Gone to the Dogs

Long-haired Dachshund

If you’re ever asked if you have children, do not respond with, “I’m a parent of two labra-doodles. I adopted them four years ago. At Christmas, we dress-up one of the kids as Rudolph and. . . .”

That’s nice, but the question was about kids, not pets.

Brace yourself I’m about to state the obvious: pets are not children.

In the past you “got” a pet; now you “adopt”. Before, when people referred to their pets as “baby” it was meant as a term of endearment; now it’s meant literally. Pet owners are now “parents”. I’ve even met “grandparents” of dogs that they “babysit”. And of course, the co-worker who was a “foster parent” to “foster kids”, which were really dogs.

People have always had pets for various reasons, one of them being companionship. Forming an emotional bond with a pet is common, but it’s still a pet. Feeling an acute loss and grieving when a beloved pet passes, is normal.

I’m not talking about the natural affection we have toward animals. Now pets have been elevated to the level of children, pet owners treat them accordingly and expect everyone else to do so also. People now have pets instead of children. (Some of us don’t have either).

In an all too telling sign of the times, in one place I lived the city converted a playground into a dog park. No kids, but plenty of dogs.

If a child and a pet are in a burning building, and you can only save one, which one do you save? I hope everyone instantly said the child. I’ve posed this question to some dog owners. They either refused to answer or tried to change the scenario, but they wouldn’t answer the question.

I could complain ad nauseum about my experiences with inconsiderate pet owners and their “children”, rather I think it’s more important to exam the larger picture of societies change in priorities.

I’ve actually been thinking about this issue for a while, and apparently so has Pope Francis. During his early morning Mass on 02 June 2014, speaking to a congregation of married couples, Pope Francis spoke about the “culture of comfort” that has contributed to married couples deciding NOT to have children. This “culture of comfort”:

“[H]as convinced us that it’s better not to have children!…That way you can see the world, be on vacation, you can have a fancy home in the country, you’ll be carefree.” People think it’s easier, “to have a puppy, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the puppy…”

“In the end, this marriage will end in old age in solitude, with the bitterness of bad solitude.”

This is essentially a restatement of the problem of people choosing things over people. The remedy he offers for this is by reminding the congregation of the three pillars of marriage: fidelity, perseverance, and fruitfulness. By holding fast to these principles, principles demonstrated for us by God’s love for his Church, the love couples have for each other will continue to grow and persevere. That’s the short version anyway.

Why do couples choose to have pets instead of children? I think people may not want to make the sacrifice needed to be a parent, but they still feel like something is missing; like they’re supposed to care for someone or something. A pet is a good compromise. It fills the void created by the missing children, but it doesn’t require the same level of responsibility.

His homily only speaks to married couples, but I think the issues that he touches on permeate society regardless of your marital status.

What Pope Francis calls a “culture of comfort”, I would call a “culture of narcissism”. The problem of animals taking the place of children is a problem because people don’t want to make a sacrifice. Likewise, many people avoid marriage because they don’t want to make the necessary sacrifice.

It’s bad enough that the culture of comfort / narcissism impacts those who voluntarily embrace it, but it has a ripple effect that impacts everyone. Even if you reject the culture of comfort, you still have to live in it. The topic of intentionally childless marriages is completely irrelevant to many of us. We’re still working on the marriage part. The difficulty in finding a spouse stems from the same culture of comfort mentality.

I know plenty of considerate pet owners who love their pets dearly and call their pets their “babies” or “children”. But they have their priorities straight; they would save the child from a burning building. It’s the ones who can’t answer that question that concern me.

by:  Ana Henry – 05 June 2014


One thought on “Gone to the Dogs

  1. My big concern is that we have degraded children to the status of pets. People object more to the use of ‘fetal pigs’ in science class than they do to abortion. People spend (literally) billions of dollars on animals when there are children, schools, and charitable orginizations who could make a difference in the world with that money. If they want a ‘part time’ kid, they should volunteer at the Boys and Girls club, or become a Big Brother/Big Sister. Like Pope Francis said: we are spending our love (and money) on animals instead of people.

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