A few years ago, I had one of the most interesting encounters of my life. I was working as chaplain in a downtown hospital. I was called to a room on the 2nd floor. When I entered the room, the patient was terribly unkempt. The sign on the door said the patient’s name was Frank. So, I went in and struck up a conversation. In the moments that followed, I learned to have empathy in a way that I never even imagined I could. I connected with a segment of our society that most don’t even know exists. I left changed.
C1: Hi Frank. I am Chaplain…
F1: Does your name matter? I am going home in the morning. We probably won’t be interacting again?
C2: I guess not.
F2: Do you do relationships?
C3: Yes. I am married with…
F3: No. Do you do counseling for relationships?
C4: I do. I would be honored to hear a little bit about your life.
F4: I have been with my partner for about four years (He begins to cry…I draw near to him and hold his hand)…and in the last two weeks things have just started breaking down. Things just don’t seem to be the same.
C5: Tell me a little bit more about your relationship with your partner.
F5: Her name is Lucy.
C6: I apologize. Could you tell me a little bit more about Lucy?
F6: We met four years ago at a music festival. When I first laid eyes on her, I knew we were made for each other. After spending some time together just hanging out and listening to music, we walked to my car. I didn’t know if she wanted to go home with me or not…so I got up the courage to ask her. She said yes and off we went. We were intimate on the first night. It was magical. We rolled around the bed all night. We’ve pretty much been together ever since. We don’t stifle each other…she does her thing and I do mine…but I have never doubted that she loves me…at least until two weeks ago.
C7: Did something happen?
F7: (Frank began to cry uncontrollably…I put a fresh grip on his hand…desperately trying to stay present in the moment) Lucy bit me!
C8: What do you mean she bit you? Are we talking about rough sex?
F8: Yes. When we were intimate the other night, Lucy sank her long teeth into my neck. She had never done that before. Lucy became very vicious very quickly.
C9: (Still holding his hand…) Sir, if you don’t mind me asking…what exactly is Lucy?
F9: Lucy is 88 beautiful pounds of Labrador.
C10: (Still holding his hand…) I appreciate the clarification. I’m sorry that things are not proceeding as well as you would prefer in your relationship with Lucy. Do you think the disconnect you’re feeling from Lucy could possibly be attributed to the vast differences between your species?
F10: I have thought about that…but things have been going fine for the last four years.
C11: What attracted you to Lucy in the first place?
F11: I have had numerous failed relationships. This relationship with Lucy just seemed to work.
C12: How did those failed relationships make you feel?
F12: Less than human.
C13: Is it possible that your failed relationships turned you toward something that was less than human?
F13: Lucy didn’t complain. Lucy didn’t fight with me. Lucy didn’t abuse me. Lucy just loved me.
C14: Have you considered that what you’re doing to Lucy is abuse?
F14: I think I liked her because I could control her and treat her how all of the people in the past treated me.
C15: Does it surprise you that even a dog gets tired of that type of treatment?
F15: No, I guess not.
C16: (I am still holding his hand from earlier…and I draw closer) Frank, God loves you. What you’re doing to yourself and Lucy is destructive to you both. You need to let her go and seek therapy to help you find a way forward into healthier relationships.
F16: I know you’re right. It is just going to be hard to let her go. I get horny just thinking about her (his gown had noticeably risen at his crotch). I know what I have to do…I just have to find a way.
C17: (I ignore the erection…) You will.
F17: I receive that. I need to leave Lucy behind. I’m ready to be in a relationship with someone who can at least talk to me. I’m going to call my sister and ask her to take Lucy to the humane society. I’ve got to move past this funk I’ve been in. Chaplain it means so much to me that you have held on to my hand this whole time. I thought you would reject me…but you held on. Most people don’t understand sex with animals. I thought that you would think I was weird, odd, disgusting or strange or something like that.
C18: You’re not weird, odd, disgusting, or strange…you’re a child of a God…who promises to never leave you nor forsake you. God is also holding your hand.
F18: Will you pray for me?
C19: (Making the sign of the cross on his forehead) God be near. May Frank never know a moment without you. May Lucy never know a moment without you. In your presence, make them whole…Amen.
F19: (He begins to cry again…) Thank you… You are a true man of God. What is your name?
F20: Thank you Jeff. Now get out of here…I’ve got to do some tough shit.
C21: It was a pleasure to meet you sir.
F21: Likewise. Bye now.
I was very shaken by the encounter with Frank. Not long after I left, I went and talked with a psychologist. When I told him what happened, he challenged my assumptions. “What makes you think that someone can’t be in a consensual sexual relationship with an animal? It doesn’t just have to be all about sex either. Real intimate partnered love is a possibility too. Many animals are intellectually and emotionally more capable of healthier relationships than we are.” While it has been many years since these events transpired, I think about them often. I still don’t have clarity on what I should have said to Frank. I simply did the best I could with the understanding that I had.
The truth is that Frank is not alone. If you survey the online and print data out there, there are at least thousands of people currently carrying on intimate relationships with animals. Regularly, news stories come out after a relationship is revealed. These frequent occurrences bring about an important question. Can an animal consent to such a relationship? Through expanding science, we are gaining knowledge that animals are as intelligent if not more intelligent than humans. I’m still uncertain if consent is possible. I do know that there are an increasing number of people who claim that it is. The more I think and read about it the blurrier the lines seem to get.
I also think about what Jesus would say. There is nothing in the gospel narrative that speaks to intimate relationships with animals. In the midst of such absence, one is even left to wonder if Jesus might have even had intimate relationships with animals. At the very least, I do know that Jesus was no stranger to all temptations. Such experiences gave Jesus empathy and love for all people. There is no question that God loves those who have sex or partnerships with animals. I think we should too.