Are we being brainwashed by using the term “pet parents?”
On one of those days where I wander the Interwebz absorbed in dog-lady obsessions, I came across Torie Bosch’s article on Slate. The provocative title of her piece is “I Am Not A Pet Parent.” No mistake, she is a pet lover, but puts forward a case on why the term “pet parents” sticks in her craw.
Basically, she contends that people have been indoctrinated by Big Pet companies, lead by dog food makers, who want you pay more. They want you to pay more for everything to do with your pets. Pay more for better quality they say, because your dog is like family and deserves to be treated like family. You wouldn’t feed your kids sawdust, why feed your dog sawdust?
She has a point in the statistics - The American Pet Products Association estimate cites a $55 billion total spend on pets by their owners in 2013, statistically close to double the amount shelled out over the last dozen years. We’ve heard that stat before. She makes the added point that maintaining that exponential growth means some fundamental marketing brainwash needs to happen. And that the marketers are pushing the term “pet parents” and all that it implies – whether at the pet store, the vet clinic or celebrating the pet insurance company-created national “Pet Parents Day” in April. She contends that the term “pet parents” is the Kool-Aid we’re all drinking.
Torie ends her piece with a description of all the ways she cares for, dotes on, and somewhat builds her life around her cats, pets that she owns. She admits that she does the bidding of her pets, but at then end of the day, she “owns” them, she does not “parent” them.
But that isn’t parenting. Parenting prepares a human being to live and thrive in the real world without the constant guidance of a mother or father. Ideally, the person should, unlike my cats, be able to answer nature’s calls without anyone else having to clean it up. Yeah, some cats can use the toilet, but mine will never be that self-sufficient. They will be indolent and indulged, dependent on my husband and me, for the rest of their days. It is a two-way relationship: They give me unconditional affection, comfort, and warmth when I just can’t deal with humans any longer. But that isn’t a parent-child relationship. It’s a pet-pet owner relationship. I may do the bidding of Callie and Goose. But I still own them.
Torie certainly has some valid points, and yet here on Furever Network we use the term all the time. Are we doing you, fair readers, a disservice?
I was a dog owner as a young adult in the 1980′s. My little Yorkie Zak was my dog, no question. I can’t recall anyone, myself included, refering to him as my furbaby, or me as his mom. Fast forward to the 2010′s and I foster my first dog for Jack Russell Terrier Rescue Ontario. Rex was fantastic, loved him, we found him an excellent furever family. And that was the first time I heard the term “foster mom.” OK, no problem, that’s a rescue term I figured, no big deal.
Then I got McGee, my own next dog. All kinds of people called me his mum, and truthfully, for the first couple of months I cringed inside every time I heard it. As a single person with a single dog, it took some getting used to.
Then I started volunteering for Canadian Chihuahua Rescue and Transport. And within weeks I was proudly proclaiming my doggie motherhood – foster mom and owner mom – with the zeal of a convert. I have dog nieces and nephews, McGee has dog cousins and brothers and sisters. I may even have a dog godchild or two if the adopters of my former foster dogs had a say in it.
Did I drink too much Kool-Aid? I certainly spend on my dogs like a cult member. And I certainly do work hard on rehabilitating-slashing-parenting the dogs I’ve fostered, and adopted (two!), and trained (McGee the Chi!). Its true that they will never pick up their own poops (damn thumb-lessness!). Certainly the current laws interpret companion animals as “chattel,” as “things” that are “owned” by me.
If I consider myself one of the “pet owners” rather than the “pet parents” will I be emancipated from this insidious marketing cult?