We have a problem in America.
You've heard it before. "I'm a dog mom/dad" or "I'm a cat mom/dad." Maybe you have heard "I have furbabies" or you've seen "furbabies" counted as children alongside human children (in some cases, instead of human children).
Lately, I have even seen individuals stating that they are a mom or dad to their chickens! I am guessing this extends to other livestock as well.
Shortly after I started noticing people stating they are the parent to their chickens, we went on vacation. We decided to take our dog with us. She is a very sweet dog and loves being with us. She is also a great traveler, she even seems to get offended when we get in the truck and she is left at home! We knew we were spending a few days at museums and needed a safe place for her to be, so we signed her up for doggy daycare.
Let me tell you, doggy daycare is the BEST. They feed her, keep her entertained, and wear her out. Instead of being cooped up and miserable all day, she gets to play with other dogs and burn off all of her crazy puppy energy. It was worth the fee to have her taken care of all day and not have to worry.
Each doggy daycare had us sign a waiver. They were pretty standard. We had to acknowledge that she could get hurt playing with other dogs, allow them to secure vet care in an emergency, and state that we would cover the expense of her being there.
The last waiver was the most interesting. This doggy daycare had me certify, twice, that I understood that pets are not children. It went on to state that pets are animals (shocking) and that animals behave instinctually and cannot be reasoned with.
My husband and I laughed about this. Our dog is a dog. She's our dog, we care about her, and we take care of her, but she is still just an animal. There are very few scenarios where I would choose to save her life over saving a human (and all of those scenarios involve her defending my family from an intruder or attacker). I certainly wouldn't hand her over to someone that I thought would mistreat or neglect her, but neither would I be shocked to find out she was involved in some kind of doggy dust-up that resulted in an injury.
This brings up a question that I think all pet owners (notice, I did not say "pet parents") to ask themselves. Do we treat our pets in such a way that we're elevating them to the same level as humans (especially children)?
You might be thinking, "What does it matter? I love my pets and they're like my family. Of course I know they're not human, but they're important to me and this is how I show it." You may even be thinking, "Pets are better than people, people turn on you and hurt you - my pets would never do that."
Pets are great. Before you send me hate mail, please know that I love having two cats and a dog. We also have a small flock of chickens, but I don't really consider them to be "pets."
We buy our pets treats and toys, make sure they are licensed, spay/neuter as appropriate, travel with them or ensure they're cared for when we travel, and generally give them a wonderful quality of life in exchange for snuggles, vermin control, guard dog duties, and companionship.
We also have four children. At first, when we got the pets, I thought it was fun to refer to them as my sons' siblings and joke about it. I even referred to them as "my babies." As time wore on, I began to realize what I was really saying.
When I say, even as a joke, that my pets are related to my kids or that they're my children I am saying that they have equal standing and value as a human child. As a pro-life believer, that is not how I should be treating them or thinking about them. My pets are not the same as my children. They aren't made in God's image, they do not have an eternal soul, and they should not be treated as though they do.
As I pondered this obsession with treating pets like children I thought about the potential ramifications for human children. The pet industry is worth 69 billion dollars. It has tripled in size since 1996! Yes, pets need food, leashes, treats, and other things. However, what would happen if we took even half of what we spend on our pets and spent it on human children? Not necessarily having a child or adopting one, but helping out a young family, donating to a ministry that cares for children, or even investing in the education of the children of family and friends. How much of an impact would 33 billion dollars have on children?
Another problem with treating pets like they're children is that we lose space for real children in our lives. If we're so busy spoiling, fussing over, and prioritizing our pet that we don't have time or space for human children we have a problem. Does your pet make it impossible to have another family over for dinner? Are you putting off having children, or unable to adopt/foster children, because you invest so much time and energy in your pet? Do you miss out on church activities or volunteer opportunities because your pet can't be left alone? There are many lost, broken, and hurting children in this world. If we can welcome them into our lives, we should. If our pet is preventing us from helping them, then it may be time to consider whether we have allowed our pet to become more important than a human child.
Finally, and I think this is the most concerning piece, some young couples are now choosing to have pets instead of having children. They allow pets to fill the child-shaped hole in their hearts (given to humans by God) and choose to focus on their pet(s) instead of being fruitful and multiplying as God has commanded us. There are many reasons for this, but the chief reason seems to be that human children are simply too much work. Young people state that having a pet is easier, there is less responsibility, and there is no long-term commitment. In short, they're taking the easy road. However, instead of buying a pet and treating it like a pet, they treat it like a child.
I'm not a psychologist. However, I would guess that people do this because God has programmed us to procreate. Our bodies want to reproduce and have children. Therefore, even when our brain says "no, I don't want a baby" we seek out a baby replacement. Often, that baby replacement ends up being an animal.
So, what do we do?
First, sit down and really, and I mean really, consider how much value you are placing on your pet. Are you treating your dog like a human child? Does your cat mean more to you than the people in your life? Ask God to show you how you can have the proper perspective on your pet. Does this mean owning a pet is sinful? Absolutely not. There are many great reasons to have a pet. We simply must avoid treating our pets as though they are human.
Second, guard your tongue. Don't refer to your pet as your baby (or anyone's baby). Don't call yourself a "dog mom" or "cat dad" and don't allow others to refer to you that way either. I would even go so far to suggest we stop using the words "adopt" and "foster" in reference to animals. You can buy an animal, procure an animal, or care for an animal. Adoption or fostering, bringing a person into our families, should be a term we reserve for children. If you're really up for a challenge, gently and with love address family and friends who are treating their pet like a child. It is possible they have never even thought about the problems this could bring.
Third, and finally, make space for a child in your life. You could consider adopting, fostering, or providing respite care for a child. However, maybe you aren't ready to have your own kids, you're done having kids, or you're unable to have kids. That doesn't mean there are no opportunities to be involved with and part of a child's life. Ask for opportunities at your church, look up volunteer opportunities in your community, or talk with family and friends about how you can help them with their children. You may be surprised at how many opportunities there are!
Listen, I'm not going to go home and toss my pets into the street and neither should you. There is a place for pets in our lives, and when a human domesticates an animal they have a responsibility to care for and protect that animal. However, we need to guard against turning our pets into people. Otherwise, we will find that we are neglecting the calling God has given us to watch over and protect children, especially those who have nobody to care for them.
Sarah is the Executive Director of Promise of Life Network based in Slippery Rock Pennsylvania. Sarah is married and a mother to four sons. In her spare time Sarah enjoys biking, knitting, crocheting, and reading. Sarah recently published her first book, Courageously Pro-Life, a 12-week Bible study designed to equip believers to transform our world.