Dog Blog: Fur Children

August 28th, 2008

It often happens like this:

Maggie and I are walking Storm and are approached by strangers taken in by her good looks and outgoing nature. The strangers likely don’t realize that her outgoing nature consists heavily of scanning any and all people for hidden treats. They ask her age, they comment on her looks, and finally remark “Mommy and Daddy must take really good care of her”.

At which point, we carefully maintain our smiles, say some pleasantries, and move on.

Maggie and I are not “Mommy and Daddy.” To anyone. We completely understand the urge to refer to dog owners in this way, and sort of understand dog-owners using these terms for themselves. But we don’t buy into it. Sure, we baby the dog, and consider her part of the family, but we did draw the line at referring to ourselves using parental terms. Still, if people refer to us in those terms, we’re okay with it.

“Does your fur baby like it?” –question about a dog bed on an internet community site

I’m not sure how I missed hearing the terms “fur baby” and “fur child”. But apparently a lot of people use these terms to refer to their pets. And my reaction when I first saw “fur child” used on a message board was… well, how shall I put this delicately?… revulsion. Absolute revulsion. The first image that came to mind was a little Eddie Munster werewolf.

Do you know those M&M ads showing the candies as celebrities? With hair? I haven’t eaten an M&M since those started running. Who wants hair on their candy? Maybe my reaction to “fur baby” comes from a similar place?

“A new fur baby is a perfect reason to celebrate and throw a puppy shower” –advice from a pampered-pet blog

To be honest, though, I think my problem with the term is more with the people who use it. I hope I’m not offending anyone here, but I suspect the term is used by people who have taken their “dogs as family” thinking a step too far. People who refer to their stomachs as “tummies” or, even worse, “tum-tums”. It’s an infantilizing mind-set that prevents you them treating their dog like a dog.

Stick with me if you’re feeling insulted here.

Maggie often accuses me of anthropomorphizing the dog, of not treating her like a dog. Dogs react to things differently than humans, and any trainer will tell you it’s not good to treat a dog like a child. When I respond to her fear or misbehavior as I would a child, she gets very annoyed. And I talk to the dog, especially when Maggie isn’t around. I buy her home-baked dog treats when I’m sure she’s just as happy with mass-produced cheap stuff.

So maybe there’s a bit of that in my reaction to the “fur baby” thing. Often, the things you dislike most in others are the things you fear are lurking inside yourself. I love to spoil the dog, I hug her when I know that’s not particularly her favorite thing. I get emotional when I think about the time when she will no longer be with us. I melt a bit when I see Maggie becoming maternal with Storm while taking care of her. Sometimes, I forget myself and begin thinking of her as my baby.

“Treat your fur-child to a spa visit before coming home!” — Advertisement for a pet resort

So let’s make a deal. Let’s remember that our dogs are dogs, and not children. And remember that thinking of them as dogs isn’t like saying “just a dog.” A dog can be a companion, a source of comfort, a best friend, another living being deserving all the love you have to give them.

But they aren’t human and they certainly aren’t our children. For better or worse, I’m nobody’s daddy. But I do have a dog I love with all my heart, and consider part of the family, and spoil at any opportunity.

“Fur baby,” though? Working together, by not using it, we can deprive this awful term of the oxygen it needs to survive. Your dog will thank you.

Note: I meant to be blogging about dogs occasionally from the beginning of this project. It’s just taken me almost 9 months to get around to it. I’ve created the image above to designate my occasional writing-focussed entries into the Dog a Day Project.

Categorized as: Writing

One Response to “Dog Blog: Fur Children”

  1. Rosie Says:

    The best I’ve heard of was someone who offered their services as a celebrant for the funeral of deceased pets. I guess if people have the money and want to spend it on that, then fair enough. I too dislike fur baby intensely.