Thursday, December 22, 2016

On anthropomorphizing animals

(Still sick. Still making stuff. But there's something about being physically out of sorts that inspires the need for a good rant, so here you go!)

We are fortunate to live near an excellent veterinary hospital, where we take Roxy-cat for occasional checkups. (Roxy doesn't consider herself fortunate in this regard, but hey, you can't have everything.) After several vet visits, though, I've realized I need to find a particular article of clothing to wear on future trips. It doesn't need to be particularly fancy -- just a well-fitting T-shirt in a complimentary color with the following words clearly blazoned across the front:


Several well-meaning vets and assistants, when Roxy has hidden behind me in an effort to avoid the exam table, have cooed at her, "Aww, do you feel safer with your mommy?" and each time I quietly grit my teeth. No, people. No. The people at the cat rescue place where we got Roxy kindly provided us with a small photo album containing pictures of her kittenhood, so if pressed I can point out the lovely orange tabby in the photos who actually IS her mom.

Maybe the moniker "Soozcat" is confusing, but I'm not Roxy's mom. I'm her owner.

Look, I know a lot of people -- including some dear friends and family members who read this blog -- who enthusiastically refer to the creatures living in their homes as their "furbabies" and call themselves "pet parents" and so forth. Everyone, from veterinarians to pet stores to animal shelters, seems keen to support and even encourage this sort of infantile talk. But, craving your pardon for stating the truth, "pet adoption" is a polite social falsehood, a veneer over the truth that you purchased and licensed an animal to keep in your home. No matter how much you love and pamper him, little Phydeaux is not your furry child. He will never learn to spell his own name, let alone graduate from Harvard or care for you in your old age. Unless you're in your eighties or older, you will more than likely outlive him. And you didn't adopt him. He's a dog, and in the eyes of the law, you own him.

"But that sounds like slavery!" I hear some of you cry. Well, it certainly would be if we were talking about owning human beings. BUT WE'RE NOT, because animals are by definition not human beings. This is why I take occasion to the use of saccharine phrases like "furry children" and "furbabies" and similar poppycock. I think most people use them in jest, but just enough people use them on the wrong side of earnest to make this nonsense potentially dangerous.

What happens when we forget that animals are animals, with their own thoughts and typical behaviors, their own ways of living and perceiving the world, and instead give in to the temptation to treat them like human infants? Bad things happen. Sometimes very bad things happen -- things that could have been avoided if people had respected the fact that animals are different from people.

The responsibility of taking a pet into your home involves far more than just filling the water dish and cleaning the litterbox. It also means you don't feed a vegan diet to an obligate carnivore. It means you make sure your pet gets proper stimulation and healthy levels of exercise. It means you don't overfeed your pet or give him too many unhealthy treats. It means you spend the time and money for regular vet visits. It means you teach behavior modification and learn to clip claws every few weeks, instead of cruelly declawing a cat who scrapes at the furniture. It means you do the responsible thing and have your pet surgically altered, so that pet won't have (or sire) lots and lots of young that end up strays, feral, or dead. It means you take the time to learn the behaviors of different species -- that when a cat rolls over and shows you her belly, for instance, it doesn't mean the same thing as when a dog does it. It means you don't become an animal hoarder. And sometimes it means you don't make heroic efforts to keep your pet alive if he or she is in pain and cannot be healed. That's hard. (Believe me, as someone who's had to put a cat to sleep in the past, I know just how heartbreaking this is.) But that's part of your responsibility as a pet owner -- knowing what your particular species of pet needs to be healthy and happy, finding out what your specific animal needs from you, and providing those needs. That is the truest sign of love for an animal you can possibly manifest. And if you don't think you have the time or desire to provide these things, maybe you should look into getting a pet rock.

If you really want to refer to your dog as a "furbaby" or your cats as "little people in fur coats," it's your call. But you won't hear it coming out of my mouth. Experience has led me to believe that treating a pet like a person can be unkind and potentially dangerous, both for the pet and the person. So don't do it, OK?


Chrys Houghton said...

Meh. Teddy will always be my little sausage baby. YOU CANNOT STOP ME!!! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Soozcat said...