DEAR DR. FOX: In some earlier columns, you have spoken about animals’ spirits and souls, but I am still confused, having been raised as a Christian. What is your opinion concerning animals having souls? Are theirs immortal like ours? -- R.M., Washington, D.C.
DEAR R.M.: I like this formula for soul-making: body plus mind plus spirit.
Theosophists contend animals have a group soul while ours are individuated, other animals achieving such individuation through our affection for them. I find that rather anthropocentric, and believe there is no clear distinction between spirit and soul.
The question of immortality for human and nonhuman spirits is in part answered by human instances of reincarnation, with some individuals recalling details of past lives. And some religious traditions embrace reincarnation, or the transmigration of the soul or spirit.
I embrace the Rev. Matthew Fox’s (no relation) view that it is by way of our empathic connections with other sentient beings -- human and nonhuman -- that we, like God, suffer and love. Sometimes we must “play God” and euthanize animals, a role I never find easy as a veterinarian, to stop intractable suffering in the terminally ill or injured.
In the Hindu religion, such actions violate the principle of ahimsa (non-harming), which makes the perpetrator spiritually impure. So ahimsa trumps compassionate action, and animals are left to suffer -- especially “sacred” cows, as I learned working in India at my wife Deanna Krantz’s animal refuge. (See our book “India’s Animals: Helping the Sacred and the Suffering.”)
In my view, playing God in other ways, such as gene-editing and cloning of animals primarily for human benefit, is another turn of the screw of unbridled domination and exploitation. Therefore, I find these actions bioethically unacceptable when they are of no medical benefit to the animals.
What happens to souls and spirits with cloning? Identical human twins are “clones” in a way, and they are certainly individual souls.
There are more questions than answers on so many levels of inquiry. Some secularists decry any god who would make parasites, pathogens and predators, while materialists have no regard for the sanctity of life or for animals’ rights, and have created a reality devoid of anything sacred beyond the ethos of mammon.
DEAR DR. FOX: Upon reading your article on life after death for our pets, I feel compelled to share my story of my beloved cat, Coco.
Coco was a rescue from a local shelter. She was an adult tortoiseshell, and I got her as a companion to my calico, Versace. The two never got along, so when Versace passed, Coco was much happier and we got very close. She died of heart failure at age 15 and I was crushed. I still have her photo at my bedside.
I live alone, and the first time I felt Coco walking on my bed, I thought I must have been dreaming. But it happens regularly in the middle of the night. One evening, I actually felt her jump on my pillow above my head!
It makes me happy to know she likes to visit. -- D.M., West Palm Beach, Florida
DEAR D.M.: Some readers will think that you were hallucinating in bed, and that your experience of feeling your cat jump on the bed and come onto your pillow was simply a conditioned response from your brain’s memory of your cat doing this every evening when alive. But skeptics should be convinced by the many reports of this kind of metaphysical phenomenon posted on my website in the article “New Evidence of Life After Life.”
One dramatic clincher, detailed in my book “Cat Body, Cat Mind,” was about a couple who moved into a house and didn’t own any cats. But many evenings, they both felt something catlike jumping onto their bed. They made inquiries and found out that the previous owner did, indeed, have a cat who had passed on in the home they’d purchased. Having lived with and known cats before, they accepted and welcomed the unseen night visitor.
EARWAX REVEALS HOW HUMAN ACTIVITY AFFECTS WHALE HEALTH
Huge earwax plugs from dead whales are held in museum collections around the world, and scientists studying those plugs have pieced together a picture of how human activity has affected whales.
The research, published in Nature Communications, showed that cortisol levels fell after hunting restrictions were imposed, rose during World War II, and have risen rapidly since 1990. (National Geographic online, Nov. 15)
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxVet.net.)