A New York City civil lawsuit from a dog owner poses a difficult, but perhaps an often-pondered question: do animals have souls?
Pets are considered “property” under New York state law, but for Elena Zakharova, her sick dog, Umka, is much more than that. Her complaint against a Manhattan pet store that sold her the dog with bum knees and trick hips (which has presently cost her thousands of dollars in medical treatment bills, in addition to the $1,650 she paid for it) demands that Umka be recognized as a living being, not an object that could be returned to the store as faulty.
“Plaintiff requests humanity for Umka in that she be considered a living soul that feels pain, and that her pain and suffering is recognized by this State and considered as damages to her,” the lawsuit reads. “Umka is a living soul with a heart. She feels love and pain.”
“Pets must be recognized as living souls, not inanimate property,” Zakharova’s lawyer, Susan Chana Lask was quoted as saying.
Umka suffers a disorder causing her leg pain, she cries when she is in pain and drags herself with her front paws. She cannot run like other puppies. The condition did not show until five months after Zakharova bought the dog, she claims. According to New York's “Pet Lemon Law,” buyers have 14 days to return a sick animal to the store.
If the judge does not recognize Umka’s suffering, Zakharova lawyer will argue that the dog should be subject to the Uniform Commercial Code that gives a buyer four years to return a “defective product.”
The Upper East Side pet store, Raising Rover, reportedly said it is under new management and has no knowledge of past sales. The store is suspected by media of purchasing its puppies from a puppy mill, often cited for mistreatment of animals.
Lask reportedly said the ultimate goal of the lawsuit is to increase the penalties on pet stores so they stop selling animals from unhealthy breeders.
But the lawsuit has another context to it; this case could be seen as potentially establishing precedence for an inquiry into whether pets can be treated like humans, when it comes to the law.
But do animals have souls? Theologians seem to agree that the answer is “no.”
They point to passages like Genesis 1:26 to support that conviction that man was created superior to animals and that animals cannot be equal with human beings: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
But as with all controversial, and difficult, theological questions, there are always those who disagree.
The Rev. Austin Miles, a chaplain in Northern California, who is also an historian, wrote a series of articles in December that argue for the possibility that animals do indeed have souls.
Miles insists "there is nothing in the Bible stating that animals have no souls, indeed, many Scriptures suggest otherwise," pointing to Psalm 50: 10-11, Isaiah 11:6, and Rev. 19:11 as examples.