Funny how the phrase “pet lover” brings up such different reactions from people.
Once I was tagged with that moniker at work, people immediately equated me with someone who squeals over puppies and kittens (which I do), would consider buying couture outfits or special music CDs for my dog (which I wouldn’t) and is thrilled every time I see a bit of fluff on the television screen (which I’m not). Many of these folks see some of the, let’s say, colorful characters on TV who are “pet lovers” and conveniently plop me into the same one-size-fits-all Jello mold.
Only problem is that it isn’t true.
Yes, some pet lovers are, in fact, those eccentric folks who buy special bottled water and hire pet psychics to make sure all is well with Fido or Fluffy.
But the hoarder who keeps far more pets than they can handle, often in heartbreakingly horrid conditions, considers herself a pet lover. Talk to someone who fights pit bulls and they will go into great detail about how much they love their dogs. So will folks who have kept their dog on a chain in the backyard for the whole of his life. They will refer to that dog as “part of the family”.
Maybe the word “love” is the part of the equation that’s so abstract.
I believe that the word “love” should always, always be bound together with the word “respect”, especially when referring to companion animals. While I think it’s entirely possible to respect someone for whom you hold no love at all, I equally believe that no matter what you may choose to tell yourself, there is no love without respect. Infatuation, obsession, passion, adoration…maybe. But, absent respect, then it is a weak semblance of love, at best.
To be a true “pet lover” is to respect the essence of the animal you chose to include in your household. To know, long before they cross your threshold, that you owe them more than food, shelter, and the semi-annual rabies shot to keep them just-this-side of legal.
To be a pet lover is to understand that there are fundamental differences between you and your furry friend and, through no fault of their own, they find themselves told to live as a member of another world. A world where a lot of the rules we have don’t make sense to them. Where we ask them to sublimate some fundamental aspect of their character for their safety, or our convenience, while providing them with frequently inconsistent and ambiguous direction. And for all of our foibles, they try and do their best to comply.
In return, it’s the least (and I mean the very least) we can do to show them some respect for the awesome creatures they are. To take the time and effort to learn about their species, their habits and habitats, the ways in which they process information and the things that can make their world a better place to live. If we are asking a cat or dog (or any number of the other creatures we include in our lives) to adapt to an alien society, it is our duty as the “intelligent ones” to meet them part of the way. And if it isn’t, are we still pet lovers, or merely owners of domesticated animals?
I am a pet lover, but not in the way most people think. I love them enough to look out for them, to speak on their behalf against the wrongs we as a society to do to them and to do what I believe is best for them to have safe, secure, long and happy lives. I love companion animals enough to know that we have a long way to go before we are anywhere near as generous with them and their spirit as they are with ours. But I love them enough to continue trying, to continue talking and educating and demonstrating and letter writing. Because I am a pet lover.
“In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.” ~~ Edward Hoagland