Photo of Golden Retriever dog playing in the creek.

They will always be my Fur-Kids

by Kris Phillips

Ok, So I’ve been having a bit of writer’s block since the holidays. But when my husband forwarded this blog to me… it got the gears turning again. While she is certainly entitled to her opinion, well so am I. In the blog the author rants about the term “fur-kids/fur-babies”, saying that it’s offensive to Moms. She demands everyone stop using the term fur-babies and fur-kids because it implies that pets and children are exactly the same. Quite frankly the term itself acknowledges that they are distinct ideas simply by including the word “fur”. To say that my calling my dogs fur-babies somehow diminishes the loved status of your human child is ridiculous. People who refer to their pets as furkids do so to share how they feel about the furry little souls in their charge. It’s a way of saying this little creature that shares my life is not JUST a dog (or cat). It has absolutely nothing to do with anyone else’s feeling about their children. Having acknowledged that kids & fur-kids are two distinct terms for two distinct beings I would like to address the author’s reasoning on why the term fur-kids is offensive to moms. 

2015-11-11Anniversary-0671As a species we generally seek to create a family unit. But there are so many reasons people don’t have children of their own. Some choose not to. Some find themselves unable. And an ever increasing number are simply waiting. When I graduated high school I stood out as someone who had not become pregnant, and instead opted for college. College drug out well into my twenties while I tried to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. And then came finding a partner, building a career, having that career taken away and building another career. Through all this turmoil the desire for a family unit was filled by my constant furry companions, and still is. Now that I’m speeding toward my mid-30’s I have no idea if child-bearing has passed me by. So my fur-kids are more than just dogs. When I sat crying on the floor through life’s crushing moments it was often a wet nose and big soft head nudged under my arm that brought a much needed smile. I have snuggled them when they were afraid. Felt the swell of pride as they learned to play with the other pups at the park. Laid on the floor with them when they were hurt.  And I have rocked them in my arms, tears streaming down my face, as they took their last breath. Having worked with animals most of my life, including several years in veterinary offices, I know that my experience is not unique. To accept responsibility for another living soul is something that some people take more personally than others.

I’m not going to argue that having children isn’t hard, and yes even harder than having pets you love with all your heart. Raising your child to be a beautiful human being is no doubt one of the most important things a person can do in life. However, the author suggests that people with children are more invested because of the work that goes into obtaining one. “Most mothers went through nine months of body invasion, followed by one of the most intense physical experiences of her life…And even if you adopt, you go through paperwork and waiting hell.” But I don’t think you can judge the value of love based on “its work”. If pregnancy, labor, and paperwork are the benchmarks of having kids I foresee a lot of disappointed step parents who should be informed they are not allowed to love their spouses children as their own. And then there are folks who have children unexpectedly dumped in their laps, I guess they don’t get to call them kids either.
ShadowwaitingAlso, the idea that people with pets can just plop them in a kennel and travel guilt-free is a bit close-minded. When I had my dear Husky Shadow, I would leave her with my mom to travel. Shadow would lay by the gate and refuse to eat in my absence, so much for guilt-free. In fact, my mother had to trick her into eating by feeding her an hour before the time when I usually got home from work. Yup, somehow she knew. When I worked as a vet tech I had countless clients who wouldn’t travel for fear that their pets might pass while they were away. And a dear friend of mine had to make the heart-wrenching decision to say goodbye to her companion of over a decade when life circumstances prompted an intercontinental move. Not because she was unwilling to pay all the expenses of bringing her furry loved one home but because her fur-baby would have to fly in the cargo area where no one would be able to help her if she had a seizure or give her necessary medication during the long flight. So the assumption that pet parents travel wontonly is, quite frankly, crap. In fact, many pet parents find themselves planning trips around their pets’ needs. We have to find a hotel that’s pet friendly. We have to think about staying with family members whose pets are compatible with ours. If I want to visit a tourist attraction, where will the dogs be while I do that? Ok, I get that I sound a bit obsessed, but that is kinda my point.

The author talks about the consequences of child or puppy proofing. No doubt child proofing your home is vital to keeping kiddos safe. But she suggests that if you don’t do a good job puppy-proofing the worst case scenario is a chewed up family heirloom. Again I call B.S. If your puppy gets into something it shouldn’t most pet owners are aware the consequences could be catastrophic. Ever seen the inside of a dogs stomach after ingestion of Gorilla glue? I have. The glue forms to the stomach and if you don’t catch it quickly or have the funds to perform surgery your dog will die. And this is true of nearly everything in your house. We once removed the equivalent of about 4 square feet of linoleum floor tile from the stomach of a 10 month old husky. And I’ve seen cats have to have huge chunks of intestine removed from eating string. And while tiny kids require thorough baby proofing to keep them out of harms way, they also (usually) grow into functional adolescents who know its probably a bad idea to eat glue or swallow sewing needles as cats are prone to do. Pets are permanently in the toddler phase. To this day any paper left on the kitchen table is likely to be eaten by 11 year old Yukon, especially if he’s not received enough exercise. Which brings me to another point the blogger made about jogging“You can mostly ignore your dog”. Um, then why have them? My dogs are the thing that drags me out of bed on my days off, the reason I lace up my running shoes or hiking boots and get some fresh air. When it’s 25 degrees out and there’s 5 in of snow on the ground, they still need exercise, so we run. Like most mini-van buying soccer Moms, they are even the reason I invested in a 4-door truck with fold & tumble back seats. With Yukon getting older it was hard for him to climb over the front seat to the back. And folding my rear seats up means better footing for them sitting on the floor board instead of the squishy, unstable seat. The idea that it’s okay to mostly ignore your pets makes me wonder if she isn’t so opposed to the term fur-kids because it implies maybe you should care a bit more than to just ignore them.

couch explodedAnd then there’s the social awkwardness. Like sitting in a room of colleagues sharing stories about potty training, kindergarten, first words, graduations, pick a milestone. And if you don’t have children you simply sit in the corner, excluded from the conversation. And if you are not planning to have kids, or worse unable to, you are permanently, sometimes painfully excluded.  You’re right, I’ve never had my kid paint my walls with markers, but I’ll bet your kid never caused the couch to explode. When people use the term fur-kid they may be trying to relate in a situation that makes them a bit uncomfortable. So maybe consider the feelings of the person telling you their pets are like their kids. Before you become offended that they are trying to be counted as Moms, consider that maybe, just maybe, caring for a dog or cat is the only opportunity they have to be a mom.

DSC_0171-003Whether you choose to refer to your pets as fur-babies is about your choice, how you feel about them. It doesn’t and shouldn’t affect, or belittle, anyone else’s love for their children. Family is about love, and one person’s love can not be diminished by who or what another person loves. My sister has two beautiful daughters, and I have my fur-kids. Rather than harass me about when I might be expecting our mother has taken to calling them all her grandkids. She understands and respects the feelings I have for my pups. And guess what, while I know my Mom loves her daughters and granddaughters more than anything in the world, I also know her old dog Grey Spirit takes a very, very close second. And I don’t feel threatened at all, turns out she has plenty of love to go around.

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