Is America’s Growing Pet-centrism a Form of Idolatry?

         Would you pay 25-thousand dollars to save your pet?  Two years ago, Mike Otworth did.  The Florida man’s 10-year-old Chow was diagnosed with Lymphoma.  So, Otworth shelled out thousands for chemotherapy – and then drove the dog to North Carolina where she received a bone marrow transplant!

            In a world where about 925-million people go hungry, it’s unfathomable to me that someone would go to such lengths to save a pet.  Yet, extravagant spending on pets has become increasingly common.  In just the past six years, U.S. consumer spending on veterinary care has increased from just over nine billion dollars a year to a whopping 13-and-a-half billion!  Add in food and other pet products, and we Americans spend 51-billion dollars a year on our animal companions!  But, it gets worse. 
            Last year, the Associated Press and Petside polled about one-thousand pet owners asking who they’d dump first – their significant other or their pet?  A surprising 14-percent said they’d dump their human partner before they’d ever give up their furry – or perhaps feathered – friend. 
            This misplaced priority isn’t confined to pets, though.  Every year, the Humane Society of the United States spends more than 120-million dollars promoting its animal welfare agenda.  This includes encouraging churches to start animal protection ministries and lobbying legislators to enact laws requiring bigger cages for chickens.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love animals – and own two dogs from a rescue shelter.  But I don’t support assigning them worth and priority they simply shouldn’t have. 
            Yet, this is what results when society – and some Christians – forget the unique place humans have in the world.  Animals are not our “brothers and sisters,” as one church denomination’s “Official Statement on Animals” declares; they are creatures without a soul and devoid of God’s image.  Yes, we should care for them.  But, when they begin to trump human relationships and consume large proportions of our time and resources, they’ve likely become idols.  

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15 thoughts on “Is America’s Growing Pet-centrism a Form of Idolatry?

  1. Anonymous

    Thank you for bringing this up! As a follow of Christ I have become increasingly disturbed by this animal ‘theology.’ We are neglecting God’s mission to people when we replace them with animals. God’s grace be upon us, we are our own un-doing.

  2. Anonymous

    You’ve got it wrong Julie, as usual.

  3. Anonymous

    PROVERBS 12:10
    A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal.
    What’s $25k for someone who is a millionaire? Also, that’s about the average cost of a car in some parts of the U.S. after tax, title, and fees. The car which depreciate a soon as you drive it off the dealer lot. There’s no guarantee that 925 million hungry people in the world will be fed by throwing money at them. Much of the world’s hunger is because of oppressed governments not allowing the food to get to the people. Look at Haiti for example. Millions of dollars are just sitting there while people continually live in extreme poverty.

    There are some that do value pets above humans. Maybe it’s wrong to love a loyal animal over a disloyal human. Why does God use animals as teaching instruments in Job 12:7? They display God’s glory.

    Many pets are a source of comfort to people like widows, the blind, and the disabled and sometimes they are the only source of comfort from abusive people in their lives.
    Julie, before you decide to euthanize your two dogs if they ever get sick, read Proverbs 12:10 again and pray what God should have you do in a situation when pet insurance is scarce.

  4. I don’t think caring for an animal requires I extend their life unnaturally. I acknowledge that pets are an incredible comfort. I think that’s why God made them. Still, I will not spend my kids’ college money — or fail to support a Compassion child (or multiple Compassion children) — so my dogs can live a couple more years. That seems disordered to me.

  5. Anonymous

    Reading the above posts, I agree with the anonymous writer. Just because you want to do one thing with your money, doesn’t mean everyone should do the same. I see the wealthier folks at my church driving $60k+ cars when they could buy something sturdy for $20k. Who am I to judge and think it should have gone on Compassion children? I think a lot of your views are narrowminded and personal to yourself, and what you would do without considering that others have different opinions and experiences and circumstances. Others may hold different views. That doesn’t make us lesser Christians.

  6. Hi Julie,

    I read the full news article of Mr. Mike Otworth who shelled out $25K to save his dog. It was a touching story. It turned out that God spared the dog’s life using unnatural means(modern medicine. It also made the vet a little richer and more experienced after the ordeal.

    If I was a Christian veterinarian whose livelihood depends on taking care of God’s creatures, how should I respond to all this pet idolatry? Suppose, I had to treat Mike Otworth’s dog and charged him only $12,000 (compassion discount) and I used my profit to feed my children’s college fund and my sponsored children, would that be okay?

    Thank you

  7. Julie, hi. I appreciated the discussion you moderated on Moody Radio the other weekend on animal stewardship and animal rights, which included my friend Karen Swallow Prior. I’m a graduate of Moody Bible who went on to do my masters project at Trinity Evangelical on a Christian foundation for animal welfare, which formed the basis for a small online effort called Not One Sparrow, a Christian voice for animals. I’d love to connect further at any time, but will also send an email in a moment to the Up For Debate address regarding a discussion taking place downtown Chicago next week. best wishes, Ben DeVries

  8. A

    Ben, I visited your page, and I appreciate what you are doing. What are some opportunites for people to help in your organization? Are you centered in the Chicagoland area?

  9. Anonymous


    I think your idea of money being spent on an animal and then claim it’s “idol” contribution, is way out of line. You make comments that are unbiblical and then try to back it up with a comment that of course would hit every christian where it does best… their belief. You might not care to show generosity towards an animal, but that is your own affair. However we, those who have been touched by the compassion of Gods creatures, want to do what we can for them. If you are so concerned about people spending money on a animal instead of “needy children”, lets examine your own life and spending habits. How many times do you go out to a VERY nice resturant pay more then you should, because the meal was good? Or how about how many times you hit the fast food drives, or better yet… what about that nice new car you sport or whatever it might be? If you want to judge what is right, then look in the mirror first.

  10. Julie:

    Great article. Yes it has become idolatry. This self love worship aligns with the type of permissive methodology which is being promoted by many dog behaviorists. Those who are marketing these ideas are mostly atheists. When you read the response of those attempting to justify this idol worship it is no surprise. I am an expert dog trainer who has written about this issue. I can tell you for a fact it is very real and is a reflection of where our society is heading. You can check out my site at for more info. I have an entire area dedicated to this subject called The Science Delusion.

  11. I thought I was the only one who saw things this way. I have heard so many people say that they love animals more than people. Hey, it’s easy to love your cute little pet puppy or kitty. But that’s not what God has called us to. We are to love God and love our neighbor. Neither of those are easy to do, but how can we grow as people, grow in love, if we sit home and cuddle with our kitties while people are hurting, people made in the image and likeness of God. We are a lazy, self-centered bunch.

  12. Anonymous

    People love their animals because their animals do not break their hearts like people do. Yet God has not called us to withdraw from the task of outreach just because people break our hearts. People sometimes surround themselves with their animals because they are withdrawing from human relationships. This is not healthy and in fact is avoiding the ministry of reconciliation to which God has called every one of His children.
    Dan from Rome City, IN

  13. Natalie

    Right on the spot, Julie! Thanks for writing this article. It’s about time that people start to wake up (or grow up) on this matter. While it’s ok to love animals I noticed the pet-idolatry syndrome in this country and, really, it’s a shame.

  14. Natalie

    One more thing: some mention the “unconditional love” of their pets who doesn’t judge them and blah blah. They seem to forget that pets (especially dogs) can also, without apparent or explainable reason, start biting their master and even kill their children. They also can damage many things in your home. I do love animals but I’m far from worshiping them.

  15. Katrina

    It depends on the pet and the partner. In my case, I have been living with a friend for three years, we are room mates. We both like cats. He is the kind of pet lover that obsesses over every need of the cat, while I am more like, it is an animal let it be an animal, let it go outside and take a little risk. Anyway, the cat has been scratching my kids and getting on top of everything. We adopted the cat from a shelter and we loved it at first. It was already two years old and a male. It was neutered about a month before we bought it. Anyway I decided after it got flees from going outside that we should just let it be an out door cat since it seemed cooped up inside and always wanted out. I told my room mate that since it had fleas and didn’t really seem to be a people pet, it seemed more wild and anti-people, that putting outside might be best. He gets super defensive and acts like if I put the cat outside he is going to move out like it some personal attack on our friendship since we bought the cat together. Anyway I told him if he didn’t want to put the cat out to just keep it in his room, but that I personally felt it belonged outside. He still has the cat in his room and even though it is shedding everywhere and breaking things he will not put it out. I feel as though he is choosing the pet over our friendship because he threatened to move out if I put the cat out.

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