It’s big business, catering for pets. Not only is the pet food market worth millions, there’s all the pet accessories too. Now there’s an increasing trend of eating out with your pets, specifically dogs. Once a dog-friendly café was expected to provide water bowls outside, with a place to attach the dog’s leash, so that the dog was restrained and watered while the owner sipped their flat white inside.
Some cafes now have a ‘K9’ menu, with ‘puppacinos’ and the like on offer. Some have bean bags for dogs to sleep on. No longer are the dogs consigned to waiting patiently outside.
There has to be money in that too.
It’s one thing for cafes to be dog-friendly. It’s another thing though for them to ‘embrace our fur-babies’, as the sub-heading put it in a recent newspaper article on the growing trend of cafes catering for pets. The term ‘fur babies’ has been around for a while, and it’s often used on the internet when people post photos of their pets in cute poses, or wearing cutesy clothes. Does it mean anything though?
Pets are very important
The added dimension of having a pet can be really valuable for children as they grow up. Not only is there the responsibility of learning to care for an animal, there is the fun and interest of learning about animal behaviour. Our two cats were really important to our children, and when our offspring had left home, coming back to the family home also meant coming back to the cats.
I’ll never forget the tears in our son’s voice when we told him on a phone call overseas that we were going to have to put the cat down before he was able to return to say goodbye.
My mother too in her widowed years valued the company of her cat. Pets can be a reason for getting up in the morning, particularly if there’s an impatient animal clamouring to be let inside, and to be fed. Or sometimes a pet simply wants a lap to sit in, or to be patted. Pets can be good company.
It’s not just lonely seniors who dote on their pets, or families who share the fun when there’s a mix of animals and children. Childless couples often have pets that get much attention (and many dollars) lavished on them.
Becoming substitute humans
Why though are pets sometimes treated as substitute children, or family members?
There are people who become so disillusioned with family or friends or colleagues that they give on people and substitute animals instead. One woman’s experience of growing up in a large family was so negative, she chose not to have children, and she and her husband had a series of dogs instead.
Or an unfulfilled nurturing instinct means some people may turn to animals, if there’s been no opportunity to care for someone who belongs to them. Then we may hear, “Mummy’s coming soon to feed you,…” where the owner shows very clearly in her (usually) speech how she regards her pet.
It’s when a pet is treated in semi-human ways that they may be diminished as an animal. The relationship with the pet can then be unhealthy, both for the animal and also for a person who is expecting too much from their pet.
This is why I object to the term ‘fur babies.’ Although it’s an affectionate term, and it’s probably only used for puppies and little pets with lots of fur, it demeans the animal. I doubt it’s a term used for large Labradors or golden retrievers, huskies or German shepherds.
Rescue centres have been set up for dogs that are discarded when they are no longer puppies, and have grown beyond the ‘fur baby’ category. There’s a husky centre in our local city, specifically to cater for the abandoned huskies who become too much for their owners. The influence of ‘Game of Thrones’ led to many people taking on a husky as a pup, but when they grow, the dogs need a 5km walk every day to keep fit and healthy.
Little dogs may also be used as a fashion accessory, with almost the same status as a designer handbag. (The dog may even be carried in the handbag.) Perhaps the only difference between that and the fur stoles of an earlier age is that the dogs are alive.
Such dogs are diminished in their ‘dogginess’, and become neither human nor animal.
[In contrast, the term ‘lap dog’ has been around for years, and usually indicates a person who is treated like a pampered pet.]
The Bible - and pets
The Bible doesn’t say anything about pets. In the early chapters of Genesis the man gives names to all the creatures that the Lord God has made. Naming implies ownership and responsibility, and is fundamental to science. It is only the man and the woman who are made in the image of God, thereby showing the marked difference there is between humans and the rest of creation.
This elevated status does not imply superiority, instead Adam and Eve are given responsibility over all of the created order. They are to be ‘stewards’ (and not exploiters) and this created order includes animals – and pets.
When animals are elevated to the same status as humans, which calling pets ‘fur babies’ implies, humanity is diminished, and animals may not be treated according to their ‘kind.’ Pets may exhibit many characteristics that humans also have – they can grieve, play, be sad, be joyful, have fun, and relish affection. But they are not human.
Tamed animals are able to form strong bonds with human beings, and there are a number of stories of dogs especially, waiting patiently, often for years, for a master who died and will never return. The bond is still one between animal and human. It’s not a bond that’s established between a human and substitute human.
The Kingdom of God is said to be a ‘kingdom of right relationships’, and that includes relationships between human beings and tamed animals, ie pets. Maybe it’s the relationships they have with other human beings that need to be put right first, so that pets don’t take the place of people.
Liz Hay’s mountain world also provides the added dimension of enjoying the local wildlife, and also the visits of owners with their pets. Seeing dogs bounding across the village green, to collect sticks or balls that have been thrown for them by their owners, while others are taken for walks on their leashes, is a healthy sight to enjoy.