Pets: Why I Don't Want Any
My kids’ guinea pig, who they received as a birthday present about four years ago, died last month. (A second one that they got with him died a few years ago.) Practically speaking, this is a relief for me. I no longer have to go through the unpleasant process of cleaning up his cage every couple of weeks, forking out the money for his supplies, or keeping track of his water and food supply. In many ways, he was more my pet than the kids. I was the one, after all, who pretty much kept him alive.
Right away, the kids started asking for a new pet, and they have been dog crazy for some time now. But as the title indicates, I have no desire to get one. This is partly because I don’t want to do all of the work. A dog, in particular, would be like adding another child to the family. Dogs are expensive, have to be trained, poop all over the backyard, and have to be cared for when you travel. The kids claim that they will take care of these duties, but they said the same about the guinea pig.
Now I can understand why a lot of people love pets. Animals are much more dependable and predictable creatures than humans. Meeting their needs is mostly just a matter of feeding them, and they aren’t going to complain all of the time or up and leave you one day. (Although cats may be an exception to that rule.) With dogs in particular, they provide what seems to be real companionship. It’s possible that the only reason that dogs are excited to see their masters is because these “alpha males” provide the food, but it sure feels like a dog has the genuine capacity to be a “man’s best friend.” This may be why it’s common for people to treat their dogs better than any humans that they know.
My reluctance to get a pet, however, does not primarily come from any dislike of animals, a limited need for companionship, or even the desire to avoid work, poop, and hassles. Instead, I simply find the whole experience of pet owning to be too depressing. Like a new toy, a pet is really exciting to have at first. I remember when the kids couldn’t get enough of holding the guinea pigs or watching them run around the house. But after a while, they become old news, and they tend to sit around in their cage, neglected most of the time. Animals are not supposed to be stuck in cages. Even dogs and cats, pets that are given a bit more freedom, are not living in anything that resembles their natural environments. So I start to feel sorry for them, and in spite of the pain in the butt the care taking can be, I cannot stop myself from getting attached. And then, all too soon, these creatures with relatively short life spans die.
I have enough human attachments to keep me busy and emotionally vulnerable. The last thing that I need is an animal to care about. I need people; animals are optional, and in a world where death is always a lingering possibility, and the death of others is a reminder of our own mortality, I don’t need any more loss. So while the practical side of me is happy to have one less task to worry about, I still miss the little guy. And when I remember how much my daughter cried when she heard the news of her pet’s death, I must admit that I choke up a little. All of a sudden, like her, I start wishing that there is a guinea pig heaven that we will get to visit together someday.
As a parent, the natural instinct is to shield kids from the painful parts of life, and nothing is tougher to deal with than death. Pet owning, of course, may provide children with their first experiences of death and loss. But while pet owning may provide some good life lessons, the simple reality is that death still stinks. So it may be weak, but I prefer to deal with death as rarely as possible. And I especially want to avoid experiencing the death of creatures that were not even given the chance to live as nature intended.