Seems to me that’s not quite right. My best friend lives with his wife halfway around the world. I’m not responsible for feeding him or providing for his welfare. I don’t cradle his head when he’s sick or lie with him all night to make sure he doesn’t accidentally tear open his sutures, although I did once take him to get sutures after he split his head open on a concrete overhang. I certainly don’t bathe him or brush him or clean up his poop and vomit — minus that one time he threw up in my car — and thankfully he doesn’t lick my face and sniff my butt every time I come home.
I’m not sure it’s fair to imply that our pets are children either. We’d have our kids taken away if we left them alone for hours at a time. Legally, of course, pets are property, although by goodness some states limit the ways one can abuse that privilege, proving there is a difference between a pet and, say, a blender or a bank account, which we are free to abuse with relish, as I’ve been doing to mine lately.
I’m not trying to be overly sentimental. In fact, I’m trying to tear away the plastic sentimentality the greeting card industry has shrink-wrapped around it all and get to the truth. It’s time we recognized the relationship we have with our pets is not “like” anything. It is it’s own category of human experience. That we lack a public language to describe or even simply to name it shows just how unique and special it is.
Our other close relationships — marriage, friendship, family — are significantly public. Not only are marriages and births recorded, most of us deliberately stand in front of crowds to speak our vows and christen our children, who we then send to public school, where they make friends independent of us.
Not so with pets, whose majority existence is confined to the household (even if they get regular trips to the park). Almost every aspect of the relationship is private, in fact. Consider: it would be odd not to know your sister’s husband or her children, but you wouldn’t feel bad if you never really got to know her cat.
Even fellow “pet owners” — a dismally economic phrase that, in true capitalist fashion, reduces everything meaningful to a commercial transaction — even we, who know very well the depth of that unnamed bond, will not have a good view into yours, even in conditions of cohabitation.
For nearly two years in college, my roommate had a cat named Bilbo who was by then old enough to drink. Bilbo abhorred a closed door the way nature abhors a vacuum, and he would pound on the plywood planks that passed for ours even in the middle of the night — regardless of whether or not any of us were alone in our rooms…
I grew to loathe that damned cock-blocking cat! (Don’t worry. The feeling was mutual.) But to my roommate, he was the world.
So they’re not property and they’re not children and they’re not best friends, although they may also be that. They are ours, or more aptly we are theirs, and while it lasts, that is more than enough.