While out in the community, I had some time to talk with one of the Kenyan students on an internship at Tenwek Community Health. We talked a bit about the animals in the community and how you do not see cows or goats or sheep in the cities very often. Since most Americans live in the city, most of us do not see these animals much and we only see cats or dogs which belong to people. To this comment, the student asked me, “That brings up a very important question I had. Why do you love dogs so much?”
He went on to comment on how if an American family’s dog is missing, they will interrupt current activities with other people to go look for the dog. “This means you like dogs more than you like people.” This hypothesis was cross-supported in his mind by the fact that he sees a woman at the missionary compound running in the mornings with her dog. He found it quite funny that she would only be running with a dog, not spending time with other people.
I tried a bit to explain how dogs have nice personalities if you spend time with them, but that concept completely eluded him.
Dogs in developing countries are noticeably different from dogs of America. Dogs here are service animals, aka guard dogs. I have been told they are kept intentionally a little hungry so they will be mean to trespassers.
The student also commented that we treat dogs “better than people” which is an interesting challenge. It is true that many of our pet dogs are treated better than people. In fact, I have seen Americans protect their dog after the dog has attacked person wrongfully. A Ugandan man made a comment to us last week to the same effect.
I have myself benefited from wonderful pet dogs, one in particular which I still miss. I’m not arguing against having pets. But I would argue that we may need to understand something of what our deference for these pets communicates. And what that means about our true priorities. In his book Don’t Let the Goats Eat the Loquat Trees, Thomas Hale encourages people to reconsider owning a pet because of food shortage issues around the world.
Leonard Ravenhill says that Americans spend more money on dog food than on world missions. I am not sure where he figured this statistic, but I am convinced Americans do spend at least 65% and perhaps 150% more on pet care than world missions.* Maybe this student is right. Maybe we care more about our pets than other people. I don’t want to condemn anyone here, but I think it is worthwhile to consider our true priorities.
*I cannot find a completely reliable statistic, but $55.7 billion in 2014 was spent on pets according to NBC News and a total of $143 billion was spent on “religious causes” according to the LA Times. At least 75 to 95 percent of this stays local based on historical numbers I found here and here. Therefore a maximum of 36 billion but perhaps as little as $9 billion was spent on international missions in 2014)