Loving a Fur Child

Last May, I hosted a party at my house for my youngster. All of his friends came accompanied by their parents. Balloons and streamers littered my living room; everyone wore silly party hats held in place by bits of elastic string; fun and games abounded as all the guests anxiously awaited the lighting of the birthday cake. Of course, I had to help my little one blow out the candles, but once they were extinguished cheers erupted and he pranced about excitedly. When the gifts were opened, a few tussles broke out amongst the guests. It seemed that every one of my 4-year-old’s friends wanted to play with the newest toy. But that’s to be expected, right? It was all pretty standard fare for a party full of youngsters. By the end of the festivities, everyone had eaten and played to his heart’s content and the event was proclaimed a success. Spike, Scout, Skippy, Stella and Wako all bounded for home while the birthday boy lay exhausted on the sofa, his legs in the air and his tongue hanging out. I felt happy to see my boy, Gelbert, so satiated and pleased with himself – after all, a girl’s Australian Shepherd only turns four once.
I know what you’re probably thinking. I’ve heard it all before and I have to agree. I do spoil my dog; I treat him outrageously well, but why shouldn’t I? He brings me great pleasure: he gets me outdoors to exercise daily; he protects my home; he provides exceptional companionship … and he’s a great listener. I suppose I’m forced to admit that I have joined the millions of other adults in America who are raising four legged children as opposed to two.
For a multitude of reasons many animal-loving Americans are opting to invest their love, energy and spare dollars in their pets. One has only to look at the recent expansion of the pet industry, from pet walkers to gourmet foods to pet superstores that offer a plethora of luxury items like fur-lined collars and jewel-encrusted feeding bowls, to recognize that we are a culture who has elevated pet ownership to new heights. I’m not certain as to why this recent phenomenon has occurred; I can only speculate that, perhaps, it’s is because so many of people of my generation have elected not to have children or at least to wait until later in their lives. Many of us work full time, demanding jobs that would make “real” parenthood almost impossible or at least improbable. Some of us have yet to find the perfect mate with whom to have children. And some of us are products of divorce and are not ready to embark on another committed relationship. Regardless of the rationale, pets provide many of us with the kind of love and companionship we crave in order to make our lives more complete. I cannot imagine a world without my Australian Shepherd, so if I chose to spoil him with treats and toys and the occasional trip to the grooming salon, then so be it.
I suppose I can trace my passion for pooches back to my childhood. Growing up we always had dogs – sometimes up to three at a time. At first, my mother tried to make them “outside” dogs. Since she had been raised in the south, she believed that anything with four legs and the potential for fleas should remain outside of the house. However, a new Beagle puppy (named Snoopy, what else?) soon availed her of her archaic notion. Even she couldn’t resist the charms of a wiggly, helpless pup with huge paws and even bigger ears. For me, as it probably is for many other animal lovers, a house is just a house unless it includes a pet – then it becomes a home.
Yes, I suppose that one day if the time is right, I might want a child, too. However, for now I have my Aussie, and I couldn’t ask for anything more. My friends and I often joke about our intense, paternal relationships with our pets. We query one another: Is it silly to heat my dog’s food before serving it? Should I really be buying sweaters for my Bassett Hound? Did you provide a stocking for your pet at Christmas? Of course, we all support one another’s decisions regarding pet rearing, just as other parents support and assist one another regarding child rearing. We help one another out with behavioral issues, discussing at length how to address “separation anxiety” and excessive chewing. We pet-sit one another’s animals when someone has to go out of town. We listen to one another tell stories about the cute (and sometimes not so cute) antics that our pets have recently done.
Pets, like children, help to create a social bond in a community, especially for those of us who live in the city where meeting neighbors is sometimes a difficult task. Having a dog has allowed me to befriend many people whom I otherwise might never have spoken to. So when someone comments on the fact that I don’t treat my dog like a dog, I no longer get upset nor do I feel I have to justify my actions toward my pet. He has given me many gifts, the most important of which is the capacity to love more openly and fully. Isn’t that what life is really all about?

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About waggingmytale

I am an English teacher, writer, animal lover, and aspiring athlete. If you stop by and read or "stumble" upon my blog, please leave a comment and say hello. It's nice to know who visits :-) Namaste!
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