Remember Pet Parents On Mother’s Day

I actually don’t call myself a “pet-parent,” nor do I call my dog my “fur-baby.” I like such terms, but I tend to avoid using them, myself. The only reason for this is because I don’t want to give ammunition to people who would accuse me of doting on my dog only to “make up” for not having children. There’s nothing more irritating than being told that I’m misdirecting my “natural maternal instincts” whenever I take care of my dog properly. 

I understand why people do call themselves “pet-parents,” and their animal companions “fur-babies.” It seems cruel, for one thing, to refer to pets as property to be owned. Animals aren’t toys, or decorations, or accessories. They’re thinking, feeling, living beings who we are fully responsible for as caretakers. It is our duty, when we take animals in, to see to their physical and mental wellbeing to the best of our ability. We are to raise our animal companions in stable, loving homes. To do any less is negligent. From the moment you bring an animal home, it is your responsibility for the rest of its life, not just until caring for it becomes inconvenient for you. If you aren’t prepared for that responsibility, get a picture of an animal instead. “Pet-parents” understand this. The specific things one is responsible for may be different, but the level of responsibility between caring for pets and caring for children is the same.

Additionally, the use of the terms “pet-parent” and “fur-baby” relate to the pet’s role within the family. It doesn’t matter if the animal isn’t a human child, the bond between someone responsible enough to take pet care seriously and that pet, is comparable to that between a mother and human child. This is especially pronounced in families without children, which are a growing segment of the population, but is a dynamic that should be present in any home with a pet anyway. My dog is certainly part of my family of three, and we take good care of her and love her dearly. Mothers don’t have the monopoly on love, on bonding, on care-taking, or on family.

In outrage that us mere non-moms would use such terminology, Susan Maushart, has written a piece for Huffington Post attacking the convention.

Because Pet Parents Are Moms Too!

I hate to be a bitch about this — but hey, female dogs are people too, right? — but when I read that subject line on an ASPCA email this week, it really gave me hairballs.

This reminds me, I really should subscribe to the ASPCA’s newsletter.

As for dogs being people, some people would argue that they could be considered such. I’m certainly more inclined to consider a dog a person than I am to consider a corporation or a human fetus to be such. 

I am a pet owner and I am a mom, and frankly, my dear, the two have about as much in common as a goldfish does to Godzilla. Rub my nose in it if you like, but it’s about time this whole “Pet Mommy” thing got some serious yanking back.

If you’re a responsible caretaker of your pet at all, then the burden that comes with that should be at least comparable to childcare. Dogs have needs beyond kibble and water. They need love and attention. They need socialization. They need positive reinforcement and encouragement. They need to be played with. They need to exercise. They need to have fun and experience new things. They need to be given rules and boundaries. They need to learn and be stimulated mentally. They need to be respected. They need to be rewarded with treats and toys and experiences they’ll enjoy. If you’re taking care of your dog right, you’re doing a lot of work.

For years now, it’s been accepted usage for pet owners — invariably child-free pet owners — to refer to their dogs and cats as their “kids,” and to do so without apparent irony. And an estimated $50 billion a year in pet-related goods and services currently fuels this delusion. Doggie daycare. Pet strollers. Halloween costumes. Veterinary insurance.

She says “invariably,” but non-childfree people often refer to themselves and others as “pet-parents” as well, especially if they work in a field that involves constant interaction with pets. There aren’t that many of us childfree folks, you know.

Animals are expensive, especially when they’re cared for right. I’ve had Molly for less than a year, and I’ve already dropped over a thousand dollars on her in 

the form of a plane ticket, a crate, food, toys, a bed, a home pet-dish, a portable pet dish, a harness, a seat-belt, a car tarp, treats, training tools, hygiene products, two leashes, a collar, tags, pet fees at home and when traveling, training classes, a backpack for hiking, and veterinary bills. And every bit of it was absolutely necessary in order to take proper care of her.

Doggy-day care is actually a great idea. Dogs have feelings too, and it’s not uncommon for them to experience separation anxiety when left home alone. Their nervousness at this situation may cause them to be more likely to be destructive than they otherwise would be. Dogs get lonely, bored, and scared just like anyone else. And if a care-taker is likely to be away for an extended period, it’s nice to know that the dog will be let out when it needs out, and that it will have adequate food and water. Additionally, dogs are social animals and being around other dogs is great for their enjoyment, and their emotional wellbeing. It’s good to socialize dogs with strange dogs and people. It’s certainly better than leaving them at home alone all day. I don’t use doggie day care myself, as someone is usually home, but I certainly see the appeal.

Pet strollers are another good idea for small breeds. Little dogs still need exercise, but they might tire on a walk long before a human does.

Halloween costumes are just a bit of fun. The author even admits to having her own dog wear one.

Veterinary insurance is a must! Medical care for pets can be expensive. I hate to see animals that could otherwise be saved and restored to good health simply because the care-taker was to cheap to actually follow through on their responsibility to their pet. I’d like to remind the class that animals aren’t toys to be discarded when broken. They’re living beings who you take responsibility for.

What? No college fund?

Actually, I’ve already spent a pretty penny on training courses for my dear Molly. When I get the time and the money, I’ll bring her to more classes still. Eventually, I’d like to have her certified as a therapy dog. It’s not exactly a four-year university, but it’s a considerable amount of training for a dog, and a considerable financial investment for myself.

There’s even an entire new literary genre riding on the back of our boundary confusion: “dogoir” — a heartwarming, first person narrative centering on the relationship dynamics between ordinary pet-owners and their spiritually gifted-and-talented woofspring.

Do you feel your ears perking up? Think about it. When’s the last time you picked up an inspirational book about child-rearing? Never. Because there is no such thing.

Actually, yeah, there is a ton of baby-worshipping, diaper-sniffing, umbilical cord-gazing drivel literature out there. It’s a flat lie to state otherwise. Hell, there are entire blog communities centered not just around the practical aspects of child-rearing, but the qualities of the relationship that are either romanticized or entirely imagined.

Real parents write bestsellers with titles like Go the F**k to Sleep and The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Real parents write survival guides. Field notes. Training manuals. Not freaking fantasy fiction with fur.

Actually, most “real parents” don’t write anything at all except facebook posts about the latest diaper blowout.

It’s become ideologically unsound to say so in public, but you and I both know that pets are stupid. Not just “slow” or “differently intelligent” — just plain stupid. (When we say a poodle is intelligent, we forget that we are speaking in purely relative terms. Compared to a pincushion, sure.) That’s not a moral failing. It’s not something we love them in spite of. It’s something we love them because of.

Pets aren’t stupid. It’s nonsense to say they are. It’s nothing but speciesist snobbery to hold the intelligence of another species to the standard as a human. Suppose I said humans were clumsy and compared them to cats to do so? Suppose I said humans were blind and compared them to hawks? Suppose I said humans were slow and compared them to antelope?

These “kids” of ours eat their own vomit, run straight into oncoming traffic and hump the furniture. Hello? Is that a reflection of their intelligence? Even more to the point, is that a reflection on our “parenting”?

Human children do the same things and worse. Both need to be taught not to. If the author’s pet does the things mentioned, then she has failed in her responsibilities to her dog.

As for dogs, most can be housebroken within weeks of birth if the human cares enough and knows what they’re doing. Cats can be litter-trained at a similarly young age, often with little involvement on the part of any human. Cats can even be taught to use toilets. Human children? You’re lucky if they’ve stopped wetting the bed by age five.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me significant that we cannot crate our children. Nor can we expect them to heel, appreciate table scraps or take well to shock-collaring. At the same time, we do not fight for Angry Birds access with our cats. Our dogs waste little time on social media, and can almost always be counted on to say ‘no’ to drugs. And if they dress provocatively, I think it’s fair to say we only have ourselves to blame.

Actually, human children do get “crated,” if you think about it. They’re called cribs and play-pens. Even older children are often “crated” in their own bedrooms. And if you’re a decent parent, you’d better be able to expect the child to heel.

Shock collars are abuse. They shouldn’t be used on any animal. Shock collars are used on dogs and not on children because of speciesism. It’s as simple and horrible as that.

As for the rest, the author has only demonstrated why pets are better than children.

This Mothers Day, let’s remember that, as much as we adore our animals — and full disclosure: I dressed my pug as a monarch butterfly last Halloween, and it was awesome — they are not our children. To pretend otherwise makes monkeys of all of us.

Until there is a nationally-recognized holiday specifically celebrating pets, I think Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are perfectly acceptable times to celebrate our animal companions. (Share!) Anyone who would call themselves “pet-parents” is completely justified in doing so.

As for myself, apart from occasionally referring to Molly as my “baby,” I don’t pretend that my dog is the same as human child. She’s better, as far as I’m concerned. I much prefer dogs. Why would I pretend that she was something less desirable to me, right?
Kidding aside, no one is affected by using the term “pet-parent,” especially as the prefix “pet” makes the term very clear in meaning and avoids any confusion. So there’s really no sense in getting pissy over it. Calm down, Maushart. 

Happy Mother’s Day, pet mamas!

Posted on 2012/04/30, in Animals, childfree, Dog, Humanism, Molly, Parenting Fails, People and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. I don’t consider myself a cat mom — perhaps because I’ve only ever had adult rescue animals and we start off our relationship more as equals. I do consider Brie to be a wonderful friend and close companion. Our relationship, while certainly different from any I could have with a human, is calm, affectionate, and fulfilling. However, I don’t have a problem with other people considering their animal companions kids, referring to themselves as parents. What other people choose to call themselves does not have any effect on this relationship *I* have with another being. So what if pet people call themselves parents? It doesn’t invalidate Susan’s experience of being a mother in any way.

    I’m kind of offended by her statement that pets are stupid. My cat lived as a blind stray for two years before a rescue caught her. She can still open virtually any door in the house and has an uncanny knack for getting out her own food and helping herself without waking the humans. I’d like to see a baby do half as well. Animal intelligence is different from human intelligence, but that doesn’t mean that they’re stupid.

    • Julie Was Here

      Blind stray for two years? That’s amazing. You’re wonderful for taking those animals in and giving them loving homes.

  2. I ws so happy to read your post… if more people saw their animals as part of their family then maybe there wouldn’t be so much animal cruilty.

    • Julie Was Here

      Agreed. Too many people see animals as accessories, decorations, and toys. That line of thinking has lead to more suffering than I can stand to think about.

  3. Shelly Lyon

    I stand, applaud, and yell, “Alright, Julie!” My dogs tilt their heads and look at me as if I am crazed. Bravo as usual.

  4. Snark Shark

    “Doggy-day care is actually a great idea”

    I work at one, so it’s good to hear! :)

  5. Great post. I want to like HuffPo, and I do most of the time, but every once in a while they post something like the article you quote and it’s just frustrating. Thanks for the rebuttal. :)

    (BTW, in my browser at least, there were a couple quotes from the Huffington Post article that were formatted the same as your bits instead of in red.)

    • Julie Was Here

      Arg. Formatting is so annoying. Some things slip my net. Thanks for the correction, I’ll get to it as soon as I’m at a computer again.

  6. Bravo indeed. Thankyou for another wonderfully written and intelligent piece. I am a parent to two wonderful dogs – and I tend to use the term fur-baby purely because it’s a concept other people understand. I don’t really care if they think I’m misdirecting my maternal instincts if it stops them bingoing me.

  7. My cats are far smarter and superior to kids anyday. Cats love you with their purring and laying on bed, but a kid is completely thankless of it’s parent and could very well grow up to not be a productive citizen. I’d much rather spend my life caring for my cats.

  8. Wow that lady seems ridiculously bitter over word use that really has nothing to do with her except that she chooses not to use the terms. When someone told me I was going to be a “pet parent” before I adopted my dog, I thought it was a little silly, but after I moved in with my husband and we had two dogs, we fell into referring to each other as mom and dad when talking to the dogs as in “go to dad” “mom has your treats; go get them.” It’s just an easy way to refer to each other and less awkward than using our first names.I’m with you. I don’t think of my dogs as a replacement for children and actually prefer having them to having children. P.S Molly is adorable.

    • Julie Was Here

      You know what? I don’t use terms like “pet-parent” or “fur-baby,” much myself. It’s the woman’s tone, her condescending attitude that pissed me right the hell off and made me write this post. If it weren’t for that, I might have ignored her entirely.

      If I had to give some kind of psychological analysis, I think the woman is very insecure. She has to believe herself as some kind of mother-goddess, and so she feel s threatened when people with pets steal her thunder from her.

  9. Molly is sooo cute! What breed is she? I’ve always wanted horses (you can’t gallop through beautiful scenery on a child) so they’ll keep me more than occupied :) They also don’t emit ear piercing noises.

    • Julie Was Here

      Molly is a golden retriever mixed with something else (I don’t know what.) She was found as a stray in South Carolina, and brought to an animal shelter, from which she was adopted by my little brother. My brother and his wife weren’t able to take care of her, for a number of reasons, so I brought her to Colorado. She’s now healthy, happy, and loved in her forever home.

  1. Pingback: Remember Pet Parents On Mother's Day « The Hiking Humanist | petlover

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