Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Dog Is Not the Same as a Child

I love animals. Really, I do. I was the proud owner of a series of cats from the age of six until the year I turned 24, when my last cat passed away at the cat-elderly age of 13, and I decided to give my poor cat-allergic husband a break and not adopt another one. I had a pet dog once, too— a rescue Cairn terrier who was so fiercely attached to and protective of me that he'd bark loudly at any unknown man who got within three feet of my personal space. In my lifetime I've had the pleasure of caring for pet mice, a pet lizard, a pet turtle, a pet rabbit, and tanks full of freshwater tropical fish in assorted shapes and sizes. Despite my current pet-less state, I am a card-carrying animal lover. For heaven's sake— I'm a vegetarian.

So I don't really mind that much when people call themselves "pet parents" instead of "pet owners." I get it, I really do. You love your animals so much that you'd much rather refer to them as members of your family than property. It's a nice sentiment, and I'm sure that on some level your animals appreciate your acknowledgment of them as feeling beings, capable of emotions and thought.

But when pet-lovers who do not have human children go beyond the label of "pet parent," and actually start comparing the experience of caring for a pet to the experience of parenting a child, as though the two were even marginally equivalent, I start to get peeved. It's not remotely the same. It's not. It's not at all. Trust me, I know. I've done both. And while I may feel real empathy for you when you describe that time you freaked out while your dog was having surgery, it does not compare at all to the time I had to wave and smile as surgeons wheeled my infant son off to anesthesia in a steel crib-cage.

So I hereby present, for the general edification of pet parents who have not yet acquired children of the human variety:

Key Differences Between a Child and a Dog

(Substitute "cat" or "potbellied pig" for "dog" as you please.)

If you're a dog owner, and you're out of milk and you need it for the recipe you're making for dinner, you can run to the grocery store down the street without your dog.

If you are a parent of a small child and you find yourself faced with a grocery emergency, you either must find a babysitter immediately, or dress your child appropriately for the weather, take your child to out the car whether or not your child wants to go, strap your child into an appropriate restraining device, listen to your child complain about your selections on the car radio all the way to the store, take your child out of the car seat, locate a cart that actually has a working seatbelt, listen to your child whine about your not finding a kiddie car cart, listen to your child whine about having to ride in a cart, listen to your child ask whether you can buy every tenth thing you pass, load your groceries into your car and return your cart to the corral while also wrangling your child, strap your child back into the car seat, drive home, and then figure out how to get your child and the groceries out of the car at the same time.

A new puppy may wake its owners up several times a night to take it outside and use the bathroom.

A new baby may wake its mother up several times a night to CHEW ON HER BOOBS.

A new puppy may sometimes pee or vomit on the floor.

A new baby may sometimes pee or vomit IN YOUR FACE.

It can take a few months to housetrain a dog.

It can take YEARS to housetrain a child.

If you leave your dog alone in a fenced yard with a bowl of food, a bowl of water and some toys for eight hours a day while you work, you might feel a little bit guilty and worry that your pet is not getting enough stimulation.

If you leave your child alone in a fenced yard with a bowl of food, a bowl of water and some toys for eight hours a day while you work, you will be arrested.

You must take care to teach a dog that seeking out your shoes and chewing them to pieces is not an appropriate way to play.

You must take care to teach a child that playing with matches could set your entire house on fire.

If you are trying to write a blog post, and your dog won't shut up, you can put your dog out in the yard, or at least in the next room, for an hour.

If you are trying to write a blog post, and your kid won't shut up, you will feel morally obligated to figure out a way to entertain your child. You can set your kid down in front of the TV, but then you'll feel guilty, because all of the childcare experts say TV IS BAD, and besides, it might not work for long. You can tell your child to go play in his or her room, but he or she might start bouncing balls off the walls or playing a trumpet. If your child is old enough, you can tell your child to play outside, but then you will feel compelled to repeatedly check on your child to ensure that he or she has not scraped a knee, broken a limb or been kidnapped.

If your dog needed dialysis, you might consider taking out a second mortgage to pay for the procedure.

If your child needed dialysis, you would ask a surgeon whether it would be feasible to cut out one of your own kidneys and give it to the child instead.

A dog will never ask you where puppies come from.

A child will ask you where babies come from, where ice cream came from, where toilets came from, where the sky came from, where trees came from, how cars work, how light switches work, how a heart works, why the stars glow, where he or she was before birth, where people go when they die, and whether there is a God.

Owning a dog is a serious commitment. Raising a puppy to be a good dog citizen can be difficult. It can take a year or two of careful training to teach a dog to behave properly both in your own home and in the outside world, around other dogs and people. But if you do the job right, your reward will be constant companionship for years to come. And every other dog owner who sees you out with your dog will remark on what an excellent job you've done as a trainer.

Parenting a child is a serious commitment. Raising a person to be a good citizen is incredibly difficult. It can take 18-25 years of careful training to teach a human to behave properly both in your own home and in the outside world, around other people. But if you do the job right, your child will move out of your house, possibly to a different city or even a different country, and if you're lucky, he or she will call occasionally and come back to visit you on holidays. People will praise your grown child for being a good person, but few will remember to even consider, let alone mention, what an excellent job you must have done as a parent.


Anonymous said...

Great post, I loved it! I've always thought of my dog as patience training, 'cause I sure need it! But you definitely hit the nail on the head for these.

Anonymous said...

I agree! While Tom and I feel like our puppy IS our kid, we only mean that by the time/responsibility it takes to be a pet owner in general. Plus, we don't have a child at the moment! But, we know that parenting a child is COMPLETELY different, and hope to experience that someday!

For example... I'm not going to put my 2 year old niece in a kennel when I go to work. (Although she DOES like to crawl in there sometimes...)


Awesome Mom said...

Amen to that!!!

Kim said...

Well said, ma'am.

Jeannette E. Spaghetti said...

Dude, you are hilarious. And correct.

Lisa said...

heeheehee. I love this post. The grocery emergency. Gah. That always sucks. You nailed it when you mentioned all of the whining.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you! I'm a confirmed animal lover, too, but there are limits. We once had a vet that expected you to make ANY sacrifice necessary for your pet.

FOR EXAMPLE: I had a dog that was over 18 years old. Yes. That's old for a dog. This vet wanted us to have some very expensive (thousands and thousands of dollars) surgery done on the dog and totally read us the riot act when we refused.

We said that though we LOVED this dog, he was near blind, deaf, and had a number of other ailments. If the situation the vet was trying to prevent ACTUALLY occurred, or the dog was showing ANY sign of discomfort or unhappiness, we would have the dog put to sleep.

We ended up switching vets, who totally agreed with our analysis. His theory? It's a PET. Put it in perspective!

The medical situation never did occur with my dog. We ended up putting him to sleep over 2 years later, when he had a seizure and didn't recover from it after a couple of days. He was his same bubbly, happy self right up to the end.

Meredith said...

You are so brave to post this! I have to agree. My in-laws flew to Canada to pick up 2 new dogs the month we had our first child.

He's six now and they've still never flown to visit us.

That pretty much ruined me for people who value pets over children.

Anji said...

I love this post. It's all true!

Anonymous said...

Thank you thank you thank you.

Right now, I have a colleague who is grieving for her cat. I feel for her...BUT...she started out calling him "her baby" and now "her little boy."

I have 3 babies - all little boys. I also have pets.

If one of our pets died unexpectedly (well, it's all ready happened), we'd all be sad. And...I can't even write out the rest of that thought, you know? But suffice it to say, I'd never be OK again.

I can't help it - I am starting to get angry with her.

Anonymous said...

I used love my puppies, now a mother if 3. I won't own a dog, I will clean after my kids. Not a dog!!! 100% agree with this article . YOUR DOG IS NOT YOUR CHILD!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow how much free time does the author have? Obviously puppies and kittens are different than human've actually put in the time to blog this. Wether children or pets. Raising them presents unique situations and personal growth. In any sense a female or male that cares for subordinate wether Human or animal deserves the right to be called mom or dad

Anonymous said...