan (eds.). State of the Animals II. Humane Society Press. (2003): 85-98.
- “When a pet dies: Religious issues, euthanasia and strategies for coping with bereavement” by Helen Davis, Peter Irwin, Michelle Richardson and Angela O’Brien-Malone. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals. Vol. 16, No. 1 (2003): 57-74.
- “Shambles over Shambo; Sacred bull wins few extra hours in chaotic scenes” by Tony Bonnici. The Express (U.K.), July 27, 2007.
- “Thai temples overrun with abandoned pets.” The Evening Standard (London),March 26, 2008.
- “Churches paws Sunday for blessing of the animals” by Brendan Brosh. Daily News (New York), Oct. 3, 2008.
- “LAMBS members look after pets, their owners” by Elizabeth A. Pooley. Knoxville News Sentinel, July 4, 2009.
- ‘Do pets go to heaven? It depends on your religion. Faithful pets might deserve heaven; some think they get in” by Helen T. Gray. Kansas City Star, July 4, 2009.
- “Mennonite Farmer Sues Claiming Animal ID System Infringes His Religious Beliefs” by Howard Friedman. Religion Clause, June 22, 2007.
- Clearfield, Wallace B. “Stewardship, Spirituality and Natural Resources Conservation: A Short History.” 2007 technical report from the National Resources Conservation Service in Washington.
- A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion, Science, and Ethics. Paul Waldauand Kimberley Patton (eds.). Columbia University Press, 2006.
- The Tao of Bow Wow: Understanding and Training Your Dog the Taoist Way.Deborah Wood. Dell, 1998.
- Every Living Thing: Daily Use of Animals in Ancient Israel. Oded Borowski. Altamira Press, 1997.
- Yuki, Temple Dog: How a California Pound Dog Became Guardian of a Japanese Buddhist Temple. Yuki. Buddhist Books Intl., 1997.
- Animal Ethics in Context. Claire Palmer. Columbia University Press, 2010.
- Applied Animal Ethics. Leland Shapiro. Cengage Learning, 1999.
- Veterinary ethics: an introduction. Giles Legood (ed.). Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000.
- The Ethics of Animal Experimentation: A Critical Analysis and Constructive Christian Proposal. Donna Yarri. American Academy of Religion, 2005.
- The Specter of Speciesism: Buddhist and Christian Views of Animals. Paul Waldau. Oxford University Press, 2001.
- Gutleben, C. (Ed). (2015). Every Living Thing: How Pope Francis, Evangelicals and other Christian Leaders are inspiring all of us to Care for Animals. Ann Arbor: Front Edge Publishing.
- Croney, C.C. and R. Anthony. “Engaging science in a climate of values: Tools for animal scientists tasked with addressing ethical problems.” Journal of Animal Science. Vol. 88, No. 13 (Apr. 2010).
- Using healthy cats for renal transplant procedures: a Case Study Scenario(.doc). The Higher Education Academy, UK, 2003.
Codes of ethics
- American Veterinary Medical Association — Principles
- Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals
- Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature & Culture
- Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature
- Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science
- Veterinarian Follows Religious Beliefs to Honduras (NPR)
- Religion & Ethics – Animals as Pets (BBC)
- Veterinary Medical Ethics
- Veterinary Students as One In Culture and Ethnicity
- Religion and pet cremation
- “Chaplain initiates pet grief therapy” by Richard Weismeyer. Today News. Loma Lind University, Dec. 17, 2007.
- Pet Chaplain – Multicultural Multifaith Pastoral Care Service by Laura Leslie (NPR).
- Animals and Religion (The Humane Society of the United States)
- Animals and Religion: A Guide to Issues, Organizations and Experts (ReligionLink)
Professional associations and groups
- Dickinson, George E.; Paul D. Roof and Karin W. Roof. “End-Of-Life Issues in United States Veterinary Schools.” Society and Animals. Vol. 18, No. 2 (2010): 152-62.
- Rollin, Bernard E. “Euthanasia, Moral Stress, and Chronic Illness in Veterinary Medicine.” Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice. Vol. 41, No. 3 (May 2011): 651-9.