Monday, December 6, 2010

I'm sorry, your dog is not your baby

I was in the airport two months ago, picking John up after his trip to Italy. Or rather, waiting to pick him up -- his flight was tied up in customs for quite awhile. While I was waiting and watching the monitors, I struck up a conversation with a stranger. He mentioned -- as everyone eventually must -- that I have a baby, and asked how old and all that. "My baby is 18 months old," he shared. "She's a terrier."

Ugh. Not this comment again. I hate it when people say that. Of course I was polite and asked about his dog, but I was not happy. I mean, there are so many things wrong with the statement "My dog is my baby."

The first, and most obvious one, is this. Your dog has parents. His parents are other dogs. If your dog could talk, he might mention that his mom and dad are other dogs, not you. He could also say that he is an adult dog, not a baby. He is housebroken, weaned, and capable of basic self-care. For all I know, he might point out that he doesn't like dressing up in adorable clothes and going by Fluffles Scruffles. You never know.

The second is that your dog is a dog. He is not a human. He doesn't want what humans want or think what humans think. He flourishes best on dog food and not on people food. He would probably rather play than snuggle a lot of the time. From what I've heard from people who have trained dogs, they generally see their owners as pack leaders rather than parents. After all, dogs do not usually keep up close relationships with their parents once they're grown up.

Third, if you think taking care of a dog is like having a kid, it's no wonder you have no respect for parents. Think of all those people who disdain babies, who react to a baby's cry with "Why don't they keep him quiet?" Do they think it's as easy to keep a baby happy as to keep a dog happy? When I introduce my son and people say, "Oh, I know just what it's like. I have a dog baby," I feel insulted. You just said my son is the equivalent of a pet. Thanks so much.

Fourth, if you think taking care of a dog is like having a kid, you're not going to be prepared if you ever do have children. Dogs need to be fed a couple of times a day, let out to go to the bathroom (and sometimes trained to go at the right time and place), walked, brushed from time to time, and played with. Babies need to be fed at least every couple of hours. They need to be changed very frequently. They don't sleep through the night for a long time. They sometimes cry inconsolably and need to be rocked, even for hours. Their needs are constantly changing and all-encompassing. I keep hearing from parents who are shocked at how hard it is. Sure, it's demanding, but I wasn't surprised by that. If I'd thought it was like having a dog? Yeah, I'd definitely have been unprepared.

Fifth, call me an animal hater, but I think our responsibility is first to our own species. I do love animals very much. I believe that it is wrong to cause suffering to an animal, and that you should never kill an animal -- or even cut down a tree -- without reason. I believe that we were given the earth to be stewards, not owners. We should care for it like a trusted property manager would, not like a bunch of college students trashing a rented beach house. If you're going to take on the responsibility of a pet, you should give that pet what it needs to live a happy, fulfilled life.

However, if you aren't able to do this for your pet, it doesn't make you a horrible person to find a new home for him. It's called being responsible. I read on a pregnancy forum some time ago the complaint of a pregnant cat owner. She said she wasn't able to give the cat the attention she used to, and the cat was getting very anxious and licking all the fur off her paws. She was considering finding the cat a new home. People commented on her post angrily, "When your baby is born, if he's too much trouble, will you just give him away to a stranger?" I'm sorry, that's different. Your child is your own flesh and blood. Your cat is not.

If you believe in evolution, you understand that, for the survival of our species, we are hardwired to produce offspring and to protect them. Taking care of a dog or other pet and saying it's like having a baby is "faking out" your instincts, convincing them that you are reproducing when you're not.

For what it's worth, I have a cat. She is a member of our family and I am very fond of her. I make sure to spend some time with her every day, and John keeps her food and water topped up and her litter box clean. She gets her snuggles, and she has a warm spot to nap in. But she isn't on the same level as my son. I don't let the baby pull her fur out (though he'd like to!), but if she's meowing around my feet while the baby is crying, I take care of the baby first. She is an adult; she can wait. Baby can't.

It's just a pet peeve of mine; I know many people who call their dogs their babies don't really mean it's the same. It's just an expression of affection and a tease about how needy their dogs are. But some people really do think it's the same, and that bugs me.


Anonymous said...

"On seeing certain wealthy foreigners in Rome carrying puppies and young monkeys about in their bosoms and fondling them, Caesar asked, we are told, if the women in their country did not bear children, thus in right princely fashion rebuking those who squander on animals that proneness to love and loving affection which is ours by nature, and which is due only to our fellow-men."--Plutarch, Life of Pericles

But, wow, I've never heard anyone call their dog their baby before. I am now enlightened.


Sarah Faith said...

love this post, i totally agree! It's infuriating.

Serenity said...

I strongly disagree. I don't have dogs, but who is anyone to tell others who's their baby or not? In a wealthy country like the U.S. where human life is considered sacred and it is apparently considered a crime to kill another being, it makes sense that we don't have to worry about human life and instead can care for animals, even if that, in some people's minds, means considering their pets their babies. In a country like Afghanistan, now, that'd be a whole different story -- I can understand why someone would say, "What the hell. That's not your baby!"

Of course, to you be your opinion, but I disagree that something can't be our baby just because it's not of the same species as ours or has other parents. Would you also argue that an adopted child isn't the child of the adopted parents, since that child has her/his own parents who gave birth to her/him? If so, I'd disagree there as well. Just because you've got other parents doesn't mean you can't be considered a child by those who didn't give birth to you.

So, yeah, I don't have dogs, but if I had any other pets, I'd consider them my babies as well. Why not to when you love and care so much for them?

Anonymous said...

I have 3 babies. One of them was adopted. I also have pets. They are not my babies...they are family members, yes, but not "babies."

I do realize the commenter above was responding to statements about parentage and "flesh and blood" in this post; HOWEVER - intentional or not - the commenter used those words to - in disagreement - compare a DOG to an ADOPTED CHILD.

And so....along the lines of the frustration the OP was trying to express....I have to point out that is one of the MANY things WRONG with "my pet is my baby" mindset.

I have a coworker who is mourning the loss of her cat right now. I feel for her...but she has talked several times about how he was "her baby". And now he's "her little boy." I am sorry....but NO MATTER how much you love your pet, losing a pet is not like losing a child.

It's just not.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if my earlier comment got through, but I have serious issues with the comment above.

Love your pets, yes. Love them deeply. But an ADOPTED a pet.

Because you seem to think this is a valid argument for your point, you clearly have no idea how offensive this is. Kindly educate yourself on the issues around this kind of statement before making it again. PLEASE.

All the "..." is to express how hard my voice would be shaking if I were saying this.

Sheila said...

Sorry, Anon -- I've enabled comment moderation on older posts, so it took a bit for yours to be published. I agree with you entirely. An adopted child might not be directly biologically related to you, but they are still the same KIND as you. They can grow up to be like you. I babysat two adopted children, clearly with different genes than their parents, who still had their mother's smile. It's a great thing about people, that we have the generosity to adopt children instead of simply relying on biology to tell us whom to love, but pets are different. Pets will never grow up to be like you, to learn your values, to share your dreams. They don't even have the remotest potential to do so. And, like I said, I think our duty is first to our own species, before others.

Some people don't see the difference between people and animals. Most animals do.

Sheila said...

Oh, and another thing. Your goal, as a parent, is to bring your child to adulthood and independence. The whole point of having a pet is to keep him dependent on you. So you can have your "baby" forever without having to do the letting go that is the hard part of parenting. It's like parenting lite.

I'm feeling a little iffy about some of my phrasing because it sounds like a retarded child would not be a "real" child either. I don't mean that, though it's a little harder to explain. I guess I'm brought back on, our responsibility is to our species. We have the duty to protect our species, and nurture the children of our species. If someone was pointing a gun at a child and one at a dog, and made me choose which to shoot -- I'd have them shoot the dog. My duty is to the child -- even if it was a disabled child. A disabled child is still a person; even the smartest dog is not.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sheila - I am anonymous. Your wording wasn't perfect because you were angry. How human of you! ; )

I don't believe people who see pets as "babies" do the pets any favors either. Animals don't need to be people.

While I do know some people with children who still call their dogs "babies", they don't mean their kids and their pets are equivalent. It's just a figure of speech. One that annoys me, but still...

People who DO compare pets and children... personally just wish they could get their heads around the reality that they are being offensive.

please forgive if this posts 2x - I am having an off day....

Anonymous said...

You are possibly being a bit insensitive. What if this woman cannot have children of her own and is using her animals to help fill a void that many people going through feritily issues do...including me. While i do love my pets very much and often call them my fur-babies, there is nothing that me or my husband want more than a baby. So perhaps before you portray your disgust, judgement and annoyance at the way people treat their animals maybe you should look at things from a different perspective. I am pretty positive that people understand that dogs are not really children but are using the animal to fill some other gap in their lives. Consider your self lucky to have children without costly medications and treatments, daily injections, etc. And by the way, when i am having a rough, tired day after fertility treatments, my dogs are there to lay by my side and offer whatever comfort dogs possibly can.

Anonymous said...

So glad to hear someone else feels the same way. It irks me to hear the terms "fur baby," "dog parent," and the like. It also bothers me when people refer to their pets as part of the family. They're still just pets; they are not human.

Erin said...

I absolutely love this post more than words can say! Ironically I have worked at a veterinarians office for over six years, and I do like animals very much. But I cannot stand the humanization of animals.
A couple of weeks ago I was speaking to one of our clients about her dog, and then made a reference to my son. She actually assumed I meant canine or feline son, and seemed surprised when I said that I was actually referencing my own child! What, somebody who works at a vet and likes animals should not have their own family? Except for furry family members? How anybody could be stupid enough to take pregnancy and birth, (or a long and emotional adoption process in some cases), of a child, the sleepless nights, the teaching of morals and ethics, the molding of who you hope your human child will grow up to be one day, and compare this to a DOG, is beyond me!! An adoption of a dog is something taken much more lightly, and sorry no matter how much you love your dog, it is not a life changing event the way having a child would be.
Your puppy comes home, you teach it to potty outside and not to chew your shoes, feed it some healthy kibble every day and hopefully make it learn to sit and lay down. That is all. Your child on the other hand, grows and develops in leaps and bounds over an 18 year period. You must teach them to learn, to care for others, To be a responsible and contributing citizen to the world. And even after the growing up is done there are still graduations, and watching your own baby someday walk down the aisle and then possibly have their own children. This is ultimately so much more rewarding than any pet could ever be,, and that is not even touching on the subject of how much more difficult parenthood is then ownership of a pet.
You can crate your dog when you're not home, and on the same subject yes you can actually go out somewhere without your pet and do what you want for a few hours whenever you feel like it! You don't have to worry about your dog or cat being bullied in school, or learning bad language, or getting into fights with other children. It is not nearly as demanding to entertain your pet, or potty train it, or prepare meals for it.
And finally, to get on the subject of love. I am so incredibly sick and tired of pet owners comparing the love a pet has for you to the way your child would feel. I have heard many an owner claim that their pet is more loving than a child would ever be. Well do you want to know why this is? Because your pet is relatively stupid! Pets do not have the IQ or the understanding capability to rebel against you the way a child would. No they don't get angry with you, or throw tantrums, or try to get even or harbor a grudge. But this is all because their IQ is well below the level of even a small child. Don't even get me started on how pets are more loyal to you then people are, if your pet had the intelligence of a person it would betray you just as quickly as your best friend or your sibling!!

But go ahead wacky pet owners, keep on fooling yourselves.

Anonymous said...

I do not have children. I do have 3 working dogs; 2 Aussie cattle dogs and 1 border collie. I care for my dogs a great deal, but they are not my "babies". It is a sign of the times that overly-indulged people consider their pets to be "babies."

Unknown said...

I LOVE this post!!!! Thank you!

James said...

I met a woman. She is beyond wonderful. But I soon realized she treats her dog like a baby. It's unsettling to see her project human emotions and needs onto this dog. The dog behaves terribly. I can't have a long term relationship with this otherwise wonderful woman because her dog would reek havoc on my otherwise peaceful lifestyle!

Art and Dee said...

AMEN!!! LOVE!!!! I agree on every point!!! AMEN!!! I can't say it enough!! It totally gets under my skin when people talk about their pet as their baby. SICK!!!
We live in a world of dehumanization and elevating pet/animals. So frustrating!!! and So wrong!

Erin said...

Yes they offer comfort. Yes they are special to you. But they. Are. Still. Not. Babies.

King_Richard_III said...

A guy I know was invited to his daughter's house. He was told he couldn't bring his dog into his daughter's house, because the house was rented and the dog might mess it up. He told his daughter that if his 'baby' the dog couldn't come, he wouldn't come either. True story.
So inconsiderate!
I mean, it's as if his spoiled little dog was more important to him than his own daughter!

But in the end, he went to his daughter's house without his dog.

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