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Pig Wrestling
Pig Wrestling

In April 2015, CCA joined many protestors, by writing to St Patricks Parish in Stephensville, Winsconsin, USA, to request that they end the barbaric annual St Patricks Parish Pig Wrestling event. The event was planned to take place in August 2015. We are delighted to report that on 22nd April 2015 the decision was taken not to go ahead with the event.

The last annual pig wrestling event had been held on Sunday 10th August 2014. Video footage showed pigs screaming in terror as participants jumped on them, tackled them and dragged them around a muddy arena in order to throw them into a bucket. One pig was seen desperately trying to climb out of the muddy pen and another limped away after being dropped. Pigs were left in the blistering sun with no food or drinkable water for hours. The attitude was that none of their suffering mattered, as the pigs were destined to be slaughtered the next day.

The event was held as a fundraiser for the Roman Catholic parish, which also included Mass, dinner and a parade with a live band.

Sadly, this is not the only pig wrestling event to take place. CCA has been alerted to another one which was held at Whitley County fair on 29 July 2015, where children as young as nine are encouraged to participate. Thousands of people signed the online petition.

CCA strongly condemns such activities which are contrary to the Catholic church’s spirit of compassion. Animals should not be forced to suffer for entertainment.


Dr Jerilyn Felton, the four-footed minister’s pastoral care program coordinator at Maryville Nursing Home in Beaverton, Oregon, USA, wrote of her work with her dog, Alya, in the summer 2014 edition of The Ark . Sadly Alya passed away last year and, in this tribute to Alya, Dr Felton describes her work now without her.


Four-Footed Minister-Conrow 2007

Sometimes the end of a relationship can set a course for the beginning of a new endeavour. This is the feeling I had after my beloved four-footed minister, Alya, passed away in November 2014. Alya had been my spiritual/pastoral care research buddy for my doctoral project to formulate a program approach to the integration of dogs as ministerial partners in healthcare settings. She became, in effect, a four-footed minister. After her passing, I moved into a new retirement community and found there an audience open to exploring dog-ministry prayer-group sessions without the canine being present. Here, the attendees heard animal stories based on an extension of scriptural passages; however, would this experience of ‘dog ministry without a dog present’ be profitable to each individual’s prayer life?

As a therapy dog/four-footed minister, Alya had learned her role very well and performed it until the day she died. Her responsibility in our weekly dog-ministry prayer-group gatherings in an assisted-living facility was to welcome the attendees and create the sacred space. She greeted everyone with a lick on the hand and then looked to her mom (me) to give her a treat for a job well done. I had often told my attendees that her gift was her beauty and not her ministerial skills because she ‘worked for food’. I could tell, however, that she seemed to bring an air of the sacred to our gathering. After all had settled and we began our prayer time, she usually parked herself in the centre of our circle and promptly fell asleep. It was the final ‘Amen’ that woke her from her slumber and, together, we initiated our closing ritual, a gift of hand sanitizer given to our attendees to prevent the transmission of infection.

Though I knew at some level that she would not be with me forever, I had not considered how I would continue to spread the concept of dog ministry after she had passed away, other than to obtain another dog and continue as I had in the past. After moving into my new community, I had the chance to discern what other avenues might be open for dog ministry promotion. Thus, to keep my ministerial skills sharp, I volunteered to conduct a series of biblical reflections on the New Testament readings for the Lenten season that utilized my dog-ministry theological-reflection format. I pulled stories from for the Lenten season that utilized my dog-ministry theological-reflection format. I pulled stories from my repertoire of dog and cat midrashim that seemed to dovetail with those readings, determined to note similarities and differences between groups with and without a dog present, to see if ‘dog ministry without a dog’ was even possible. Reflecting on these gatherings, it became apparent that, perhaps, dog ministry is possible without a dog, but the experience will be different.

Differences in Both Scenarios – The Dog

Alya’s role in our dog-ministry prayer-group gatherings was to act as a social lubricator, an activity that has been empirically demonstrated as beneficial to humans (Giaquinto and Valentini, 2009). She was the facilitator who gathered individuals into community. Her animal presence created a sacred space in the most mundane places within the assisted-living facility. Because dogs have often been described as reflecting the Divine in more than name only, feelings of unconditional acceptance and love seemed to flow out of her to the attendees who had been crippled by age or infirmity. Though she was not the focus of our prayerful reflections and, with her no longer by my side, my Lenten bible study-group was not as vibrant as in the past, where Alya’s presence often functioned as a manifestation of the Divine. I feel that her presence in our group would have made the whole experience more reflective of the Garden of Eden, satisfying the deep human need for connection to nature and through that, to the Divine.

Because Alya was a beautiful dog, people naturally moved to touch her. As it has been pointed out in many areas, meaningful touch is often missing from ministerial interactions because of the fear of being misinterpreted or technology has gotten in the way. Touching a therapy dog and petting him or her offers a level of safe interaction that will usually not open up old wounds of maltreatment or abuse because the dog offers unconditional acceptance. Unless the individual has had a bad experience with dogs, is allergic to them, or fears them, petting a dog has empirically measurable calming and bonding effects on both the person initiating the touching interaction and the dog receiving it. This level of bonding was totally absent from our Lenten dog-ministry prayer-group because there was no live dog present.

The Minister

Throughout my four years of working with dog-ministry prayer-group gatherings, I had developed a good working relationship with my four-footed minister. With Alya present, my role was to be there as the facilitator and storyteller, not concerning myself too much with engaging all attendees in the process of theological reflection. Some of our attendees in assisted-living had challenges keeping present with the group, but had something else ‘holy’ upon which to focus – Alya, as a creature of God. Though it was often an effort to draw individuals into a space where they felt comfortable in sharing their story, it did not matter in the long run because it was evident that each person drew from the gathering what spiritual nourishment that person needed, whether from our group reflections on scripture and midrashim or from Alya’s sleeping presence. Throughout my Lenten series, I found I had to work harder to draw people in, though they were independent-living residents who appeared to be much more able to engage the outside world than those in assisted living. I attribute this to the fact that my four-footed minister was not there as either a presence or a focus. I did discover that the stories were a drawing force that encouraged individuals to return. As the stories were ones I had used in theological reflection with Alya, I discovered that, despite the fact the stories lacked that imperceptible, tangible presence of the Divine, they did provide something meaningful to support an individual’s prayer life.

Similarities in Both Scenarios

In reflecting back over our Lenten gatherings, I see that there are commonalities that do make it possible to do ‘dog ministry without a dog present’, though it is not the same experience. The most obvious similarity between experiences with and without a dog is the encouragement that can be created by the facilitator to have a person tell their life story of faith after considering a particular question. As theological reflection, by its structure, opens a way for attendees to offer examples from their own lives that illustrate a question posed at the beginning of the session, I discovered that elders are willing to share their pet or human stories with others because they realize others are listening to them. Telling their pet/human story in conjunction with the sacred story enables them to feel connected to the group and connected especially to God. In working with elders, I have discovered that individuals often do not perceive their stories about their pets as important enough to be connected to the Sacred. They are surprised when others find their reflections enlightening as well as entertaining.


In the long run, from my limited experience without a four-footed minister present, either a live dog or a stuffed one, I can see that it is possible to conduct a dog-ministry prayer-group without a dog. However, one must realize this experience could be dissatisfying because of its incompleteness on a deep spiritual level. I believe that it is the story, integral to the structure of the gathering, that will be beneficial to the attendees. In creating the midrashic story, the minister should work as if the dog were present, because in proclaiming the Word of God and illuminating it through a pet midrash, a dog or cat comes alive again, if only for a moment. It is the power of story in this instance, bringing presentness to the past that helps the pet to live again, if only in the time it takes to tell the story (Felton, 2008). Thus, in the final analysis, I hope that others will take up the challenge to attempt ‘dog ministry without a dog present’. Here is an area where more experiences will contribute insights into the growing field of dog ministry.


Bethany Cortale is from New Jersey, USA, and runs the blog The Vegan Vine (www.VeganVine.blogspot). Here she discusses Christian compassion for animals and the current opportunity for the Church to lead by example.


As a Catholic, I was very happy when I learned of Pope Francis’ appointment, especially his chosen namesake in honor of St Francis of Assisi, who had a special kinship with animals. In the spirit of St Francis, I am writing to urgently ask the Church to expand its commitment to all God’s creatures, particularly animals exploited and oppressed in the name of food.

Factory Farming

Currently, some 60 billion land animals are bred and slaughtered every year for human consumption. Not only is this killing cruel, but it is also unnecessary. Furthermore, it is robbing the hungry of nourishment and doing irreversible damage to our planet.

Compared to plant protein, raising animal protein requires 100 times more water, 11 times more fossil fuels, and five times more land.1 In addition, growing crops to feed animals to then feed people – instead of feeding crops directly to people – is completely wasteful, inefficient and unsustainable for a population of seven billion people that is expected to rise to nine billion in less than 40 years. If the grain grown in the United States to feed livestock were instead fed directly to people, it alone could feed 800 million people,2 potentially eradicating world hunger as we know it.

Factory farming is a large part of the problem, accounting for 99 per cent of all animal consumption. However, there is no way to raise animals in a humane way as the end result is always the same – torture and death. Organic and free-range farms are often just as cruel as factory farms and employ the same barbaric procedures such as debeaking, tail docking, dehorning, and castration – all without painkillers. Cattle have their horns cut off and their testicles cut out of their scrotums, and many are branded with sizzling-hot irons, resulting in third-degree burns. Pigs on organic farms often have their tails chopped off and their ears notched, and some have rings forced into their sensitive noses in order to permanently prevent them from naturally rooting in the grass and dirt. Chickens on organic egg farms usually have part of their sensitive beaks cut off, causing acute pain and often death. In addition to widespread cruelty, free-range farms are completely unsustainable and cannot be duplicated on a mass scale to meet the current demand for animal flesh. And in the end, just as with factory farms, babies are separated from their mothers and innocent creatures are cruelly slaughtered by caretakers with whom they had come to trust.

Technology has also diminished the value of animals and has increased the ways in which they can be manipulated into machines and commodities. For example, the egg industry views male chicks as worthless because they are useless for egg production, so hatcheries breed chickens and then divide the males from the females along an assembly belt. The males are separated and quickly discarded in one of three ways: they are gassed, suffocated in plastic bags, or tossed into a grinding machine – all within 72 hours of birth. This happens to 150,000 male chicks every day at just one facility.3

The dairy industry is no better, artificially inseminating cows to produce calves and milk – ten times the amount of milk that they would naturally make – which is not fed to their calves but given to humans instead. Like male chicks, male calves are also useless to the dairy industry so they are immediately snatched away from their anguished mothers and shipped off to the veal industry. Many are too weak, sick or crippled to even stand and their value is so low (less than a few dollars) that they are often left for dead on a pile by the road.

The pursuit of efficiency in creating large quantities of animal flesh has resulted in manipulated genes and mutilated bodies, creating ‘painful joint and leg problems in pigs, heart disease in broiler chickens, leg problems in beef cattle, and turkeys who cannot mate since their body shape makes it impossible for their reproductive organs to come in contact.’4 We have reduced animals to mere things, cloning and breeding them at will, using them to satisfy our shallow interests and appetites, and discarding them when they don’t. In the chilling words of one research scientist, ‘. . . we can design the whole carcass, if you like, from embryo to plate to meet a particular market niche’.5

They are robbed of their families and their lives, and they never get to experience what it is like to be loved and cared for – all they know is human brutality and indifference.

As Christians, we have a unique opportunity to see the innocent suffering of Christ through the lives of animals, who are no less innocent and who endure daily injustices simply for being born nonhuman in a human world. Surely, their constant agony and our callous disregard for them cannot please a God of love and mercy and justice. ‘The Lord says, I love justice and I hate oppression and crime’ Isaiah 61:8. The things that we have allowed others to do to animals in our name is both a crime and a sin that society at large has not yet woken up to – including the Church. Just as with racism, sexism and homophobia, we will one day look back disgracefully upon speciesism and our treatment of animals.

As a student of history, I know that God is the source of rights. As sentient beings, also made by God, animals have intrinsic value and worth beyond what they can do for humans. I understand the moral ramifications of recognizing the rights of animals, especially by an institution like the Church, but the Church is in a unique position to take an influential stand with those in bondage and to instruct the world that animals are neither machines nor commodities – they are our brethren. While it may be a difficult thing to do, it is, nevertheless, the right thing to do.

The Failure of the Church

As a Catholic, I am sad and disappointed with the Church’s failure to take justice for animals seriously. For starters, I believe the Catechism’s teaching on animals needs to be revised, specifically the seventh commandment titled ‘Respect for the Integrity of Creation’. Contrary to popular belief, loving both human and nonhuman life is not mutually exclusive. God’s great capacity for love should teach us that we don’t have to choose love for one over another. Rather, it is an inferior theology that seeks to limit God’s love.

Moreover, if animals are God’s creatures and, according to the Catechism, ‘it is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly’, then there is no excuse for eating animals and their secretions, wearing their skins, and excusing their mistreatment for our entertainment, when all of these things are unwarranted and gratuitous.

Human Health

Not only is there no morally justifiable reason to breed and slaughter animals for meat and dairy, but doing so is destroying nature and human health. More and more people are waking up to the fact that the greatest contributor to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and most chronic diseases is animal products. What’s more, there has never been a better time to embrace a plant-based diet as more and more meat and dairy replacements are available to consumers than ever before. These vegan items are delicious, healthier, and don’t involve animal cruelty – a win-win-win! Hundreds of vegan cookbooks are now available that illustrate how nutritious and delicious foods can be using the abundance and variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes that God has provided in nature – even for those with a sweet tooth, like me.

A Better Way

I have been a vegetarian for 20 years and a vegan for the last eight. I have educated myself over those years and make a point of avoiding all animal products, including beef, poultry, fish, milk products, eggs, and honey. Since doing so, I have found both my physical and spiritual health much improved. I awakened to the fact that animals are also God’s creatures and, as such, we have no absolute rights over them, only the responsibility to look after them as God would look after them, and to treat them as God would treat them. My diet now reflects this ethos. It is not enough to simply say that animals matter morally, but then to continue causing them unnecessary suffering and death for mere pleasure, convenience or amusement.

Christian Response of Compassion

As a Christian, I know that Christ spent his short life ministering to the powerless, the disadvantaged, and the oppressed. Further, he stood against the principle that might makes right. The fact that billions of land animals and one trillion sea animals are slaughtered every single year unnecessarily for human consumption confirms that animals are the most oppressed beings on our planet, and the most invisible. Farmed animals spend their entire short lives living in unimaginable conditions, often in the dark, constantly sick and injured, and surrounded by filth and their own excrements.

Recently, St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Wisconsin, held its annual pig wrestling event. Despite an outpouring of criticism and concern for the pigs – who are punched in the face, body slammed, yelled at, and thrown around like potato sacks during the event – the local church dismissed any opportunity to reverse its course, gave the typical, indefensible excuse of ‘tradition’, and went on with business as usual. This blatant disregard for the lives of animals made many people, including Catholics like myself, angry. No amount of safety provided to the pigs would have been acceptable. Promoting events that use animals sends the wrong message that animals can and should be exploited and manipulated for whatever we desire. This could have been a teachable moment to parishioners about how we should respect animals and treat them as we would want to be treated but, instead, the church turned its back on compassion, mercy and justice.

God’s second greatest commandment to us was to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. Is it not a great injustice to treat God’s creatures – who do not harm us and cannot defend themselves – as little more than unfeeling, inanimate objects? Animals are our neighbours, too, and condoning violence and cruelty against them, simply because they are animals and because we have made a habit of misusing them, is fundamentally unchristian. At the heart of the Christian Gospel, exemplified in Jesus Christ, is a basic call for peace, love and service to all, especially those whom society has cast off and regarded as least worthy.

A New Opportunity for the Catholic Church

Now, with Pope Francis at the helm, there has never been a better time for the Church – with its immense power and resources – to take the lead in creating a more just and humane world. This is my cause, but it is also the Church’s cause, and it must be everyone’s cause. The plight of animals is not just an issue of morality, but a matter of justice.

I urge the Church and its body to take concrete steps to progressively disengage from animal exploitation in all its insidious forms: food consumption, clothing, entertainment (zoos, circuses, rodeos, aquariums, hunting), science, and experimentation.

As humans, we have been given a mighty responsibility of caring for this earth, which does not signify that we can do with it and its inhabitants however we please. I believe it underestimates and trivializes God’s greatness to assume that, in His vast and diverse universe, He should only care for one species. Sadly, that one species has shown little regard for all that God has created and has caused more destruction than any other.

As Catholics, the Church asks us to scrutinize our lives and to give up pleasurable things if they stand in the way of achieving some spiritual good. The Church must not continue to ignore the issues affecting animals and the repeatedly tolerated violence perpetrated against them by all of us, directly or indirectly, every day through the choices we make for pleasure, convenience and amusement. To continue in this participation and to turn a blind eye to what is happening diminishes our goodness and light.

Deeply ingrained social customs and habits constrain our moral action and awareness, and keep us from addressing issues which we prefer to ignore and sweep under the rug. The Church needs to bring animals into consciousness through Gospel teachings, worship and ministry. To accept the status quo is choosing the wide and easy path. If we are to revere life, we must revere all life and that includes nonhuman life.

As many Catholics know, St Francis shared a deep love for God and nature. He loved animals and thought of God as a great artist who was best known through His creations. Francis believed that destroying any living creature was a sin against God and humanity. He called all his fellow creatures ‘sister’ and ‘brother’. He forbade friars to chop down living trees, and he would pick worms off the firewood to keep them from being burned. In the winter he brought warm wine and honey to the wild bees. Once he traded his cloak for two lambs that were being hauled to the butcher. One of those devoted sheep followed Francis everywhere.6 Francis’s life was filled with similar incidents and interactions with animals. Francis subsisted on roots and berries and recognized centuries ago what so many of us forget today: animals are our friends, not food.

It is my fervent hope that Pope Francis will change the Catechism’s teaching on animals and take every opportunity within his power – with the help of St Francis – to lessen the burden of suffering on the animal world. I also pray that Catholics everywhere will raise their voices for all those in bondage and will alter their behaviors to better reconcile with their beliefs that animals matter morally.


1.PETA. Meat production wastes natural resources. Retrieved from

2. Cornell Chronicle. (August 7, 1997). U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat, Cornell ecologist advises animal scientists. Retrieved from

3. Mercy for Animals. Hatchery horrors: The egg industry’s tiniest victims. Retrieved from

4./5. Linzey, A. (2000). Animal Gospel. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

6. Kennedy, R. F. (2005) Saint Francis of Assisi: A life of joy. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.