It would be easy to make a catalog of all the pets we've had over the years, but that's not the kind of "favorite animals" we're talking about. Favorite animals are those animals that have most thoroughly captured the imagination and love of humans. Okay, so maybe love is the wrong word to describe the dragon-craze or our enduring fascination with dinosaurs, but it surely applies to horses, dogs and cats.
The philosopher Plato had an idea that subsequent thinkers called "idealism." They didn't mean that Mr. Plato was an idealist in the way we'd call Rosa Parks or Gandhi idealists: the term idealism referred to the concept that for everything in the world (trees, chairs, noses), there was an ideal form or version of that thing in the spiritual realm.
According to Plato's theory, the azalea bush in your front yard is simply a physical representation of the perfect Azalea Bush floating who-knows-where in the infinite void. While we don't want to start any kind of philosophical war here, that's kind of the idea we're going for in this category. The animals you'll encounter in these stories, coloring books, and reference volumes embody "horseness," "catness," and "dragon-ness."
After all, the image Fred Gipson paints of Old Yeller is just a bit too good to be true. Sure, many of us have had a favorite dog who could do no wrong in our forgiving eyes, but Old Yeller is like every awesome dog who ever lived rolled into one mangy mutt. Which is the whole point—by creating a slightly unreallistic portrait of an old doggy, Gipson is able to celebrate doghood itself.
In a culture that generally looks only at the way things sometimes appear to be, however, it's easy to value animals too highly. Sure, they deserve our attention and care as representatives of creation, but no more. The Creator who made them is the only One deserving all our praise, glory and love; the animals He's made are simply avenues through which to show our worship and gratitude.