Q: When is a pet just a pet?

A: When it lives in the home of a “traditional” family: husband, wife, 2+ adorable kids.

It’s part of Americana.

In a different scenario, though, Cute Pet is a substitute for something important. If you’re a single woman, especially of-a-certain-age, and you have a dog or cat . . . well, suddenly everybody’s a psychologist and they’ve determined that you’re trying to fix something.

Science, literature, news reports, and popular magazines are rife with stories on the benefits of pet ownership. Pets are good for you; they’re good for your mental health, your emotional health, your physical health. They boost your self esteem. (Yep.) And if it’s a dog (I’m a little biased in that direction), they’re just a joy to have around. If you search “benefits of pet ownership” online, you’ll get 929,000 hits on Google alone. That’s right—almost 1 million opportunities to learn what’s great about having a pet and why so many people love them.

It should be all good then, right? Yet I, a single woman, am sometimes amused—but mostly befuddled—at how many people comment that my dog is taking the place of the husband I don’t have, the child I don’t have, or both.

I live with an 11-year-old Yorkie, who I believe is the cutest dog in the world. He’s delightful. But for a reason I don’t understand, folks like to elevate him from his pet status to a fill-in for some dark hole in my life. A dark hole that doesn’t exist, by the way. It seems it’s not possible that I love having a dog for the same reason everybody else does: he’s cute, fun, cuddly, good company, a loyal companion, and he knows the real meaning of uncompromised love. That’s what people with families love about their dogs, too.

I know lots of married people with children for whom the dog is a serious, solid, main companion to one of the adults in the house. They usually say the dog is “for the kids,” but in actuality, Fido really belongs to mommy or daddy. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But no one ever asks if mom/dad is hanging out with the dog because their spouse ignores them, or if it’s a fill-in for the poor relationship they have with their kids, or because they’re lonely in a house full of people. Nope, it’s just a pet. Married? The dog’s just part of the family. Single? The dog’s replacing what you’re missing in your pathethic little life.

That’s b.s., OK? Stop it.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”  
—Anatole France

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  • roz warren March 9, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    Well Captain (3 year old Yorkie-Poo) and Jack (one year old Bichon)could offer your darling some very strong competition!

  • eleanore wells March 9, 2011 at 9:16 am

    @Roz: He really is the world’s cutest dog, Roz. Honest!

  • roz warren March 8, 2011 at 10:56 am

    I agree with every word of this except for the part about who is the cutest dog in the world. Although those photos are VERY persuasive.