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Should We Not Call Ourselves ‘Pet Parents’?

January 8, 2014
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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.

Do you enjoy pampering or spoiling your cat?

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!

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Lauren T. permalink
    January 8, 2014 8:01 am

    I 100% agree with you. What I do or do not purchase for my pet doesn’t dictate whether I am a pet “owner” versus a pet “parent.” Status shouldn’t be measured in the amount you spend or buy for a pet – just like it wouldn’t for a child or other family member. Even if I don’t buy all the expensive pet items like some people do, I still consider myself a pet “parent” because of all the love and care I give to my pets. I’m fine with whatever people want to label themselves as but I think pushing the term pet “owner” vs. “parent” could even have an opposite effect – desensitizing people to think animals are just throw-away items that they can get and disregard like toys or mistreat because they are “just animals” and a piece of “property.” Sadly, I’ve heard people say things like that. I’m fine with people calling themselves pet owners because technically you did likely “purchase” the pet and the law views animals as property, but as you said – you don’t “own” family members. No one would say they “owned” their adopted child and to me, that’s all a pet really is!

  2. Janet Katz permalink
    January 8, 2014 8:32 am

    I refer to myself as Mommy when talking to my cats. Though married and older, I have no children and my husband thinks my cats are a substitute for children. I prefer cats to kids actually as I never had a desire to have children. I now have a special needs cat that has a different neurological disorder than CH, we discovered, and I can’t believe how much attention I end up devoting to this cat. I think in the beginning of owning a cat, one does succumb to some Big Pet type items but then realize they are overrated. I’ve given up buying any fancy toys or gadgets for my cats as they don’t like them. Some of the food looks like it’s more to entice the pet parents with ingredients that I can’t imagine wasting on my cats. But if it makes the owners and pets happy, why not? As you said, it doesn’t create financial ruin. Anyway, I’d rather be called a pet parent than a crazy cat lady!

  3. Brian permalink
    January 8, 2014 11:36 am

    Haha, what nonsense, everyone knows that cats own us. Owning a cat indeed, various laws around the world stipulates that you cant own a cat, I recall various spurious lawsuits over cat scratches being thrown out on the very basis of this.

  4. January 9, 2014 11:00 am

    I completely agree with you. My husband and I both refer to ourselves as “Daddy” and “Mommy” in reference to our cats. Of course I know that they aren’t my biological children, but we don’t have biological children yet. Our cats are like our children, and that doesn’t make me feel obligated to spend a bunch of money on them. I buy things for them because I want to or because they like a specific toy. To me, pets are family and should be treated as family. And I agree with Lauren – trying to get people to view cats as things to be owned could lead to people thinking that pets can be left or “thrown away” like any other piece of property. That’s already a big enough problem, why perpetuate it?

  5. Lesley permalink
    January 9, 2014 2:21 pm

    In the UK we don’t really refer to ourselves as ‘pet parents’, however this is very appropriate for those of us who fulfil this role. I always think of myself as a parent to eight – one small and noisy one with two legs, and seven furry ones.

  6. January 25, 2014 10:17 am

    I’m not a fan of the phrase, ‘pet owner’, so at first I took offense to her article, but the final paragraph does clear things up a bit. If you define ‘parenting’ as preparing someone to function successfully in the world without you, then no, we’re not pet parents! Our pets will be dependent on us our entire lives, which is just fine with us of course! 😉 I do object to the suggestion that we’ve been suckered into using this term, or into buying better quality pet food or expensive toys for our pets; I think we’re smarter than that.

  7. September 1, 2014 3:18 am

    I dislike the term “pet parent”, and also “pet adoption”, because it undermines the value of children. Both terms more than imply that our pets are of equal value to our human children. No matter how much we love our pets (and they are “pets”, not “fur babies”), they cannot be more important than our own human children. If you have two children, and one of them constantly bites the other child (it happens) you cannot find a new home for the biter, but if you have a cat who constantly bites one of your children, it is absolutely appropriate to find that cat a new home. Likewise, if one of your children developed an allergy to another of your children, you could not begin keeping one of them outside in a smaller childhouse, but if one of your children developed an allergy to your dog, it would be absolutely appropriate to begin keeping your dog outdoors in a doghouse – or, if you prefer, to find your dog a new home with another loving family. When it comes down to the serious choice of whether to protect your child from a pet who no longer fits into your family, or to keep a pet who endangers your child, no reasonable “parent” is going to place the feelings of their pet over the safety of their own human child.

  8. kinderegg permalink
    May 17, 2015 11:40 am

    You wouldn’t call yourself a “carpenter” because you made a cutting board in high school woodshop, you wouldn’t call yourself a “doctor” unless you accepted the work and responsibility that goes with that title, nor should you call yourself a “parent” because you have a pet. We grant the title of “parent” to someone because of the work and self-sacrifice they are putting in to raise a good member of society. Owning a pet is a marvelous thing, but it makes you a “pet owner” or a “master”. Accept your title with grace and don’t covent another title of another unless you are willing to do the work and responsibility which warrants that title.

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