When I was a kid, my dad referred to his and my then-stepmother's dogs--when I was young, a Husky-mix, Sheba and a hound mix, Shiloh, then later a Rottweiler, Khan, and an Akita, Kuma--as my brothers. It always drove me nuts. The dogs were smelly. The dogs were hairy. The dogs drooled. The dogs were...dogs. They were not my brothers. It seemed devaluing to me, as a human child, to be referred to with the same terms as dogs.
What I didn't know then, and I do know now, was that my dad loved those dogs so much that if he'd felt half of what he felt for them for me I'd have had a much better parent. I ought to have been honored to be compared to them. My dad makes no excuses about preferring dogs to people.
And the older I get, the more I see the old man's point.
As I mentioned previously, I'm not planning to have children. There are a bunch of reasons for that, including my certainty that I'd be a shitty mother. And given the likelihood that I'll never parent, I will never be sure that the way I feel about my dogs is anything like the way I'd feel about kids. However, given the way people talk about their relationships with their kids, I think there are definitely similarities. I take my responsibility to my dogs, as dependant creatures who cannot survive without me, very seriously. Things that some pet-owners consider luxuries--high-quality food, interactive toys, top-notch vet care--are necessities to me. I believe that I owe them to my pets. And I am bonded to my dogs in a way that many pet owners aren't. They are never more than a few feet away from me when I'm home. I miss them terribly if I go on any sort of vacation. I worry about their health, their happiness. When Chance died, I grieved as I never have for a person.
This doesn't mean that I think my dogs are people. They are a seperate species. Treating them like human children would make no sense. They don't have human brain function. They have short life spans, and prey drives, and they will never use toilets. I am not trying to make a one-to-one equation between dogs and kids. Rather, as a childless person who plans to remain so, I'm arguing that in many ways, the roles my dogs play in my life mimic the role of your child in yours.
And people find that really, really insulting. Really insulting. For a long time, I haven't been sure why. Then I started thinking about how I felt, as a kid, about my bad referring to his dogs as my brothers. And I think people are having the same reaction to me now. Partially, they just think a comparison beween dogs and kids is ridiculous. Partially, they are horrified that I'd belittle the role of children so much as to compare them to dogs. And they are wrong, just like I was. It's not about belittling kids. If my dad had loved me and taken care of me like he did his dogs, we'd have a much better relationship. And if I thought I could parent kids as well as I take care of my dogs, I'd probably consider having them.
As a sidenote: Someone asked me why I always limit these rants to my dogs and don't include my cat. The truth is that I don't feel the same way about Atticus as I do about the dogs. I love Atticus, but my relationship with him is not reciprocal in the way it is with the dogs. I wish that I did. But cats don't speak to me the same way dogs do. They obviously do for some people, for me they don't. Which isn't to say that my cat isn't well taken care of--he is--but it's not the same.