The other day I heard a mother express her outrage at childless people who proudly and publically put forth the absurd (her word) notion that having pets is like having children. “How ridiculous!” she exclaimed. “How presumptuous!” Speaking as the primary caregiver of 3 sons and 2 dogs, I think the lady is wound a little tight. As well as being wrong. Pets are absolutely like children, and I can prove it. Or at least I can offer up some very insightful responses. Or sarcastic responses. One of those. Just follow along and I’m sure you’ll figure it out.
For the record, I’m just talking about the fuzzy canine kind of pets. I really can’t speak for parakeets (just 4 ounces of stupid covered in feathers) or Burmese pythons (17 potential feet of appetite) or other remarkably dull or exotic pets. And cats are way too autonomous to equate to children. But I’ll speak up for dogs, because as I’m writing this, one of mine is sitting next to my chair whining, wagging, and about to have a conniption fit because he’s bored and wants me to get up and play with him.
So I just took a brief break from writing this to play with my dog and when that wasn’t enough, I gave him a new stuffed animal to distract him. See? Just like a small child when you really, really want them to hush and leave you alone for a while. Except my kids rarely took such glee in gutting stuffed frogs or fluffy ducks with their teeth and spitting the fuzz all over the floor of the living room.
But still, there are some definite, and obvious, similarities between dogs and children. You have to teach them when and where to pee, for instance. You probably shouldn’t ever let them on the furniture. They love to play in the backyard and chase squirrels. (Yes, one son did. Don’t you judge us.) They really, really like cookies. And sometimes they’ll get sick and vomit on the rug. See? I think I’ve pretty much made my case, but for those doubters out there, let me tell you a little about Jack and Ozzie.
A few months ago, we adopted two dogs from a local animal rescue. They are young adult brothers as different from each other as day and night. Ozzie is tall, dark and shy. He’s the deep thinker of the two (nice way of saying he’s the smart one) and infinitely sweet. Jack is short, light, and spastic. He’s a bouncy goofball with impulse control issues who wags his tail in his sleep and loves everyone on sight.
Jack and Ozzie are very much like new furry family members to us. Though of course, we realize there are real differences between them and our sons: We’ve tried to teach our sons not to pee at the park whereas that’s kind of the whole point for Jack. When they meet someone new, the boys wisely refrain from licking his or her face. When I say “sit,” the dogs actually do. Both the boys and the dogs track dirt in the house but only the dogs leave muddy footprints on my bedspread.
I think, though, that the irate woman who resented the equation of raising dogs with raising children, probably meant that children are a whole lot more work. I think my examples clearly illustrate, though, how much care the dogs really take as opposed to children who are theoretically more trainable and eventually self-sufficient. Okay, so we’ll never have to help Jack or Ozzie with their Algebra homework or teach them to drive and for that I am exceedingly grateful.
But in simplest terms they have the same basics needs our boys did when they were little. They are pretty darn happy if they just get plenty of affection, play time, exercise, regular trips to the park, cookies when they’re good, and a new toy occasionally. They play with bugs and sticks and love piles of dead leaves. They love visitors to the house and think that everyone comes here just to see them. Sadly, now that the boys are in their teens, much of this is no longer the case for them. So the way I see it, dogs are the perfect solution for those of us who miss having small children (but not enough to have more). And for the childless parent, they become the furry incarnation of family and unconditional love. And there’s just nothing bad about that.