It’s a heated debate among pet parents and mammal moms - but is it really worth the fight?
This week, Pope Francis proclaimed that choosing pets over children was “selfish” and “takes away our humanity.” And immediately, dog parents took to social media to share their outrage.
But long before this surprising stance, you’ve no doubt heard the argument in secular terms. The long-standing disagreement between dog moms and baby moms. Be it light-hearted or heated, the debate about fur babies has always been in the air.
In one corner, Dog Moms - many of whom choose not to have children - call their pets “babies” and insist puppies are just as much a responsibility as having a toddler.
In the other corner, outraged and exhausted mothers balk at this notion, seeing it as much of a baby myth as the stork.
And although it’s all about one’s ultimate decision and destiny, these two sides never seem to agree. Even if the end result is the same for both - caring for and loving a young life. One a little hairier than the other, of course.
On Wednesday, while addressing a general audience, Pope Francis took a little left turn and called out those who opt for pets over kids. And unsurprisingly, this diss against pet parenting triggered a lot of attention.
“Today, we see a form of selfishness,” said the Pope. “We see that some people do not want to have a child. Sometimes they have one, and that’s it, but they have dogs and cats that take the place of children. This may make people laugh but it is a reality.”
He went on to call pet parenting something that “diminishes us, takes away our humanity.” And dog lovers on social media didn’t sit, stay, or heel over this.
Among the scathing comebacks and humorous pet posts that surfaced, the most common reaction was summed up by tweeters like @LeoMontague91, who shot back: ““Interesting words from the Pope, who has apparently forgotten he has himself deliberately chosen not to have children.”
And outside the Vatican, among us regular folk, the idea of calling yourself a mom or dad to a dog still raises a lot of hackles.
A dog is not technically your baby (sorry)
OK. Both puppies and toddlers are literal anklebiters, but the differences outweigh the similarities between canine and kid.
We probably don’t need to point out the whole species thing, because doggie moms know their pooches aren’t their true offspring (we hope). It’s more a matter of the language surrounding fur babies that riles up the moms of human offspring.
“As much as I understand the sentiment from an emotional point of view,” says Vancouver artist Laura Zerebeski, “having birthed a human baby, I find the trend of calling oneself a “pet parent” caring for a “fur baby” to be a disturbing metaphor. NO IT IS NOT THE SAME.”
Critics of the “fur baby” label see it as diminishing the biological process and pain of childbirth and raising a son or daughter, when getting a dog can be as simple as pointing to one and taking it home.
Others cite the fact that pouring kibble in a bowl isn’t on par as the arduous task of feeding a baby. New moms bristle at puppy pampering and doggie strollers, the costume dress-ups, and the complaints of dog moms having a poor sleep.
“I’ve never been a fur parent,” Vancouver dog owner Alisha Parpatt tells OhMyDog!. “ I treat them as animals and not a substitute. So while caring for a living animal can be somewhat related to a child, a dog should not be seen as practice. In my opinion it’s not anything like a child that literally cannot be left alone or fend for itself.”
M.A. Wallace, a parenting columnist for New York magazine, argues the big difference in upbringing is the eternal struggle to release a good child into the world.
She writes: “We should remember that pets are extensions of us. We keep them to meet our needs, not theirs. You can’t “parent” a pet because you aren’t teaching it how to leave you and become an independent being.”
“Your pet is stuck with no choice but to love you. Even Snoopy, who lived wild and free in his mind, never left Charlie Brown. He knew who had the supper dish.”
Still… Dog owners feel like proud parents
Is calling a dog your baby really a big deal? Shouldn’t we be grateful these pets are loved and doted on?
Rain Ng is a 22 year-old Vancouverite who doesn’t plan on having kids, and considers her two dogs her babies.
“I think the biggest similarity in comparison is when dogs get sick,” says Ng.
“Like babies and small children, dogs cannot tell us exactly what's wrong with words.
Both dog parents and human parents will worry, hover over, and try to soothe our babies.”
“They bring me joy like a parent would find joy seeing their children grow. They bring me laughter because dogs can be silly and random like a child. They bring me heart break and worry, thinking about the worst possibility and their safety.”
Some similarities are even science-based. It’s said that dogs have the same level of mental abilities as a 2 ½ year-old child. And both learn word mapping to communicate, understanding up to 100 words.
A recent study published last February found that dogs use the same cognitive tools to differentiate between good and bad providers, meaning they have the capacity to actually judge character.
Vancouver dog mom Fran Mei and her partner also decided not to have children.
“We both love dogs and grew up with them, so getting a dog “as a child” was a no brainer,” Mei told OMD!. “Also, it’s in my nature to be caring, it makes me feel very fulfilled. So caring for a dog instead of a child fulfills the same need and brings me the same happiness.”
And let’s face it. Aside from the benefits of having a loyal pet who is always glad to see you, a youngster you can keep in a cage at night, and a furry little bundle who doesn’t throw tantrums - the cost of parenting a pup is pretty attractive compared to choosing a child.
It’s no wonder many millennials, who already face unattainable housing prices, are choosing to raise dogs in life. It costs an average of $1500 to parent a pooch, compared to the $12,000 homo sapien price tag.
Some people would actually like to have children, but it just isn’t in the cards.
So Can Dogs Be Fur Babies?
No one is pretending a kennel is the same as a womb. Or that teaching a dog to fetch a stick is more culturally significant than teaching a child to read. Pets and children are different animals, period. The important thing is that the right needs are met for every dependent creature counting on you.
The dog fanatic complaining about lack of sleep will always draw eyerolls from new mothers. And the dad at the park over-gushing about the miracle of birth is certain to annoy after a while.
The friction between both types of “parents” is most likely here to stay. Like the loss of love between cats and dogs, we accept it, and continue to throw our frisbees and rattle our keys.
Local dog lover Angie Gee has four young ones - two dogs and two kids. She loves them all, but seems secure in the facts from the front lines of parenthood.
“I think the difference is that when you have a dog, you basically have the same thing forever,” says Gee. “That's the point. You just teach your dog to be well behaved and reasonable, then you have the same relationship for ages, then they get old and sick and you take care of them and they die. You go into it knowing this is the plan.”
“With kids, you are raising them to be a member of society who outlives you and goes on to be or do any number of things...just teaching them to follow directions and not steal food isn't gonna cut it - you're raising someone's partner and parent and neighbour and friend. The stakes are higher. And you certainly don't go into it with the intent of caring for them and saying goodbye”.
“I love my dogs a LOT,” concludes Gee. “And they can be work, for sure. But damn...kids are a different beast.”