For the love of dog

What our favourite companion animals can teach us about ourselves – and about God.

Are you a dog person or cat lover? You’re one or the other, apparently. 

Wth 69% of Australian households now owning a pet, according to a 2021 survey by Animal Medicines Australia, this week Life & Faith is pleased to get controversial: we reveal that Australia’s “two-pet” system has a clear winner. Dogs.

We speak to Barney Zwartz, long-time dog tragic, about the dogs in his life: the border collie-labrador cross Nessie, whom Barney dubs “Mary Poppins” because she is “practically perfect in every way”, and Lennie, a border collie-whippet who had a special connection with Barney’s late son Sam. 

What explains the human-dog bond? Is it dogs’ “hypersociability”? Or “exaggerated gregariousness”? Professor Clive Wynne, the founder of the Canine Science Laboratory at Arizona State University, just calls it dogs’ capacity for “love”. 

Barney draws on Professor Wynne’s Dog is Love: Why and how your dog loves you when discussing his own immensely popular columns in The Age reflecting on how heaven-sent dogs seem to be, given their loving, forgiving natures. But don’t worry, cat people: Justine demands Barney account for his outrageous quip in one of those columns that “cats, of course, are despatched from below”. 

Meanwhile, we borrow a snippet from Nick Spencer’s interview with philosopher John Gray about his book Feline Philosophy: Cats and the meaning of life. In this extract from the podcast Reading Our Times, John Gray ponders what cats reveal about the problem of human consciousness: we worry endlessly, while they don’t really seem bothered by anything.

So if you, a human animal, are weighed down by many cares, we hope this lighthearted look at what our pets can teach us about God, or what it means to be human, is as fun as a dog with a bone, or a cat toying with a mouse. Enjoy.


Barney’s columns about Lennie and Sam and Nessie (pictures included!)

Nick Spencer’s interview with John Gray about Feline Philosophy from the podcast Reading Our Times

Clive Wynne’s book Dog is Love: Why and how your dog loves you

John Gray’s book Feline Philosophy: Cats and the meaning of life

Benjamin and Jenna Silber Storey’s book Why We Are Restless: On the modern quest for contentment