Should We Not Call Ourselves ‘Pet Parents’?
In my time, I’ve heard various titles for the relationships people have with their pets. Perhaps you’re a mom, big brother or caretaker to a cat — I’ve even heard some folks consider themselves their cat’s “servant” or “person.” The titles really are as individual as all of our relationships with our pets, and rightly so. We choose the term that we feel best conveys our relationship — whatever that may be.
That’s why the other day when I read a piece published on Slate, I sat up and took notice. In the post, “I Am Not a Pet Parent,” the author makes the argument that she is — in fact we all are — pet owners, not pet parents.
She argues that “Big Pet,” a derogatory term for large pet companies, has perpetuated the term “pet parent” in order for us to spend more money on our pets out of (what I interpret her post to suggest) guilt and societal obligation. She then quotes the American Pet Products Association’s estimate that total U.S. spending on pets will top $55 billion in 2013 — nearly double the amount we spent on our pets in 2001.
“To sell [all of that] apparently requires owners to feel as emotionally and financially invested in their furry cuddlebugs as real parents are in their children,” she writes.
While the author makes a number of valid points in her post, I think she misses the larger picture.
From generation to generation things change — home life, higher education, the age we are getting married. That said, one thing hasn’t changed: our need for companionship. Sometimes that’s a human, but sometimes we find that companionship in an animal. In fact, over the past 40 years, the number of cats and dogs in homes in the U.S. has increased from 67 million to more than 164 million, according to the Humane Society. Pets are becoming more and more a part of our lives.
And while some may think it’s crazy to invest in elaborate cat trees or dog manicures, the point is that we do these things out of love. We don’t do these things simply because Big Pet “makes” us feel this way or because we’re delusional over our nonexistent biological connection to our pets, but because our relationships with our pets are some of the dearest in our lives, and by making them happy (real or perceived), we’re happy.
And honestly, I don’t see why it’s a big deal if we do spend money on our pets. It’s not like the nightly news has revealed stories about people who have gone into financial ruin for buying too many climbing trees for their cats or spending too much on dog manicures. In my opinion, it’s our own business what we spend our money on, and if we choose to spend it on our pet, that’s our choice. (People spend their money on much more dangerous things, that’s for sure!)
That’s why I don’t believe the term “pet parent” is any way delusional, dangerous or dumb. It’s one way to describe our close relationship with our pets — not that they’re human children that we’re raising, but that they’re close family members that need care and love. For me, my cats are my “children.” Yes, I use quotes here and air quotes in real life because I realize they’re not my true biological children, but they’re still family that I cherish. For some, a cat or dog may be like a child. To others, the pet may be more like a brother, sister or friend — or even “master of the household.” The point is, those terms convey an intimacy that isn’t reflected in the term “pet owner.” Because after all, while we all may technically own our pets, no one owns a family member.
So at the end of the day, I’m in the camp that believes you should call yourself whatever you want — within reason. Sure we don’t actually have biological connections to our pets, but that doesn’t make our relationships and emotional ties any less valid.
How do you feel about this? Am I totally off the mark? Or do you proudly wear the title of pet parent, too? Please share in the comments!