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.
• Veterinary Medicine
• Veterinary Surgery
• Veterinary Pathobiology
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 October 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.