Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Are you a Pet Parent or a Pet Owner?

Most people have heard the term ‘Pet Parent’.   Changes in social norms and trends in Hollywood are causing people to change the way they think about owning a pet.  Dogs are no longer just the animal that must work to earn its keep.  They worked their way into our hearts and became a four-legged member of the family.  I grew up around animals, and looking back at the younger years when my sister and I married our two shelties I now realize that I have always seen my pets as more than just an animal.  And while some people, like me, grew up treating their family pet like a child, others have come to appreciate the companionship of an animal later in life.  Not only do we enjoy their companionship but the simple fact that pets are easier to care for is just another reason why celebrities and normal people alike are replacing the idea of human children with four-legged children instead.  Between the therapeutic joy and unconditional love that animals offer (and humans sometimes lack) it comes as no surprise that we end up adopting an animal that becomes more to us than just another thing we own.
I am a self-proclaimed pet parent of three adorable pound puppies.  My fiancĂ©, on the other hand, is a self-proclaimed pet owner.  It’s not that he doesn’t love our dogs or consider them part of our family.  In fact, when we go on vacation he is the first to say he misses our 4 yr. old Dachshund/Terrier mix, Maui (Daddy’s little girl).  Regardless of this fact, he hates when I refer to him as their “dad”.  So what is the difference between a pet owner and a pet parent?  And how do you know which category you fall under?

5 Tell Tale Signs That You are a Pet Parent (and advice to keep you from going off the deep end)
     1. You refer to your pet as your child-  “That’s my baby boy, Spencer.  He’s 6 months and we just finished potty training!”  Does that sound a little familiar?  Calling your dog your ‘baby’ is the first sign of a pet parent.  Your dog is no longer just your garbage disposal or your running partner but more of an adopted child.  This frame of mind changes the way you treat your dog in every aspect.  From sleeping arrangements to meal plans to daycare, pet children get treated more like human children but with less discipline.  Just remember that our pet children need boundaries just as much as human children.  So, even though they give you those big puppy dog eyes while they eat your socks or they look adorable when they jump all over visitors, you must be the pack leader and give them boundaries or you may end up with some major behavioral issues.   

2.   You dress your dog in the latest fashion-  “Isn’t Mini so cute in her new Juicy top and Tiffany necklace?”  Most, if not all, pet parents have put some form of clothing on their dog at some point in their life.  After all, the dog is no longer just a dog; she’s your baby, and like a baby, she should wear cute things.  Now I am guilty of dressing my dogs up on occasion (especially Halloween) but I am the first to admit that most dogs, including my own, absolutely hate wearing clothes.  Every Halloween I dress up my dogs and the springy, energetic Maui is either hiding or lying on the floor, like she is wearing kryptonite.  But, like most pet parents who can’t help themselves, I can’t resist how adorable they look in little outfits.  Despite this, I do my best to keep the cute shirts minimal because we all need to keep in mind that working to improve our dog’s life doesn’t mean keeping clothes on their back (no matter how cute they look).  

3.   You take your dog with you everywhere you go-  “Whether its grocery shopping or hitting the gym, Sparky goes with me everywhere.”  We all hate the thought of having to leave our dogs home alone.  Many pet parents work long hours during the week so they want all their free time to be spent with their ‘baby’; but that isn’t always practical.  Some days I’m too busy to make sure my dogs get some sort of exercise so I think, ‘wouldn’t it be great if I could just take the dogs with me to run errands’.  And sometimes I do, but there aren’t many pet friendly stores and, although my dogs love the car ride, waiting for me in the car isn’t a workout.  Nevertheless, let us not forget that being able to leave your dog at home (without a babysitter) while you work, or run errands, is one of the perks to being a pet parent.  While no one should abuse this option by neglecting their dog, sometimes it’s ok to take a break and give ourselves a little alone time.  But if you do insist on taking your pooch with you around town, keep in mind that even though you like the idea of your dog going with you everywhere, you don’t really want to see everyone else’s dog in a place like the grocery store.  

4.   Your pet has a Facebook page-  “This is Muffin’s page.  She has 97 friends and counting.”  Having a Facebook page for your pet is not unusual, but it’s not exactly something everyone in the pet industry would do.  I know several pet parents who have created a page for their dog or cat or a page for all of their animals to share, and they love it.  Overall, it’s a great way to show off your adorable pup, meet other animal lovers, socialize your dog (if you schedule a play date), and get involved in the animal community.  Just keep in mind that it is actually human pet parents posting messages for their pets, not a group of super intelligent animals.  As long as you remember that, you should be fine.

5.   You personify your pet as human-  “Buddy is spending a day at the spa.  He just loves a good milk bath and pedicure.”  When you live as a pet parent it is easy to forget that your furry family member isn’t human.  Your dog goes to daycare, he has birthday parties and play dates, his own room and clothes, so you figure he should have a Bark Mitzvah as well.  You love getting dressed up, going out to a club, or relaxing at the spa, so you figure your dog would too.  Personally I love the idea of all of these things.  I’ve thrown my dogs birthday parties and weddings.  I’ve painted their nails, dressed them up, and arranged play dates.  I know what it’s like to want to enhance the quality of my dog’s life through activities that enhance human lives.  But when it comes down to my dogs enjoying a happy and well-balanced life, I have to remind myself that those human activities don’t matter to animals.  At the end of the day, a dog is still a dog (no matter what they are wearing) and they could really care less about a day at the spa. 
So what is the difference between a pet owner and a pet parent?  Well, by definition, there really isn’t a difference, only the negative connotation of the word owner, implying that pets are merely property.  But the word owner does not have to be negative.  Just because a person does not treat their dog like a child does not mean they love their dog any less.  And while these 5 habits flag a typical pet parent, it is ultimately up to you on which category you fall under.  Pet parents and pet owners alike have been paving the way for a brighter future for our pets and the care available to them.  We have a common goal to give our pets more than just shelter and food but quality of life as well.  We are all striving in one way or another to change the way animals are treated and to speak for them when they cannot speak for themselves.  As for me, I will do what I can to ensure my dogs are living happy, healthy lives whether I refer to them as my babies or just my dogs.  

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