I saw this the other day in town. The fact that “rescued” is in a slightly larger font made me wonder: is the pride supposed to be in the dog or the rescuer? I fear that pets have become yet another staging ground for barely-disguised moral preening, along with farmer’s markets, hybrid vehicles, and screen-free living.

To be clear, I also eat healthier than most. I’ve owned a Prius. I use my smartphone mainly for work, otherwise as a glorified music storage/playback device. And I spent many years being unofficially involved in pit bull terrier rescue — taking unwanted dogs from backyard barrels and veterinary clinics, nursing them back to health and socializing them at home, and often adopting them out to new owners. I have no quarrel with any of these things, but I also consider them mostly incidental to my character. I wouldn’t be much different if I ate fast food, drove an F-150, and bought dogs from a neighbor’s litter, nor would I be measurably adding to or subtracting from the world’s total quantity of well-being. Perhaps it’s not for me to judge, but I like to think that I manage to keep my ego from bleeding over into all of my possessions and activities.

I’ve seen a different paw-print sticker that reads, “Who Rescued Who?” Again, I love animals and am nowhere near above acting silly and playful with them. But that just strikes me as mawkish self-absorption. Do you honestly think of yourself primarily as a broken mess of a human being, capable of being made whole only by the unconditional love of an animal? Why would you advertise that about yourself to any stranger within sight of your rear bumper? If encouraged, egoistic self-regard corrodes any restraining barrier it encounters until it reaches the sea level of being noticed for any reason. “You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves.” Orwell imagined the ultimate totalitarian state, in the form of O’Brien, threatening to impose this from without. Ironically, the more comfortable and saccharine life has become, the more we’ve birthed it from within.