I was meeting a friend for coffee whom I had not seen in some time. He was in town for a short visit, and we took advantage of a free afternoon to catch up. After the preliminary hello’s and how are you’s, he mentioned that he and his girlfriend had suffered the loss of their baby. I was devastated. How had I not known that he had had a child, let alone had lost that child? And then he clarified; the baby in question was their dog.
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 if you have to find a new home for him. It’s called being responsible. I read on one on-line 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 two dogs. They are members of our family and I am very fond of them. I make sure to spend some time with them every day, walk them, play with them, and keep their sleeping area, food bowls and yard clean. They gets their snuggles, and they have a warm spot to nap in. But they are NOT on the same level as my kids.
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.