Canine Ecology

Like many of you, I grew up with a dog. Ever since then I have been fascinated by dogs’ intelligence and social sensitivity. In the world of dog breeding, there is an important term called biological, or breed, fulfillment. The core of this idea is that dogs have natural, or bred, instincts that need to be satisfied for them to be content and healthy. Have you ever wondered why your golden retriever compulsively goes running towards any body of water he sees? Or why your border collie spontaneously begins herding small animals or children? It is because we have bred these dogs for particular purposes. In the case of golden retrievers, it is to hunt water birds, and in the case of border collies it is to herd sheep. These actions of swimming or herding are essential for their biological fulfillment. They need to swim or herd for them to be mentally and physically fulfilled.

It is quite amazing the ability of dogs to perform these essential activities. Take, for example, this video of two collies herding sheep, or something more mundane, these collies herding ducks into a hula hoop. We can see from these two examples that, beyond human intervention in breeding, these dogs need human guidance in order reach their full natural potential.

There are other examples of human activity drawing out potential in creation, allowing it to reach a level of fulfillment not possible otherwise. Take, for example, the rose. Naturally, roses, and all members of their family, have five petals. However, we have bred and cultivated them to have a plethora of beautiful and flowing petals that are a wonder to behold. Humanity has been able to draw something beautiful out of roses by our action and cultivation.

There is much talk about ecology today, and rightly so! However, any authentic ecology – and especially an authentic Christian ecology – must recognize that creation can and does reach its potential, not by humanity leaving creation alone, but by human cultivation. One great image of what humanity’s stance towards creation should be is the image of a gardener. A gardener cultivates plants in his garden both for his consumption as well as for the sheer joy of cultivation. Even if a plant serves no practical purpose for the gardener – and flowers serves no “practical” purpose -- the gardener cultivates them anyway, drawing out from them their full natural potential by his care.

As we see from the beginning of the book of Genesis, this was God’s original plan for humanity and creation. In the book of Genesis, just as humanity was most itself under God’s guidance, creation was the most itself under humanity’s guidance. This is shown in Adam’s naming of the animals in Genesis 2:19-20. Creation finds its identity and fulfillment in Adam’s action. It was a result of sin that we ceased to cultivate creation and began exploiting it. The Risen Christ, however, began a New Creation. Let us, then, participate in this recreation by our cultivation.

Br. Nathaniel Maria Mayne, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE