Are Pets Kids, Too? Our Culture Says Yes.

I’ll always remember when I picked out my first pet. Her name was Puffy and she was a black and white cat; one of the toughest, hardcore cats I’ve ever known. She took absolutely no bull from anyone or anything. She’d get in fights with anything that moved onto her territory and she’d leave us “presents” on our doorstep of the animals that had dared cross her path. She would go lay out in the middle of the road and even when cars would roll to a stop in front of her and honk to get her to move, she’d just slowly turn her head and give them “the look.” It said, “Turn your car around and find another way, fool, I’m here right now and here I will remain until I’m good and ready to move.”

I loved her, though. She wasn’t a cuddly cat, but she was all personality and you had to admire her spunk and tenacity.

Puffy. Look at that face! Sassy!

 

There have been many pets in my life and I’ve loved and enjoyed most all of them. There was Puffy, my first pet. Then I had my cat, Frisky, who was a huge, lovable tub-of-lard. You couldn’t show him enough affection.

Frisky. His name did not match how he looked.

 

My uncle had a boxer, named Mason, who has been my favorite dog of all time. He was such a wonderful dog and, even now, there are times when I miss him.

Good ole’ Mason

My cousins had a German Shepherd, named Radar, who was a good protector and just loved hanging around us kids. My sister used to have a cat, Albert, who loved to wrestle with your hand and really put on a good fight. It was all in fun and I enjoyed playing with him when I was home to visit. He was such a good kitty. Right now, I have two cats, Mittens and Scout, and, though, Scout gets on my nerves quite a bit, I still am fond of both of them.

Mittens and Scout

It is rare to find a person here in America who hasn’t been touched by a pet. My husband grew up with a Jack Russel, named Jiggs, who will forever hold a special place in his heart.

Jiggs

Pets add so much to a family and each pet has its own unique personality. Pets offer fun, enjoyment, heartache, frustration a lot of the time, and lots of love. Pets, in and of themselves, are truly a good thing.

However, I’ve noticed a growing trend in our culture to put pets on par with children. When I lived in California, there was this huge billboard with a man and a dog pictured on it. The billboard read, “Animals are children, too. Love them. Don’t abandon them.” I have no problem with that last part of this billboard. The first part, though, creates a righteous anger in me, because it is absurd, offensive, and insulting to try and make our furry friends into children.

My husband knows a lady who has no children, but she has ferrets. She calls them her “children.” When my husband and other people have tried to explain to her that, no, they aren’t children, she refuses to hear any part of it. She said, “Really, the only difference that I see between pets and children is that children probably cost more to raise.”

She also added that, “When one of my ferrets die, I’m so sad for about a week.”

My husband replied, “Well, when a parent loses a child they never get over it. There’s a huge difference.”

Another time, at work, a guy was talking about his very sick son who was battling a brain tumor. The young boy had been in and out of hospitals, been on the brink of death, then recovered only to get sick again. As the dad was relaying this story to those in the room, this particular lady, spoke up and said, “Yeah, my kid (ferret) died of cancer last night and I’m just so broken up about it.” The room went silent and the grieving dad just walked away. When I heard this I could barely believe my ears. Here was this man, opening up about his fears of losing his beloved son and someone had the gall to compare losing a pet to losing a child.

Another time, I had lady tell me that she had five “children.” There were all dogs and she was telling me all about how hard it is to wake up early with them and this and that….comparing them to a baby. I just sipped my drink listening to this lady trying to compare letting ole’ doggikins out to go potty to raising a child.

I could go on and on.

I realize that this will bristle some feathers, because people love their pets and see them as a part of their family. I understand that completely. What I don’t understand is blurring the lines between pets and human children. Pets are pets and human beings are, well, human beings and there is a difference.

If someone came up to me, or any loving parent for that matter, and said, “Your kid or the dog!” Without question, without hesitation, I would hand over the pet and never regret that decision.

My children grew in my womb, I nourished them with my body in womb and out of it, I have crawled out of bed countless times to answer their cries, I have dried their tears, felt their breath on my cheek, watched them go through hardships and overcome them, I have sacrificed for their greater good and I would give my life for them. Whatever it took, I would stand in for them if it meant I could save their life. I would never do this for a pet. Why? Because human life is more precious than any animal. That is hard to hear, but it is the truth and we insult every single child out there by saying that a kitty, or a doggy, or a bird, or a gerbil has the same value as a human child.

As Catholics, we are taught by the Church to take care of God’s creatures, for by their “mere existence they bless God and give Him glory.” The Church goes on to say that we owe animals “kindness” and should appreciate all that they give to our lives in the way of food, clothing, work, and companionship. But, the Church also stresses that “one can love animals; but one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.” CCC 2415-2418

It is an insult to those parents that have laid to rest their children when our culture equates an animal’s death as somehow having the same impact as the death of a child. We all know this instinctively by the way we respond to a pet’s death. When someone hears a pet has died, we feel bad, offer some consoling words, and maybe share a story about our favorite pet. When a child dies, it is devastating beyond words. Many of us don’t know what to say or and we feel so badly for the family that we try to find ways to support them. We all instinctively know that this situation is on another level.

There is nothing wrong with loving a pet. There is nothing wrong with making them a part of your family. There is nothing wrong with missing them or grieving them when they die. I know that there are some extraordinary pets out there–ones that have even saved lives and given lots of companionship and friendship when one has none. We should all treat pets with care and love. All these things are good and right. What is wrong is to put a pet on par with a human child–one made in the image and likeness of God.

By placing pets in their proper place, it does them no injustice. They don’t know that they are called pets instead of children. But, my placing them at the same level as children, it does an injustice to kids, because they can hear and see us make the comparison.

When I was seventeen, I was driving home one night from my boyfriend’s house. It was dark out and I was being attentive to the road when out of the blue, this huge white dog just appeared on the highway. I didn’t see him run out on the road and it happened so fast, I had zero time to respond. I just hit him head on going 60 mph. When I looked in my rearview mirror, I didn’t see him lying on the road and I didn’t know where he went. Because of the late hour and being on a highway, I didn’t pull over. I was so badly shaken and sad that I just started bawling my eyes out. I felt so horrible, because I knew that the dog could not have survived the impact. I bawled the whole way home and when I got inside my mom was sitting in the kitchen talking with a friend. She saw my tears and my heaving and a look of panic spread over her face. She rushed to me and asked me what was wrong and through choked sobs I told her what had happened. She held me and tried to console me, but I was pretty upset. She suggested we call the local vet and have him go look for the dog to make sure that he had, in fact, died. Our vet went out, found him and confirmed that he had died. He took him back to his office so that he wouldn’t just be left there on the side of the road. It was a very sad night for me.

I think sometimes of that night and how sad I was that I had accidentally taken the life of that poor dog. It’s definitely a sad memory for me. However, if that dog had been a person, I would have be haunted for the rest of my life.

 

9 comments

  1. momstersraisingmonsters says:

    Thank you for this! It makes me so angry when people treat animals like people. One time I went to someone’s house, and my 1 year old son was afraid of the dog. The dog was jumping on him trying to play, and he was screaming in fear. And the woman whose house it was came over, saying “I’m so sorry. It’s ok, he doesn’t understand.” She was so compassionate, I thought she was talking to my son…. But she was talking to the dog. I was horrified that she had zero compassion for my terrified son, but was consoling the dog because my son didn’t understand that it wasn’t going to hurt him.

    • Amy Thomas says:

      (shaking head) This is what I’m talking about. Something has happened in our culture. I read a lot of older books with my kids and whenever there is a pet in the story, it had its place in the family, but it was very clear that it was a pet and a pet it would stay. Today, though, we have lost that understanding.

  2. Barry Schoedel says:

    Hi Amy, since you know I love my pets I had to read this one. Loved the pictures and the personal stories.

    Lacking human community and family is a true deficit and if people recognize it, a form of suffering. We were made for family. When a priest or consecrated forgoes married life it will always remain a sacrifice. Also, many people would love to be married and have children, but this is a gift that cannot be taken, it is only given, and not to all of us. God is mysterious.
    An animal doesn’t compare or replace human family and community, and could never compensate for the lack thereof.

    There is a true poverty in remaining single or in losing or being abandoned by family.

    The pain of this poverty can become redemptive and the path of salvation, but most people now don’t believe in salvation. We need to help people to recognize what intense poverty we are experiencing when we humanize an animal, that when we do this we are neglecting the reality of God and our absolute humilty before him. Children, marriage, family, these things are the most sacred of gifts. We must always remember that. We must beeech God in our lonliness borne of rejecting Him to have mercy on us poor sinners, for we know not what we do. In Jesus’ name.

    • Amy Thomas says:

      Thank you, Barry, for your thoughtful words. I have wanted to write on the reasons why I think that our culture has started to humanize pets, but I know the backlash I will get and so I shy away. As a woman, I am constantly bombarded with messages from our culture, that children are a burden and that I should have as few as possible, in order to have a career and “make something of myself.” This message has been spread far and wide and I see tons of young women thinking that the only way to “be someone” is to forgo marriage and children and go out and “conquer” the world. Yet, a very real desire sinks in, in those child-bearing years. Women have a true and real desire to love and care for children. Yet, the culture says wait. So, how do we replace that desire for children–pets. We also have replaced God in our lives and worship at the alter of material possession, career success, and fame. You are right, we do have a real need for community and family. I think in many ways our high tech, success driven, individualistic culture has all but removed much of that. We fill in with pets. The Catholic Church is the only place that I know of (I”m sure there is another) that values the sacrifice of the single life. Until becoming Catholic, I had never heard anyone talk about how remaining single can be a cross to bear, but that much good can be done in the single life. Those that have chosen to remain single for Christ or those who are childless in marriage because of infertility have my prayers always. You are right, the pain can be redemptive and a true path to salvation. I only wish that message was out there more.

      Thank you, again, for your thoughtful response. You probably said things in a much more merciful way.

      • Barry Schoedel says:

        You’re welcome Amy. All of Creation is a wonder to behold but animals are categorically distinct from man and we have lost this sense, you’re right. It may not only be that we have exalted animals to the domain of man, but that our atheistic understanding of man has reduced him to the domain of animals. Man remains imago Dei but he believes Satan’s lie that he is no better than the animal, in fact, even lower (which is what many people think now.)

        I appreciated what you said about women and how so many are out of touch with the gift of being a woman and how that contributes to the whole fido replaces man (or at least children!) thing 🙂 I pray that God puts you in the path of women that need support and encouragement to embrace who they are in God’s wisdom.

        • Amy Thomas says:

          You have such a great way with words. I completely agree. I was actually reading something similar to what you are saying in Pope Francis’ Laudato Si. It may be “we have reduced man to the domain of animals.” In fact, you may be on to something there.

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