Animals As Sentient Creatures

~by Susi Pittman

You can’t tell an animal lover that animals don’t have feelings, mostly because the said animal lover has borne witness to the contrary. I’m not talking about the silly placement of anthropomorfic behavior on animals, I’m speaking to the recent findings in various scientific fields that DO point to animals as sentient beings.

Sentience-the ability to feel, perceive, or be conscious, or to experience subjectivity.

For quite a long time now, science has proven that animals can feel emotions, they experience joy and happiness, grief and sadness, pain and suffering, jealousy and empathy and they exhibit that they do want and need and know they do.

The problem I have with science, is that there is the certain and predictable explaining away of why animals are sentient by crediting the evolutionary process. There is the consistent comparing of human beings and animals as having the same areas of the brain that are important for consciousness and processing emotions. The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness of July 7, 2012, states, Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors.

All of this works to point to a non-created, non-religious cause and effect. After all it is science. Gotta see it, taste, it, smell it, feel it or hear it for complete evaluation. Nothing unseen can be considered, why that’s lunacy.

I am grateful for science and scientists for working so hard to prove the sentience of animals. This work has been painstakingly long and arduous. Today, scientists are moving into a new realm of study on our sentient lesser brethren…one that asks the question why sentience has evolved in the animal species.

That is going to be one unanswered question. Oh, there may be theories and thesis on the matter, but the answer comes from a higher source and unfortunately this aspect of animal life did not evolve…it was always there. Part of that which God created and called “good.”

Reference: Genesis 1:24,25,26,27,30,31

God said, Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures…and so it was…And God saw that it was good. God said, Let us make mankind in our image and likeness; and let them have dominion over…all the wild animals and every creature that crawls the earth. To every wild animal of the earth…and has the breath of life, I give the green plants for food. God created man in his image. In the image of God he created him…And so it was. God saw that all he had made was very good.

Here is where religion answers the sentience question and science never will. It was not by coincidence that man and earthly creatures were formed together on the 6th day. A correlation exists. I feel that science has proven that physiological connection in providing evidence that humans and animals alike have neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates. There is a reason why God created each and every aspect of creation in the order He created it. It stands to reason from a philosophical and theological stand point that Man and the other creatures would be companions, interdependent upon each other…help mates in the natural realm.

Man, who is himself a creature and all the other lesser creatures were created because God wanted and loved them all. The lesser creatures, reflections of God, were created with a specific role of behavior, something that was permanent and would be guided by divine providence. Animals preceded the creation of Man. God gave our lesser brethren the breath of life, a soul.

The world and man, attest that they contain within themselves neither their first principle nor their final end, but rather that they participate in Being itself, which alone is without origin or end. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, P.34

God makes it very clear that as these beings would be given to Man, Man would be created and endowed with a higher, uniquely spiritual soul, one that would be above all creatures; one created in the image and likeness of its Creator…endowed with intellect and free will, one that promised an immortal union with the Creator unlike any other of creation. But, also not to say that creation would not also through the redemption of Christ be united with its Creator.

Animals should not ever receive the legal protection of “personhood.” I feel that “personhood” can only be ascribed to that being which God elevated beyond all creatures, being given specifically a “personhood” of image versus reflection.

With these qualities, Man was to take upon himself God’s directive to have dominion over the creatures as a responsible administrator, because these creatures are ultimately not Man’s but God’s. The crisis we suffer currently on this planet in environmental devastation points to the irresponsible nature that mankind has embraced in departure from the original moral and spiritual directive.

Science has yet to give any credence to the existence of souls, for therein lies an unseen force of religious connotation that is loathe to the field of study.

But this should not dismay any good Catholic steward from moving forward in supporting the scientific study that has brought light to the fact that our creature friends are sentient beings. As time moves forward I truly believe that more and more scientific evidence in so many fields will point undeniably in the direction of God.

We owe them the kindness and care that God asked of us. Humaneness calls upon the mission of our humanity. It is up to US.

Our power over the world’s creatures comes from God Himself. He has asked us to have pity and mercy upon them. We cannot turn against them the advantages which Providence has given to us in order that we govern them wisely.

As companion animals and wild animals alike are sentient beings, we must treat them as such. If we overstep these limits, we tempt the Creator and prevent the plans of His Providence.


Susi Pittman is founder of and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; an advocate for the Florida Catholic Conference; an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine;a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.



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