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The Friends We Keep

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    Laura Hobgood-Oster gets some loving from Tiny, a dog at the Georgetown Animal Shelter (Photo courtesy of Jimmy Smith).
    Jimmy Smith
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    Laura Hobgood-Oster signs copies of her new book at a bookstore in the Washington, D.C., area

Professor’s new book combines her academic interest with her passion for animals

What does Christianity have to say about how we currently treat animals?  

Laura Hobgood-Oster, a religion professor at Southwestern University, addresses this question in her latest book, The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals.  

The book focuses on what Hobgood-Oster believes to be the most important contemporary issues involving animals: animals as food, animals in sport, animals as companions, and endangered species.It also places animal-human relationships in the history of Christianity by using biblical texts that help frame the topic and stories about saints who helped animals through the centuries.

“Compassion for animals is an inherent idea in Christianity,” Hobgood-Oster says. “We lost it in the 16th and 17th centuries with the rise of humanism, the Enlightenment, the Reformation, and the rise of urbanism.”  

Hobgood-Oster says she hopes her book will help people rethink their relationship with animals and lead to a better understanding of Christianity, both past and present.

“Can Christianity be a fully engaged, living tradition if it does not consider how the chicken got into the casserole at the potluck supper?” she asks in the introduction to the book.

The book draws on Hobgood-Oster’s lifetime of experiences with animals, from her childhood days camping with the wild horses on Assateague Island to her present work with a variety of animal rescue groups.  

For example, the book includes numerous pictures and stories about dogs from the Georgetown Animal Shelter and dogs she helped rescue during Hurricane Katrina. Many of the pictures were taken by Jimmy Smith, a kinesiology professor with whom Hobgood-Oster teaches a First-Year Seminar on dogs.  

She also writes about the St. Francis Wolf Sanctuary north of Houston, which she visits with students from her Animals and Religion class.  

Hobgood-Oster says she wrote the book to get some of her ideas out to a broader audience than she reaches with her academic books. She said the timing of the book is good because the Humane Society currently has a vibrant outreach program to the religious community.  

The book includes a resource guide and a discussion guide that she hopes religious groups and animal rescue groups will use to discuss what they can do to advocate on behalf of animals.

The Friends We Keep was released Oct. 1 by Baylor University Press to coincide with the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, who was the patron saint of animals. Even before its official release, the book received a lot of attention from the media. Hobgood-Oster was interviewed by reporters from the United Methodist Reporter, the Religion News Service and the Tampa Tribune.  

The Friends We Keep is Hobgood-Oster’s second book on this topic. Her first book, Holy Dogs and Asses: Animals in the Christian Tradition, was a historical survey of animals in the Christian tradition. She is now working on a third book that will be devoted to dogs historically and in contemporary culture.

Hobgood-Oster will do local signings of her book on Saturday, Feb. 5, at Book People in Austin (6 p.m.) and Saturday, Feb. 12, at Barnes and Noble in Round Rock (2-4 p.m.).

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