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Author Points to Christianity's Compassion for Animals in New Book

The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity's Compassion for Animals by Laura Hobgood-Oster

The Humane Society of the United States

  • The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity's Compassion for Animals, by Laura Hobgood-Oster.

  • The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity's Compassion for Animals, by Laura Hobgood-Oster.

by Laura Hobgood-Oster

I’m all about kindness now—a bit obsessively, perhaps. But the word “kind” has so many layers of meaning. We are “kind of” like others. I am “kind” to you. We are “kindred”. It’s a verb, a noun, a descriptor of relationship. What does it mean to be “kind”? I ask that question in the book I just wrote, The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals.

As a dog rescue activist for more than a decade and as a vegetarian for more than two decades, I am deeply engrossed in the lived practices of animal activism. We should not treat animals as objects to be consumed (as a pound of ground meat) and we should not kill companion animals because there isn’t space in the control facility. These things I believe. So what does that mean for all of us?

I also want to be kind, to realize that other humans haven’t considered this yet, and to help them think about it. And I want to be “in kind”—to recognize how closely related I am to ALL other mammals. It is sometimes easy to be all worked up about a cute little dog and to forget that my orangutan sister is dying because her home has just been burned down and her child has been killed. How do we do this? It’s too huge. What I am suggesting is that we pull in already organized communities.

The Friends We Keep gives an outline for how we pull in Christian congregations. Can a person who proclaims, “I am Christian,” be okay with the violence of factory farms? Can a person who declares a “love for Jesus” then turn their back on animal control facilities killing five million dogs each year because nobody will home them? Is not Christianity a religion of eating mercifully and opening homes to strangers?

If animal advocates and religious communities can realize that we both have some similar goals – kindness, compassion, hospitality—then we can join forces to make this world a more hospitable place for all of the sacred animals who live and breathe and have their being here. I do dog rescue. Every dog who comes into the Georgetown municipal shelter is my responsibility. I lose some, I “save” some.

A cocker spaniel came in a few days ago. He was so covered with matts that he could hardly lift his head. His companion spaniel died from heat exposure—from his matts—before animal control could get there. When we groomed him he smiled and pounced and was happy. He was kind and thankful for kindness. We need all the converts we can get! Animal rescue and religious groups—let’s do it together!

Laura Hobgood-Oster is Professor of Religion and Environmental Studies and holds the Paden Chair in Religion at Southwestern University. Featured in the documentary “Eating Mercifully,” produced by The Humane Society of the United States, and frequently interviewed by national print and broadcast media, she is the author of Holy Dogs and Asses: Animals in the Christian Tradition and executive editor of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. She lives in Georgetown, Texas.

The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity's Compassion for Animals (Baylor University Press, 2010. Paperback, 230 pages) is available October 1 at bookstores and from online retailers. 

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