Friday, May 22, 2009

I'm Not A Pet Parent

Can someone please explain this latest fad in calling people who own pets "pet parents?" Once upon a time - in my lifetime, no less - people bought cats and dogs and hamsters and birds and kept them in their house for their pleasure and amusement. They loved and cared for God's creatures, but it was commonly understood that people owned pets and parented children.
I can tell you that from experience that owning a dog and parenting a child are two completely different things.

Yes, I have an inherent responsibility to look out for the physical and emotional well being of both child and dog. Yes, I have a relationship with both that involves love and emotion.

But at the risk of stating the obvious, parenting is a lot more difficult than owning.

Parenting a child generally works like this. You go to a hospital and come home with a squirming little human that everyone coos over. You potty train the child, you teach him the proper way to eat and to speak to adults, how to achieve his goals and to be a responsible member of society. You instill moral values and give spiritual guidance. You worry every minute of the day that he's in danger, in trouble, or both.

Your child, on the other hand, tries to either subvert your efforts or blatantly disregard your every word. He does what he wants, when he wants, and even when he appears to be subscribing to the rules of your game he’s just biding his time until he can get out on his own and prove how stupid you really are.

Owning a dog generally works like this: You find a cute puppy and you bring it home, where everyone coos over it. You spend the next several months trying to teach the puppy that the whole wide outdoors is its personal toilet. You play with the puppy and cuddle the puppy, and as he grows you hopefully teach him some basic commands, like “Sit,” “Stay,” and “Don’t eat the cat.”

Regardless of whether the puppy subscribes to your basic spiritual or philosophical beliefs, he will at least attempt to do what you want, simply because he recognizes that you control the dog food. While there is debate about how much cognitive thinking a dog is capable of, it’s generally agreed that your dog doesn’t spend hours trying to think of ways to subvert your efforts. He operates on a very basic principle: you’re the leader of the pack and as long as you keep the Milk Bones coming he’s happy to keep it that way.

But the whole "pet parent" movement has created pet owners who indulge their little critters the way some parents indulge their children, overfeeding them, coddling them, and refusing to train or issue commands for fear they hurt their little psyches. The result? Dogs who are disobedient, untrained, overweight, and generally a giant nuisance to society.

Wait, maybe pet and child parenting really are alike.

I'm not sure why I'm so bothered by this whole "pet parent" movement. Maybe it stems from my belief that God created everything in the world and then created man in His own image.Nothing else in creation was created in God's image. Nothing else in creation has the ability to reason, to know and understand right from wrong, and choose one over the other. Nothing else in creation has been given the opportunity to be a mirror image of the Creator.
God gave us dominion over the animals, not to dominate but to love and care for them. And that requires boundaries and guidelines and rules. Someone has to be in charge, and it can't be the animals.

And so I parent my daughter and own my dog. And that's the way it should be.

(This column originally appeared in the Christian Voice Magazine. (c) 2008 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved.)

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