Fur Baby – Not!

Aaaaahhh! This “furbaby” thing drives me crazy!

I'd rather be eating something yucky...

Furry Babies, Inc is a pet store chain that capitalizes on our loving yet frequently confused relationships to our dogs. Furry Babies, Inc. keeps its puppies not in crates, mind you, but in baby cribs set up all over the pink, nursery themed store. You will go home with your ribbon bedecked “bundle of joy”. Last but not least, their financing plans will also actually help you build/repair your credit ( talk about one stop shopping!).

The stylist prepared puppy photos show wide-eyed puppies, dressed in frilly tutus, sophisticated dinner jackets and lil’ slugger t-shirts. The “babies” are surrounded with seasonally appropriate pumpkins and gourds and accessorized with orange bows and hats. As my nausea abated, my indignation grew…

who says we confuse babies and pets?

Dogs are not babies. While I’m a big believer that the job of dogs as family pet is important and valid, framing that role as nothing more than a furry, human child does only damage. This infantilization of dogs is a not only a disservice to them, it is a danger. Treating dogs like little furry babies completely disrespects the needs, proclivities, and perspectives of their own culture. We humans have a strong tendency to look at other peoples, species and cultures through our own rather limited lenses. We seem to need to assign our own attributes to those that are “other” so we can relate to, understand and sometimes even control them.

Am I human enough?

Our relationship to pet dogs is complex. We no longer view them as livestock yet, even though they are dependant on our care and companionship, they are not our children either. Our default response to them – a confusing mixture of Furbaby ( the word itself illustrates the conflict) caretaking, expectations for Lassie loyalty and Rin-Tin-Tin bravery. That the domestic dog ends up with any grasp on sanity is a testament to their remarkable adaptability and resilience.

As a child, one of my favorite movies was Francois Truffaut’S “L’enfant Sauvage” ( The Wild Child), a true story about the attempted “domestication” of a boy who had been raised (by wolves?) in the forest. I’m reminded of that child’s despair and confusion as he was “helped” to become a “civilized human” when I watch some of our domesticated dogs try to make sense of our culture with its alien social norms, rules and customs.

While we are all love our human babies (well most of the time! ), one of the big shocks of parenthood is how unlike the Hallmark card bliss and sweetness babies really are. There are days ( weeks?) that Bundle of Joy thing can be pretty elusive! This same shock and unpreparedness comes to puppy owners who have been similarly misled about the realities of puppy rearing ( put a gun to my head – I WILL not say Puppy parenting!). While there were days I thought I might need a shelter to take my kids to ( just kidding, C. and D. – I love you!), shelter relinquishment is sadly all too often the “solution” for  frustrated puppy owners who had no idea what they were getting into. We do dogs no favors when we allow them to be portrayed as something they are not. This leaves their owners unequiped to provide their pets with species appropriate handling, communication and expectations. The result is, in my opinion, tantamount to cruelty.

The Furry Babies, Inc. puppies don’t know the difference between a crate and a crib. They, no doubt, find tutus and ribbons useful chew toys. Their parents likely spend their lives in high volume breeding facilities where they endure, at the other end of the spectrum, an equally damaging of lack of respect for the culture of dogs.

“The animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.” Henry Beston, naturalist & author (1888 – 1968)

8 thoughts on “Fur Baby – Not!

  1. This has forever driven me insane. I love dogs BECAUSE they are dogs and I always correct even the most well-meant comments about my ‘children’ with “They are family members but I did not give birth to them, they are dogs”. I was just thinking yesterday about how much I also dislike breeding plans announced as a ‘marriage’ between 2 dogs (2 dogs which will be put together to copulate 3 times and probably never see one another again). It is almost creepy! And I agree completely that the infantilization of dogs can only be harmful to dogs. We should, as owners (and we ARE their owners) celebrate their essential ‘dogness’ rather than deny it to their detriment.

  2. This post is so right on about so many things. I went into a Furry Baby store a couple years ago (http://goo.gl/Z97AB) and found it extremely depressing — especially the squealing glee of the prospective “parents,” who looked to be mainly teenage girls hoping their boyfriend would give them a fur-baby. There’s a dangerous loop around puppies being babies and babies being cute little toys to dress up.

    Keep up the great blogging!

    • Thanks for posting those photos. The store front looks like a pile of baby blocks. Yikes!
      I think the pups probably do benefit from the increased socialization. I have no argument there – I wish their parents were getting the same benefits. I believe sending puppies home with the message that they are no more than babies is setting the relationship up for trouble.

  3. The above quote by Beston is one of my favorites.
    And treating dogs like children drives me to distraction as well this behavior’s “kissing cousin” – anthropomorphism (the attributing of human shape or characteristics to a god, animal, or inanimate thing).
    Why can’t people just accept a dog for a dog?? They are beautiful and joyous beings in their own right and when we do them the injustice of judging and interpreting their behavior according to human’s view, we are missing the whole point of having a dog or other domesticated animal in the family. Cribs indeed!

    • I think humans are hard wired to caretake in a certain way. Learning to care for others in a way that respects who that “other” is and needs takes effort, education and a willingness to see beyond our own perspectives. It’s not always easy and certainly does not neccesarily come naturally.

  4. Someone I know has a dog rescue group. She specializes in small, fluffy dogs, and makes regular trips to the counties where there are Amish farms raising puppies as a cash crop, pulls their unwanted adults and some puppies – like blind ones, or pups with minor deformities. The farmers think they are being kind. She raises funds with Dog Weddings. They are actually very fun events. But I admit to ambiguous feelings. There is a rather creepy level of anthropomorphism in the rooms, but my friend is one of the kindest people I know, and very creative and funny. Lots of money is raised.

    It seems to me that this humanization of animals is the marketing genius behind the Rescue craze that has resulted in the reduction of the numbers of well bred, carefully selected dogs in homes, and a boom in pet training businesses. Everyone wants to ‘rescue’ rather than buy a purpose-bred dog, and a lot of quality breeders are cutting back on the number of litters because they no longer have a waiting list for every planned litter. I don’t see many show/hobby/working dog breeders putting bonnets on their puppies or holding ‘weddings’ for the adult dogs, it is not common in my circle, anyway. But my friend’s rescue business is booming, and there is that money thing – raising thousands so a single dog can have a crooked leg repaired rather than amputated, that I find so conflicting.

    This ‘furbaby’ store thing may not be as original as we might think. My friend’s rescue has expanded the doggy ‘wedding’ bit to our state fair, where she holds these events every day during the ten day run of the fair. They are well attended, and are covered in the media.

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