My Sister Loves Pets

My sister is a pet person and goes out of her way to treat her pets and has been known to pick up stray animals and get them to the vet for treatment. Sometimes this treatment can be very costly. The pets move into the house however months later the pet seems to become a financial expense along with the other animals she has. This causes a lot of problems because my sister does not budget her money and asks me to help her and loan her money to help with her activities to keep the pets fed and meet medical needs. What should I say to her?

Thomas J.

Dear Thomas,

We have a soft spot for both sisters and animals, so we feel for your dilemma. However, we make a firm point of answering the questions that Happy Warriors ask us not based on our feelings, which we consider unreliable, but upon the very specific Bible-based rules clarified in ancient Jewish wisdom.

One of these rules is that our charity obligations are best depicted by a series of concentric circles, rather like a darts board. In the smallest inner circle are our immediate family. In the next circle are our friends and extended family. In the next are the people living in our neighborhood, and in the one after that are the people of our town. And with each circle, our obligation diminishes. Were it not for this hierarchical principle for charity, we’d owe the same thing to a starving person we’d never met, on another continent six thousand miles away as we do to our hungry brother or sister. But we don’t.

Obviously, a sibling is only one step removed from a parent or child so the obligation to help is still fairly high. However, as we shall shortly explain, it is not at all limitless.

One of the wonderful things about how God created human beings is the individuality with which He endowed each of us. This extends to the charities we choose to support. While we may wish many worthwhile charities well, our finite resources of both time and money demand that we limit those we actually help.

Sometimes, a relative, friend or co-worker solicits our donation for a charity of his or her choice. Assuming that they are not asking us to support something which we oppose on principle, most of us will give a token amount in recognition of our caring about the relationship, even if this is not a charity that would rank high on our personal list.

Your sister is taking this idea to an extreme. Money is fungible. That means that money given for one purpose can easily be used for another. Foolish westerners, for example, sometimes feel a tug to donate to “humanitarian causes,” without doing due diligence. The person who wants to believe that they are feeding a hungry child may actually be contributing to white slavery, the building of missiles, and other heinous activities. Fortunately, your sister’s caring for sick animals does not fall into this category, but the principle applies.

It sounds like you are generously willing to help your sister with her needs. However, she may have needs such as an unpaid electric bill because she uses her funds on the strays that she takes in. In effect, she is asking you to support what she sees as her good deeds.

From your question, we think that in order to defend her self-respect, she asks you for ‘loans’ rather than for gifts. It is possible that the likelihood of her being able to pay back such loans is rather low. Please do not loan her money, but even if the sum you are willing to donate is smaller than the amount you might make available as a loan, we say make it a gift. That way your relationship with your sister stands less chance of being damaged.

We recommend that you decide exactly how much assistance you are willing to cheerfully and open-handedly give your sister each month, based not on how she spends it but instead in recognition of your relationship. At that point, she may indeed use the money unwisely in your opinion. However, both of you must be clear that there will be no more money coming than you originally pledged.

If you can stay firm in your resolve not to give more than you said you would, we hope that your sister will learn to take better care of recognizing her own limitations.

Being nice doesn’t mean being manipulated,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

In memory of Sigal Etach age 27, among all those butchered on October 7, 2023. Sigal did not escape the terrorists when she had a chance to do so, choosing to stay behind to help a friend,

With prayers for the release of all the hostages, in good health, among them Gong Sae Lao, age 26, who had come from Thailand to work and send money home to his family.

BONUS: This week, we are opening the comment section to all readers.
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6 thoughts on “My Sister Loves Pets”

  1. Curious to get an answer from the Rabbi and from Susan on this comment:

    Although I am not in favor of treating a pet as a child, I do think a pet can be as important to a family’s well-being as other family expenses. Would your answer change if the pet was extremely cute, smart, and brought joy to all who came in contact with her? In other words, a pet can be a very enriching, therapeutic, and stress relieving part of a family structure, and can be a vehicle to teach children responsibility and nurturing. For example, imagine a small brown and white dog that would intuitively know when to play ball with its owners, show overwhelming joy at the appearance of a friend, and provide young children with affection when they need it. These contributions to the members of the family are hard to weigh against other costs. Now, I’m not saying anyone should starve at the expense of a dog, but some additional debt for increasing the family’s joy seems very a reasonable trade-off, even at the expense of sibling’s support.

    It seems that the Torah holds dogs in particularly high esteem, which I am sure would be important to your answer. Is it not correct that the Torah considers dogs to be very special? In Exodus 11:7, there is reference in the 10th plague visited upon the Egyptians — the death of the first-born — that “not a dog shall snarl at any of the Israelites, at man or beast—in order that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.” It seems to me that the Torah identifies dogs as vehicles to distinguish between the specialness of the Jewish as God’s chosen people. Is this also the reason offered by the Midrash to explain a later verse (Exodus 22:30) that commands the Israelites to feed to dogs any flesh torn by beasts in the field?

    Based on this, it seems to me, that say cats or gerbils would be subject to your advice and be supported as if they are on the the outside concentric circle of needs, but dogs would be very much in the center of the concentric circle, and it is totally appropriate for the sibling to support a dog’s needs.

    1. Hi Misty. Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s schedule right now doesn’t give them time to answer but you bring up excellent Bible references and they wrote about those in April 2022 – Fail Your Way to Success (reprint from March 2016) Thought Tool. They also discuss animals in their new book The Holistic You. Blessings ~RDL Admin Team

  2. Dear Rabbi
    this one hits close to home since my mother was a shameless collector of animals and financially bled our family white right up until the day she died. she racked up thousands in vet bills and would drain anyone of resources she could. This badly affected all of us and our families and we had a massive mess to clean up after she passed.

    Animals are wonderful things that add richness to our lives but the is a limit to how many a person can care for properly.
    If a person wants to burden themselves beyond what they can reasonably support and care for it is wrong to expect someone to cover their expenses.
    Our ancestors knew that human need came first and animal second.

    I do not want to stand before God (sorry if that was a faux pas) and tell him how many stray cats I saved while people went without food, shelter or clothing. I am certain “well done good and faithful servant, enter into your rest” would not be what He had to say to me.
    You spend a lot of time telling us about how Socialists are trying to convince people we are just animals.
    People who obsess about puppies and kitties blur the lines very badly, to the point of dressing them up like children.
    You have probably heard or seen messages to the effect of “I hate people and love my dog (etc).

    What animal hoarders need is human relationship and a clear understanding of the boundaries between humans and animals.

    God Bless
    Praying for your (our) people

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Ross–
      You put this so well. Your letter was a pleasure to read both in style and content.
      Thanks for writing

  3. I was once asked to donate to an Aids charity by a gay man. He went around to everyone at the theater where I worked asking for a donation. At the time, I was working as an intern making $50 a month which went toward my lunch and gas money! He was disappointed that I would not even give him $5 and made me feel like dirt for not donating.

    1. Sharon, you’re making a good point. Regardless of the cause, asking for a contribution in a way that suggests that the person owes you the money, is wrong. A no should be graciously accepted, both on the surface and within one’s heart.

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