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OpEd: Pets aren’t people. Let’s stop treating them like they are

We love our pets as though they were our children - and that's a problem.
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Karen Green, July 29, 2013 11:36:24 AM

We push them around in the latest strollers, dress them in designer clothing, and take them to the spa. They eat expensive, organic food; sleep on bedding fit for royalty, and in North America alone, we spend about $32 billion each year on their care and comfort.

We sure do love our pets. But is that love doing them more harm than good?

Gone are the days when all a dog needed was a bowl of food, some space to run and a good belly-rub every once in a while. Now, we spend money on pet goods that are so beyond the scope of what an animal needs to thrive that it can only be described as mania. And the pet care industry just keeps on giving us things to buy.

The recent recession hit many households hard, but Fido and Fifi sure didn’t suffer – even in times of economic downturn, studies show that spending on pets remained flush. Hard to resist those cute little faces, especially when we think of them as our babies.

But spending too much on our pets is just one way that we are going too far for our four-legged pals.

There are more serious consequences to our pet obsession, and they are beginning to take a toll on our furry friends. In a world where up to 50% of marriages end in divorce; where more and more couples are remaining childless and where family units are becoming more and more fragmented, it’s no surprise that pets are now part of one in three Canadian households. Pets are loyal, reliable, love unconditionally, and don’t care if we can’t keep a relationship or a job. They are cherished members of our family, and that is exactly how we are treating them – as one of the family.

The problem is, we don’t always treat members of the family so well, and it’s starting to show. In a recent CBC interview, animal expert and author, Jon Katz, shared his concern that by relying on our animals as emotional outlets – by using them in place of human communication – we are not just sharing our love, but our emotional baggage. He points to the fact that increasingly, our pets are suffering from “very human-style disorders like depression, anxiety and separation anxiety.”

Renowned pet expert, Cesar Milan seems to agree; on his website he cautions dog owners to not humanize their pet, a problem he says can lead to confusion and disorientation for your pet, manifesting in bad behaviour.

Socializing and caring for a dog is not the same as socializing and caring for a child. You cannot put a dress on your dog and call it a baby and expect it will act as benignly as an infant, or eventually grow up to take care of itself. The unfortunate reality is that dog bites, often a result of poor socialization and training are on the increase, as are abandonments.

Pet ownership can be one of the most fulfilling endeavours of our lives, but that is best achieved by treating your dog like a dog, and remembering, as Milan says, that your dog is an animal, looking for a pack leader – not a parent.

Oh, and that taking a dog for a walk does not mean putting it in a purse while you strut down the street.

Image credit: Thinkstock

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Karen Green


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