Friday, December 10, 2004

Parenting Lite

I can’t believe that this post is warranted, but based on office conversations with staunch pet owners, it appears to be. While explaining that they were putting off buying a home in order to pay for their very old dog’s hip surgery, my co-worker tried to equate it to a child needing surgery.

First of all, let me start by saying that I am not anti-pet, or pro-child. I have both pets and children, and I like them both. But, I also have an opinion.

And here it is. As obvious as it should be to most people, I think it bears saying, that owning a pet is not the same as parenting a child.

I will concede that there are, in fact many similarities. Pets and children both have to be taught correct behavior. They both need to be fed and bathed regularly. They both do cute things, are generally cuddly, and warrant a picture of them on your desk. They have to be cleaned up after and, on occasion, they break your heart. They are both loved dearly by you.

But, that’s where it pretty much ends. Pet-ownership does not entail the level of responsibility, risk, and consequences associated with child-rearing. If you mistreat your cat, or fail to teach him good values, you don’t really have to worry about whether or not he will grow up to be maladjusted, a menace to society, or a mass murderer. If you’re unable to help your dog pass her obedience class, it doesn’t affect her future options for employment. If you had to choose between saving your horse’s life or your own, for most people it wouldn’t really be a difficult decision. Your children really are the future, so how you raise and protect them is truly important to society

You can love your pet with all your heart, bond with them very closely, and provide them with all the things you would your child (i.e. daycare, expensive, life-saving medical treatments, and premium health food) but the consequences of you not doing this are not the same as if it were a child, no matter what you tell me.

Pet-ownership is Parenting-Lite. It’s like going on a roller coaster in lieu of sky diving. The risks and consequences are lower. Which is fine. I’m not saying you should have kids, and I’m not implying that you shouldn’t spend thousands of dollars to replace your aged dog’s failing hip. Would I? Likely not, but that’s just me. You can do whatever you want with your pet.

Just don’t tell me that your dog is equal to my kid. And do not say, “If it were your son you’d give them the surgery!” You’re right, I would. Because, as remote a possibility as it is, my kid can grow up to shape the world, but your Great Dane cannot.

12 Comments:

At 3:16 PM, Blogger Carmi said...

Thank you from all us long-suffering parents who have had to endure the "you'd do it if it were your kid" speech from rabid pet owners.

As a parent and a pet pwner as well, I fully appreciate what you're saying. Too bad the other participant in this discussion will never have the wherewithal to read your blog. This person might learn something in the process.

(While I'm at it, I'll vent a little: people without kids who say they know what a parent is going through because "I took care of my nephew for the afternoon." Yes, babysitting eminently qualifies you for honorary parenthood, you know. I guess the fact that you can simply give them back to Mom and Dad and walk away never really occurred to you. Argh!)

 
At 4:19 PM, Blogger sxKitten said...

I agree completely. While I love my dog, he's not the first family member I'd grab if the house were on fire. And much as I love him, I'm not sure I'd put him through the pain of major surgery at this point in his life. It's different with people - children or otherwise. We can understand that it's going to hurt now, or for 6 weeks, but that we'll feel better eventually. A dog cannot make that leap. If he hurts, he hurts. If you're buying him an extra 6 months of lessened pain by putting him through 6 weeks of intensified pain, are you really doing him a favour?

I left one vet because his solution to my dog's chronic ear infections (yeast, so they weren't painful and didn't bother the dog) was surgery - drill a new hole into his ear canal and put in a permanent drain. Which would mean no more swimming. Ever. My dog LOVES the water - breaks through the ice in winter to swim. So I'm pretty sure he'd rather lose a leg than give up swimming.

If it's a child, OK, I'd think about it. If they can't swim, they can take up skating, or soccer, or papier mache. But take away swimming from a water dog, and what's he got left?

Ditto for hip replacement - how much short term suffering do you inflict, and for what long term gain? You can't explain to a dog why he's hurting, or that it's for his own good.

 
At 7:00 PM, Blogger Amelia said...

How very well said! I totally agree with you and know what you mean about people who have this pet/child equivilance attitude.

 
At 9:47 PM, Blogger Kate said...

Good post, I would say the same. My sister, a few years ago, had a beloved cat develop diabetes. Then get over the diabetes. (Don't ask me.)
Then, the vet found tumors. My sister paid for the surgery on top of the diabetes and other stuff, and it wasn't cheap. He died about two months after they found the tumors anyway.

Carmi,
I'll have to disagree with you about your rant. While I don't have children, I can feel what a parent feels. I'm not trying to minimize what you feel as a parent. Still, the human capacity for imagination and empathy holds very few limits, as it must for writers to tackle subjects with which they have no direct experience.

 
At 10:36 PM, Blogger Diva said...

Trillian, I don't disagree with what you have said, but please try to remember that some of us aren't childless by choice - we may want children but either cannot or don't because of circumstance. Sometimes it's just a childless person's way of making up for it. It's no slight on real parents and the responsibilities that entails.

 
At 12:43 AM, Blogger Kicking Bitch said...

Ooh, juicy post, Trillian.
I'm not a parent...I always have thought I will have kids though, someday. I would never say I knew what it was like to be a parent just because I've babysat before and inadvertently taught somebody's child the F word.
In the meantime, I own a cat. And I don't even really like my cat. He's kind of an a**hole. But I adopted him, took responsibility and I've had him for 9 years now, and I take care of him; food, water, shots, vet appointments, etc.
Recently, Brimm has developed chronic hairballs and despite the hairball goop that you can buy at the store, he's still having them. My mother says he needs to go to the vet. Money is tight right now. It's kind of "do we eat" or "does the cat go to the vet and have (most likely) nothing diagnosed"?
My mother likened it (sorta) to parenthood. You MUST take a baby to the doctor. But for some reason, we don't always feel 100% obligated to take an animal to the vet. And she was right.
And if it comes down to it, it's like my favorite teacher taught me in high school. You should always pick the long term rather than the short term. If I was only going to buy a pet an extra 6 (uncomfortable) months, when it had already had a pretty good life, I would put the animal down.
Sorry so long.

 
At 1:35 AM, Blogger Rich Rosenthal II said...

My sister in law says she thinks she is ready for the aby that is coming because she has been practicing with the cat. I'm afraid for the child.

 
At 12:08 AM, Blogger Kicking Bitch said...

Hahahah! Yeah, if I based my parenting skills on my cat-owning skills I would yell "stop clawing the damn carpet!" and "get off the keyboard!" a lot. That's just no way to raise a child.

 
At 1:24 PM, Blogger Rachel - Wicked Ink said...

I have a cousin who has spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars on her cat. Where I sit, is having been raised on a farm, where there were new cats each spring, and we butchered our cows, chickens and pigs. I don't think animals are completely indispensible, but I think we choose based on our abilities. Do I feed my child or the cat?

Problem is, so many people want or need a pet around to assist them with the depression they fall into when dealing with money struggles. Companionship and a feeling of being responsible for another being, keeps them working at it. Or, so says my friend who earns minimum wage and now has 4 cats. She volunteers at the SPCA and takes in sick kittens, feeds them and nurtures them back to health, falls in love and winds up adopting them. Oh, and she is very very poor, in the midst of declaring bankruptcy. She says the cat food isn't that expensive, but I am thinking any expense is expensive. But perhaps that is coldhearted me.

 
At 11:39 AM, Blogger Trillian said...

I think you've all made some really good points. Despite my hating to hear my kids compared to a dog, I should try to remember where people are coming from when they make the statements that they do! I must remember that some people only have their pets, and I should cut them some slack. I'd also be more than willing to let them take my kids for the weekend. But that's a different post!

Ironically, I'll be spending over $400 after Christmas to have my kittys spayed (even the one who ignores me), given their shots, and remove their one non-retractable polydactyl finger claw before they completely demolish my carpet. I swear, it's like they have velcro on their paws.

 
At 1:39 AM, Blogger Kicking Bitch said...

Hahaha! Our dog has gotten so accustomed to the cat getting yelled at when the cat claws the carpet that now the dog goes and barks at the cat if he hears it clawing. That makes two people and a dog yelling at him if he's clawing the carpet...you'd think he'd learn to use the stupid cat scratch post I bought him.

 
At 11:39 AM, Blogger Francesca said...

I appreciate your post and everyone else's comments.

But as a childless mother to four pets, I feel like I have to stick up for this other guy. Now I KNOW that a pet can never equal a child to those of you who have both kids and animals. But to those of us who only have pets and who may never have children of our own, our pets are pretty damn close to children for us. For some of us, our lives revolve around the animals as much as they would around children. We are willing to make some pretty big sacrifices for our pets, as some of you have pointed out. I've seen plenty of households where the pets essentially become furniture-that-poops after kids come into the picture.

So to maybe turn this conversation on its head, why can you parents of children not understand that a pet to some of us IS as significant as a child?

 

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