You spend hours every day exercising and grooming your dogs, letting caged pets out for free-range time, petting and playing with your cats, and coaxing the elderly horse to just eat one more bite of beet pulp. Your paychecks might as well be signed over directly to the veterinarian, trainer, groomer, and maybe a pet acupuncturist or masseuse. You don’t buy designer sandals– why bother, when a designer collar for your dog is so much more fun to choose?
If this describes you– the passionate pet parent obsessed with providing the best of everything for his or her pets– you’ve probably run into many people who just don’t understand. How many times have you heard, “You spent that much on surgery for a dog?! For that price, you could just get a new one!” How often have you had to bite your tongue when a coworker or friend complains that their new dog. left outdoors alone 12 hours each day, has been barking? If you feel like you spend much of your life bashing your head against the proverbial brick wall when encountering people who don’t understand why you prioritize your pets above other aspects of your life, read on– I’ve dealt with this problem for much of my life, and I’ve developed what I feel is an effective coping strategy.
When Others Criticize Your Pet-Passionate Lifestyle
There is a certain type of person who gets a real kick out of describing a pet parent’s love for their pets as frivolous or out of bemoaning the condition of starving children in Africa, while contrasting their plight with a pet parent’s spending on good food for their pets. You can identify this personality type by a few common criticisms leveled at anyone they perceive as spending too much time or money on their pets:
- “Your dog doesn’t need special food. He’s a dog, for crying out loud. They eat anything.”
- “I’d never spend that much on a vet bill. What’s the point? Just have it put to sleep and start over with a young, healthy one.”
- “Gee, I wish I could afford to dote on my dog like that, but I’ve got a family to think about. I can’t spend on silly things like that when my kids need shoes for school.”
- “I wouldn’t tolerate a cat peeing in my house. Old or not, it can learn to use the litterbox, or it can find someone else’s carpet to pee on.”
I could go on, but these sophistries are fairly representative of the bullying of pet parents by this sort of person. I’ll now go through my suggested responses to each category of insult:
- The “Your pet doesn’t need X, because your pet would accept Z,” argument is invalid because pet ownership carries with it the responsibility to make smart decisions on your pet’s behalf. A dog, being a dog, is hardly capable of choosing his own pet food brand. Try replying with something along the lines of, “Most little kids would eat Kraft mac and cheese every day if you let them– but I wouldn’t feed it to them, because the responsible adult in a household needs to make healthy choices for the rest of the family. Likewise, an owner makes healthy decisions for pets.” Then change the subject.
- This second argument is simply rude and judgmental, and doesn’t deserve a response that could leave the matter open for further debate. Reply with, “I understand your priorities differ from mine. To each his own.” You’ll come out looking like a class act, while the bully has egg on his face.
- The third argument is similar, but leaves room to score a point: “Yes, I agree. When another living being is dependent upon you for its survival and happiness, you have an obligation to meet its needs and provide it with the best lifestyle you can.”
- The final complaint by the bully– “I’m so tough I wouldn’t tolerate X from my animal”– is easy to dismantle. One could argue indefinitely about where a line is drawn regarding a pet’s behavior, but instead, point out, “That’s why I’m just so incredibly glad to know that my pet found its home with me, instead of someone less accepting of his foibles.”
Of course, always try to change the subject after a snappy comeback like these. It won’t do to get into a drawn-out argument over your pets. When two people argue about a fundamental difference in their morals and priorities, both always lose.
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Excellent article! Your arguments are good. Lately I’ve spent time thinking about how pet owners should be licensed. How about some sort of signed commitment under penalty of law?
We already know the impulse to buy a pet is not thought through by what seems like the majority of people. It saddens me when I hear epithets like, “She’s just a dog, you know”.
The cost of care; the possibility of disease; the commitment of time, does not seem to be considered in the face of that adorable puppy, kitten or other baby species. The need to breed more babies due to our insatiable appetite for cute, is causing an incredible demand on our no-kill shelters.
Our own quality of life will be improved if we embrace Mahatma Gandhi’s belief, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
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