A strange disorder has been growing over the past several decades involving pets. I grew up on a farm and both my parents insisted on treating animals with kindness and respect for their animal-ness. Respect for their animal-ness meant that each animal had an essence: doggeyness, or cat tendencies or cow behaviors. We did NOT manufacture the illusion that they were humans, our children, or extended family members. Do you see that that is selfish, delusional and disrespectful of what they actually are?
Yet this delusion is growing, perhaps due to a breakdown in family structures. The pet becomes a substitute child. I can name some dogs, cats and a few horses that I have loved. They were affectionate, or noble or even funny. But they were not humans, and that’s perfectly O.K.
Here’s an example: My elderly friend Shelly had an obese chihuahua, Lady. She spent a fortune running Lady to the vet every time she burped. She spent a fortune to get the dog’s nails done and her coat groomed and scented. Lady stood by the fridge and yapped when she wanted ice cream, which had to be high quality ice cream. Shelly hopped up and waited on the little, spoiled fatty. One afternoon, Shelly was upset.
“I don’t know what to do with her!” she exclaimed.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. I liked Lady O.K. and knew Shelly was lonely.
“I just got back from getting her shampooed and she ran out to the road and rolled in a dead possum.”
“Bet she enjoyed that.”
“Dead possum smells good to a dog. She did that because she’s a dog, Shelly, and dogs like to do that.”
“She’s not a dog! She’s my baby and I’m her mama.”
Now other than this disorder, Shelly was a perfectly rational woman. I mentioned that overfeeding Lady might shorten her life, but Shelly said at least Lady would die happy. She said she had no choice; Lady stood demanding ice cream, what else could she do but obey?
A friend here recently lost her husband. Obviously, I sympathized and did what I could to help. I waited for her to grieve, when she would need a listening ear. But she did not grieve. Instead she got her daughter’s neurotic lap dog and began waiting on it hand and paw. “Ooh mama’s widdu baby, do you want a blanket? Do you want a treat? Are you comfy?” The dog is a mean little bastard, but he serves a purpose in her life-he staves off the grieving process.
But grieving is necessary for healing, like surgery is necessary if your appendix goes bad. It will hurt, but then you’ll be well…scarred but whole. My friend is now in the hospital with diverticulitis. Dogs like to roll in road kill; your cat will eat your corpse if you die in the house and lay undiscovered for days. Don’t hold that against them; it’s part of what they are.
My cat lady friend who compulsively feeds the feral cats, says she cannot bear to watch reports of cat abuse. “Yeah,” I said, “I can’t bear the shows of starving children.” Oh that doesn’t bother me,” she replied, waving her hand dismissively.
To love anyone, you must love WHAT THEY ARE and not create a fantasy being, like the perfect woman or an animal that is (NOT) your baby.