Editor’s note: Louise Hung is a writer for Catster’s sister SAY Media site, xojane.com. This article first ran on xoJane, and we’re running a shorter version (with permission!) so you can comment on it.
A few years ago, my friend was potty training her cat, and our conversations usually went something like this:
My friend: “So, this morning around 6, I was still in bed and Birthday [her cat] started crying and howling. So I got up to see what was up, and it turns out I accidentally put the lid down on the toilet and he couldn’t pee!”
Me: “Oh! Poor little kitty!”
My friend: “I know! I felt so bad. But he’s just so good, and he came and got me instead of peeing on the couch or something! He still doesn’t know exactly what to do when he needs to poop — he’ll come get me and we’ll sit in the bathroom for a while and I’ll perch him on the toilet, and then he’ll actually poop. But this past week, I’ve come home from work and he’s pooped in the toilet all by himself! I’m so proud of him!”
Me: “Oh, my god, that’s awesome! I really wish I could get Brandy to pee in the toilet, but she’s just so obstinate!”
This is my life. My pets have always been my fur babies. They are a part of my family, therefore their goings on — bathroom, bedroom, politics — make their way into a high percentage of my adult conversations.
No, I don’t get all unhinged and tell everybody I meet about my cats’ hilarious Midnight Crazies. But if I catch a whiff of the same pet-centric leanings on you, you can bet you’ll be hearing about my cat’s precise and strategic revenge-barfing in my husband’s shoes.
I like to talk about the weird shit my cats do. If I get the vibe from you that pets just aren’t your thing, I’ll usually back off. But like it or not, my cats are a part of my life, and therefore they are going to make an appearance in conversation. Most of my friends are pretty cool with hearing about my cats from time to time.
If you replaced the above cat references with baby references, it would sound pretty familiar to parents, wouldn’t it?
I know some people are only humoring me with the cat talk, but honestly it goes both ways. I like babies, and I’ve even been known to find quite a few of them eye-crossingly cute and enjoyable. And there are times I really do want to know about the intimate and gory details of parenthood because it’s so far outside of my realm of understanding.
But sometimes — and I’m positive some people have done this to me when I’m talking about Tailsy’s astounding command of the English language — I am simply smiling and wracking my brain for ways to relate when a parent is telling me about their baby’s teething trials or onesie fiasco.
But we do these things, and I’m okay with that. If it’s important to you, my friend, I’m going to try. And I appreciate your trying too.
BUT. There are people that really seem bothered by this whole pets-as-family thing. When I was working for a theatre in LA, our department had the reputation for being the kind of SPCA of the building. Some people rolled their eyes, but most knew to come over to my boss’ or my desk when they wanted to gush about their puppy’s antics, or for a shoulder to cry on when their cats went on to that great cat box in the sky.
There was peaceful coexistence. Until there wasn’t. When a co-worker’s dog passed, she was beside herself. Some of us banded together and gave her flowers. I regularly found myself at her desk, helping her make arrangements for her dog’s cremation. Even the managing director came by to offer his sympathies. We all felt for her. So I thought.
Early one evening, I was finishing up some work when one of the women from the next office over walked through our department. She glanced at the flowers on my co-worker’s desk and asked me, “What are those for?”
When I told her, she let out an exasperated laugh. “Oh, my god, it’s a dog. Get over it. I get it, it’s sad, but come on, you guys — flowers? Really?”
It’s not worth going into the ensuing argument. I got so angry I cried, which is one of the more frustrating symptoms of my rage. On the plus side, it often TOTALLY FREAKS OUT the person I’m arguing with.
I do, however, remember asking her, “Who are you to qualify grief or love?” — which is what I think this all boils down to.
Sometimes I get tired of hearing what a genius your baby is, but if I were to ask you to stop talking about your baby because “She’s just a baby,” we wouldn’t be friends anymore.
I know this is a little bit of an extreme example, but to dismiss any person’s suffering because of its focus is just wrong. Like that episode with the bird at Whole Foods, if you start deciding who or what is worthy of care, that could lead to a very scary place.
No matter how difficult it is for some people to understand, to many of us, our pets are not just animals. They’ve infiltrated our lives and made us kinder, more responsible, and more compassionate people. Many parents would say that parenthood changed them in similar ways. Common ground!
I’m not saying children and pets are exactly the same in terms of bonding and intimacy. I know there is something between a parent and a child that I may never understand. But please don’t discount the love I have for my pets.
Look, I’m not trying to start the Great Baby-Puppy-Kitty War of 2013 (or am I?), and I’m not saying that upon commencing childrearing, all parents become bored of their pets. I’ve caught many of my friends with kids, baby talking and gurgling to their cats or dogs. It’s not all or nothing.
I guess I’m just asking for understanding. You have your baby, and I have mine.
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