Aaaaahhh! This “furbaby” thing drives me crazy!
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…
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.
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)