Pet Peeve

There’s a chilling scene in P.D. James’s dystopian novel, The Children of Men–a story set in the near future in which the human race is no longer able to produce children–in which a woman is described pushing a stroller down the sidewalk. Inside the stroller, instead of a baby, is a doll.

Our culture here in the United States has not perhaps yet reached such a grotesque nadir of desperate longing. But I believe our increasing sentimentalism, not towards dolls, but towards pets and other animals is one sign that we are approaching such a darkness.

Who hasn’t, for example, received (as I have) a Christmas card with the family’s dog included in the family picture, with the dog even named as a member of the family?

Or noticed the emergence of “puppy play groups”?

Or heard of doggy “weddings”?

Or seen the bumper sticker: “I Love My GrandDogs”?

Or seen someone carrying a picture of his dog in his wallet?

Or seen this story in the March 4, 2012 USA Today about the latest craze for doggy tattoos and other kinds of cutsey-pie pet detailing.

(Let’s not even get into the soul-wringing our culture often expresses towards endangered animal species, while it often turns a blind eye toward the killing of human beings through abortion….)

You may ask: what have I got against dogs and other pets?

Not a thing. I understand, and am all for, the comfort, fun and companionship that pets provide, especially for the lonely and the elderly. And I do not countenance a negligent attitude toward endangered animal species.

I remember that there wasn’t a dry eye in the living room when I read aloud to my family the story from James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small about the old widower who loses his faithful dog. Sorrow at such a loss is a natural and dignified sentiment. Affection for pets is a properly human feeling.

What I have a problem with is the sentimental attitude our culture increasingly is taking toward its pets–in which pets are more and more, like the doll in the pram, substituting for human beings, or means of drawing attention to how cute and affectionate we are.

In one of his stories J.D. Salinger has a character remark that sentimentalism is giving something more tenderness than God gives it.

And God has made pets and other animals to be at our service, including service as companions. But he has not made them to be substitute human beings, or as means of drawing attention to ourselves, as increasingly is happening.

Last weekend on Chris Wallace’s Sunday political chat show on Fox, he named as his “Person of the Week” the head veterinarian at the Washington Zoo. I found the report showing the level of care lavished upon the animals at the zoo (which includes dentistry) to be astonishing. All this, I wondered, for animals destined to remain for the rest of their lives in captivity!

Contrast this with the way veterinarians function in the Yorkshire culture lovingly rendered in All Creatures Great and Small. In this collection of stories animals are certainly shown to be beloved companions. But for the most part, the veterinarians in these stories are devoted to healing animals which serve as the essential means of a farmer’s livelihood.

I don’t say this because I’m against zoos. I simply want to contrast the different attitudes to pets and other animals when they function in a culture, not so much as substitutes for human beings, but as companions and indeed servants.

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  • Harold Fickett

    Very true, Dan.  Our dog is my companion while the rest of the family prefers the cat.  Still, even the cat lovers in the family found it over the top when in order to adopt our present cat my wife had to go before a “cat counselor” to find out if we were worthy of caring for the feline.  That we were thinking of having the cat declawed was a “red flag,” as was our desire to adopt only one–not two–kittens.  Didn’t we know the cat would be lonely?  So my wife brought home two cats, which put me on the ceiling hanging from my own claws. 

    We were also sternly warned about the marauding coyotes in Atlanta, which are in fact a problem.  When my wife wondered why they weren’t killed or otherwise driven out of the suburbs, her “cat counselor” said that, despite their taste for kitties, the coyotes had every right to be among us because, after all, we humans had “taken their land.” 

    Which reminds me that the Kentucky Derby is coming up.  Once when we were living in northern California, in the Valhalla of political correctness known as Sonoma County, we received a call inviting us to a party to watch the Kentucky Derby.  A little later we received another call canceling the invitation.  Once the invites went out, the person throwing the party was shamed for celebrating an event in which horses were put at risk of injury and even spurred and whipped.  Right, it’s the Kentucky Derby! 

    You can’t make this stuff up.  To quote Samuel Becket, “people are bloody ignorant apes.” 

  • 7mcaul

    I have heard women in the playground of our Catholic school saying that instead of having another baby, they got a puppy!

  • Daniel McInerny

    I think I feel a migraine coming on…

  • Daniel McInerny

    Harold–I’m sorry to have to inform you that I’ve informed the Feline Well-Being Council of your grossly insensitive remarks about cat counseling above. A car will be arriving at your house shortly to bring you before the Feline Wizengamot, which will hear your case. You probably don’t have a hairball’s chance of being found innocent. I hope you learn a lesson from this. 🙂

    P.S. Maybe, by way of compensation to the coyotes in your neighborhood, you could leave them some uncooked steaks out on the porch at night. But then again, that would be cruelty to cows…