Taoism and Pets
While reading another Tao related blog, I came across a thread where someone asked how a Taoist feels about having a pet. Nothing in the Daodejing came to mind as guidance but I recall various stories in Chuang-Tzu, The Inner Chapters, that referenced animals. Basically, animals, in their natural wild state, are really an embodiment of Tao and something we can learn from through observation. From a Taoist perspective, capturing a wild animal to make it a pet would be interfering with its natural existence and therefore, would not be a Taoist practice. However, there is also mention of the use of animals such as horses and cattle. I believe these domesticated animals have a place in our culture and lives.
We have three cats that live with us. Two were rescued from a shelter, and one was given to us as a kitten by a friend who could not care for a litter of cats (that’s her in the photo, five years later). They’re all domesticated cats. Their natural environment is with people. Growing up, I had a dog, a domesticated dog. Their natural environment is with people. Dogs have had a symbiotic relationship with humans for tens of thousands of years. In facts, dogs have worked so close with people for so long, they actually are more in “tune” with people than any other animal. Rather than going into the details here, if you’re interested, watch Dogs Decoded.
Living with a domesticated pet, having a loving relationship with an animal is often very healthy for all involved. The important thing to me, is where you find that pet. I’m personally against pet stores because more often than not, these are animals treated like products. I wish I could find healthy happy homes for them, but in doing so I would just create an increased demand and the cycle escalates.
Good places to get pets are from small family owned breeders. The ones that probably check you out more than you check them out. the ones who won’t sell to just anyone with a credit card because they love their animals. Of course shelters are also a great place to get pets. One of our shelter cats is blind in one eye due to early neglect. We’ve had him for 14 years now. It’s hard to imagine not having him around. You don’t need a special breed with papers spouting the purity of its lineage. It doesn’t need to have the perfect form or the perfect background. Go to a local shelter and visit with the animals there. If you connect with one, take it home with you, love it and accept it as part of your family.
Exotic, non-domesticated pets, in my opinion, should be avoided. That python would be better off not living in a glass aquarium. That parrot would be better off flying free. A rule of thumb is, if it has to live in a cage, you don’t need it as a pet. There are always some exceptions. I doubt fish really notice a difference and I’ve seen some pretty happy looking hamsters with elaborate habitats connected by fun tunnels and all sorts of exercise wheels and other things they certainly seem to enjoy. Watching them I sorta wish I could play in their homes.
Finally, don’t bring a pet into the wrong kind of home or a habitat too small for it. If you don’t have a big, safe yard, don’t get a big dog. Having a dog chained to a post or in a small pen for most of its life is horrible. If you have small children in the home, it may not be suitable for a cat. I know the ones living with us don’t care for small humans chasing them about.
A little common sense goes a long way when preparing to share your life with an animal. Many animals, especially domestic cats and dogs, need affection and will certainly return it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.