I saw yet another ad today about dogs being “man’s best friend”.
We’ve been talking about getting a dog for a couple years. I’m fine with dogs, just not crazy about them. I do think they are cute. I do think they are worth having and fun to be around. But what turns me off of the dog-owning idea is how we have taken something good and healthy and gone completely bonkers with it.
We make jokes about how we love our dogs more than people or how we could not live without them and it honestly makes me feel a little weird.
First of all, mankind’s best friend is meant to be…man. I know that sounds like I’m a no-fun buzz-kill. And believe me, I get it. I’m an introvert and I live in one of the most crowded metropolitan areas on the world (NYC). People get on my nerves and bother me every day. I spend a good chunk of my time avoiding people.
People have hurt me and made me feel stupid. They have embarrassed and abused me. But they are not worth giving up on.
Let’s put that aside for now. The reality is, we are meant to be in community together. We are meant to collide with people. Intimacy is about confusion and hurt and the deep joy that comes through human relating. We are called to togetherness. And sometimes I wonder if this obsession with pets is an unhealthy way of avoiding the trials and difficulties of human relating.
Such a Good Boy
The thing we love about pets (dogs specifically) is they are so predictable. They are always excited to see us. They act the same all the time, generally speaking. Our emotional connection with them is a manageable endeavor. They are simple and cute.
One of the things that makes me feel weird about pets is the stories we create on their behalf. We say things like “you just want to go to work with mommy”, or “he (the dog) is just bored because he left his toy at home”, or “he won’t walk across the street unless you carry him”. I’m not suggesting there are times when these things aren’t true. I’m just saying it tells us a lot about what we are getting from our pets that we think we need to create reasons for why they do things that go deeper than they-are-a-dog. We give them human traits, passions, and ideas. Like your Fido just might paint a Mona Lisa if the circumstances were right.My point is that owning a pet is an exercise in control. You feed it, talk a certain way to it, certainly give it treats, and it follows you around and showers you with affection. You are god in a dog’s world. And we create this careful system we can control that nets us a certain affection.
The unhealthy part comes when we equate these pet affections with human ones; when we make it a suitable substitute for human interaction. We converse with our dog and, hey surprise, it generally agrees with us. It cares for us and rarely disputes an affection.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that our world is falling apart (in terms of human interaction) and the pet fascination has never been higher.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a dog. But I question certain things – like if we should call the affections between us and dogs “love”. I guess an argument can be made about diluting it a little, the way we talk about “loving” cities and coffee. And I’m fine with that, if we can acknowledge this is what we are doing.
But love is difficult and complicated. It isn’t as controlled and straightforward as owning a pet. I’m not saying it is not fun and meaningful. But calling it love is hard for me to get behind.
The point of all of this is not that we should hate dogs. Like I said, I genuinely like dogs. But we have to ask ourselves why we are so crazy about them. What are they replacing? What value are they holding in our lives and is it a shield? An easier and less-fulfilling way to achieve the value than some other methodology involving the difficult interplay between humans?
I get it. We are afraid. I’m afraid too. Pets are not very good at rejection and we adore them for it. But rejection (or the risk of rejection) has its values. There is nothing that can equate with the complicated beauty of human relationships. Adore your dog. But don’t hide behind them. There is a beautiful world of people out there, waiting and looking themselves for a true best friend.