Thursday, August 4, 2011

Preferring Pets to People: What is Wrong With this Picture?

OK. It's official. This post may vilify me with some and perhaps a few friends may be disputative if not downright hostile over it. And if they are, sorry, but there it is. I doubt that the friends I might upset for speaking the truisms here will read this anyway because the pet lovers are self-absorbed, so that is my method, if they be mad. Here's the question: Why do some value pets over people? What circumstances would make one select the other animal over the higher order thinker (supposed to be "intelligent" but not always...look at Congress). Come to think of it with respect to some congressmen and senators, the pets come first. That's a no brainer!

But seriously. How do you know you've tipped the scales toward irrationality and neurotic/borderline psychosis when it comes to your feelings about your pets? I'm sure you never even considered that your indulgence and spoiling of them is a bit weird. Let's call this Your Choice. Which life would you choose, a family member or a pet? Let's really push your sensitivity buttons: a disliked family member or a pet? Does that make it easier? The pet, of course.

Well, what's wrong with that picture? If you think, "Nothing, because my sister killed her five children and her husband," then maybe I just might let you get away with preferring your cat or dog to your sister. On the other hand, if your family member was troubled and you caught hell for it and you prefer your dog and/or cat to them, then there is something fuzzy about this, but it's not's jarring, antithetical to a Norman Rockwell picture of happiness. It has the stench of familial violence, albeit, sub sub rosa. Actually, the picture is right out of Ensor's collection!

 Skeletons fighting over a herring. (James Ensor, 1891)    

What makes individuals, myself excluded, prefer the company of creatures? The answer touches upon the intangible, but I will echo the positives that pet fanatics probably enjoy. Pets do not speak with the brutality of language. They love unconditionally. They have simple needs. You can abuse them in the privacy of your own home, believing you are doing the best for them and no one would give it a second glance, not even you. By comparison with children who involve great risk, they cost little, and don't give you the commensurate heartache and flak (with a little training). They are soooo grateful and appreciative when you throw them a bone, feed them and give them water. They are fawning (cats much less people see cats as having a more imaginative, independent and creative nature and prefer this.) and slavish. Their "owner" is their all in all, their god, their lover, their companion. They (dogs) protect the master and/or family as their territory. Would they lay down their lives in sacrifice? The master would like to believe so. Most probably, and in some recorded instances, pets have saved their master's lives, waking them up if there is a fire, or gas leak, etc. On the other hand, they have to be taught to defend and go after an attacker, so this is a learned behavior.

Clearly, pets are much less troublesome than people and if relationships, intimate, deep, probing are not your thing, if you like life shallow, if you resist ripping up the carpet under the flooring of your soul, then pets are ideal. They keep you from thinking too much. They are the perfect creature to convince you that you are "doing OK in your life," when in fact, you may be in sour shape, running from the darkness and emptiness within, too afraid to confront the demons, the terrors, the anxieties of your existence. Pets are a lovely diversion from inner pain, torment and depression...maybe better than Zoloft! (This is a joke. Don't stop taking your Zoloft after you get the Jack Russell terrier.)

And that is the problem with pets. OK if the pet is a pleasant addendum to a family that is thriving and well. Pets can teach children responsibility and concern for others. However, if pets are used as a substitute for people and relationships and if pets are preferred to people, then for me, the red flag goes up. That should not be their purpose, no more than a child's purpose should be to insure that your family line continue or that they live out the dreams you couldn't manifest in your own life. Neither pets nor children are born to stave off your inner loneliness. Though many millions try this daily, it is not possible for another to substitute in a relationship with yourself. If a mother is looking for her daughter to fill up her own emptiness, eventually, the situation will rankle; too much is being asked; the daughter is only human and will fail and then the grief comes with the hard lesson. The same with sons and mothers and fathers. And for children, they must learn that siblings and parents can never fill their inner void either. They must learn to find their own happiness.

With pets, of course, the illusion is everpresent. Pets cannot disappoint like children or spouses or other humans. They fill the void without demanding anything back, like generosity, care, concern, understanding, patience. And if they cannot share with words, they can bark and meow, which can never hurt, offend or force one to move toward developing understanding and self-growth. It doesn't matter if the pets divert from self-knowledge. If one wanted to "understand the deeper things," one would not cling to their pets; one would reflect in the happiness of peace, solitude, spirituality, artistry or one would have deep, probing and intimate relationships with others which could produce the same result or set one on a course toward that end.

 A friend of mine's significant other was living with a man who was a severe alcoholic. He was fabulous with pets and babies. On the other hand, he wasn't very good with adults/people; in fact, at times he was extremely abusive. Did he prefer the pets or the people? The pets, of course. What a question. I am glad that he was able to sustain himself with dumb beasts and crawl along in the relationship with my friend. On the other hand, I often wonder if he had sought a relationship with himself, sans pets, confronted his own soul darkness, dealt with it and come through on the other side, would he have had better, deeper relationships with people? For after all, when people prefer their pets to other humans, are they not decrying their own species, a sort of self-genocide? Isn't this an indirect kind of self-loathing?

Too much of a leap? Perhaps. But chew upon this. Humans save other humans' lives daily. During 9/11/2001 firefighters and police laid down their lives without a thought because it was their job. They didn't consider themselves heroes. How much more have family members done for family to preserve them out of love? How much more do friends do to preserve their friends?  Of course, these people who care for other people, know that human life is more precious than animal life. These are people who are people lovers, not necessarily pet favorers or PETA lovers. And with loving and caring people, there is less self-righteous hypocrisy present, for they acknowledge that when it comes to choice, people are more vital, important and significant than animals.

Surround me with people who prefer people. I will be able to talk to them, forgive, share, love, understand. I will be able to grow and develop. And as a result of my probing attempts to comprehend others' lives and my own, I will prosper on every level and be content, though at times I may be sorely tried. Finally, I would rather reach out to give unconditional love to someone who, in my own mind may have hurt me, then to receive unconditional love from a creature who doesn't know the difference. I like animals, but I love people. I know how to prioritize the difference between each, emotionally. Yes, it's so much easier to not think about such things. To have to delve into one's underpinnings is a bitch, but it's worth it. I can't expect my dog or cat to get me there. I have to get there "with a little help from my friends/people."

No comments: