The pope, the golden rule and the animals

For Pope Francis watchers, life is like Forrest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates: “You never know what you’re gonna get.” Not being a pope watcher myself, I am not on that particular roller coaster ride, but he does say some interesting things.

One of his remarks to an assembly of clergy earlier in the year, which made it into the general commentary surrounding his U.S. visit, reminded me of something from the early days of Best Friends, when co-founder Faith Maloney was the de facto animal control officer for a few counties here in southern Utah.

Encouraging the clergy to be more engaged with parishioners, Pope Francis said, “The shepherd should smell like the sheep.” It was not uncommon back in the day for Faith to be called by the local police to help round up a frightened stray dog trying to avoid capture. Faith would roll up in her old truck, her denim jumper replete with the aromas of Dogtown and dog food. The frightened dog would take one sniff and jump happily into the vehicle. Yes, it is good for the shepherd to smell like the sheep!

And, while Pope Francis’ comments and homilies referencing Catholic doctrine give friend and foe alike something to cheer or sneer at, his basic message of kindness and compassion toward each other, the animals and the earth transcends doctrine. In fact, it is something that all of us in the no-kill movement should embrace, not as papal instruction, but rather as a very traditional affirmation of the basic principle that guides us: Treat others as you would like to be treated (and that includes the animals).

Called the golden rule, that principle is a guidepost for living that is probably as old as the written word. Some say it is based on an inescapable law of balance that pertains equally to sub-atomic particles and the karmic “pinballing” of life. I prefer to think of it as a common-sense survival strategy.

The golden rule requires no moral or doctrinal framework for its underpinning. Rather, it offers an intuitive appreciation of the effects that our actions have upon others and the world around us. For those of us to whom the plight of animals in shelters is a concern, it’s a pretty straightforward Q&A: If you were an animal in a shelter, would you want to be killed or would you want to live?

Our answer to that question is the no-kill movement.

Together, we can Save Them All.

Francis Battista