Are dogs babies?

I want to set something straight, in response to a particular article I read lately and which upset and angered me, along with a whole raft of other people. Not pointedly / individually to the author as much (I know she is a decent, kind person who just happened to write one article not up to her usual highly socially intelligent standards) but to all those who seem to be somehow offended by puppy coddling (and honestly, am incredulous at that – aren’t there more evil things to get yourself upset about?)

The thing I want to say is this: People who have dogs do not think they are babies. Even when they are puppies. Even when they (the people) don’t have babies. Dogs are not babies. We get that. We don’t need or want them to be. They have entirely different qualities, aside from both being – a lot of the time – pretty cute. Even those of us who have not procreated not through choice do not somehow imagine that our dogs are babies. We do not need to be pitied because we love our dogs ‘too much’. Some people who have babies love their dogs just as much as we do. For a lot of us, our love for dogs predates and will outlast our desire to have babies. The idea that we think our dogs are babies is ludicrous. Yes, some people call them fur-babies, but those same people have probably given their husband / partner / best friend a silly moniker too.

Do we anthropomorphise them? Of course we do. There goes the arrogance of humans again. But we still love our dogs for exactly what they are. They are not a baby replacement. Sometimes, babies are not needed or wanted – and dogs are. Often, the reverse is true. It’s a free world. And for the record yes, we do consider them to be part of our families.

The intensity of care a human needs to show its baby in order to thrive (or even survive, to be fair) is far greater than that which is needed to bring up a puppy. Puppies do not demand heroicly wakeful nights, they do not engender the sleep deprivation and self-sacrifice induced near insanity I have seen a lot of new mothers run close to. Animal young is far, far more self-sufficient from a far earlier age than human young, who remains helpless and vulnerable for several years (one might argue, indefinitely). A 6-month old dog will happily hike miles, gloriously naked, undemanding, grinning at you all the way – and then flop down and sleep like the dead for 10 hours. A 6-month old baby, less so.

Dogs do not shower you in reflected glory when they hit milestones (riding a bike, traversing a slope on skis for the first time, playing Fur Elise on the piano), they are quite frankly more likely not to hit any noteworthy milestones whatsoever but rather to show you up in public in some goofy, well-meaning way.  Dogs (I can’t comment on babies) give their love abundantly, selflessly, consistently. They do, also, let you down in that they tend to die after all too brief a time – they will not stick around to look after you in your dotage (although to be fair there’s no guarantee that offspring will either). They never learn to speak, and unless you are Anna Breytenbach you will never really know what they’re thinking. They’ll basically never ‘grow up’ and turn into a smart little mini-you, however much training you put in – the most you can hope for is an admiring  comment from a fellow dog walker or two.

Does it really matter though that dogs can’t talk, that they will not ‘progress’ beyond their Peter Pan selves? Perhaps not. Dogs bring pure, unadulterated joy, and relatively undemanding –  we who live with them are blessed to share our lives with them. Ricky Gervais says he feels that dogs are like Air, or Land, in that they’re so essential that they belong to everyone, not to the individual. If you love dogs, you’ll get this and it will make you smile knowingly. If you don’t, you won’t, you’ll roll your eyes and maybe smile that cynical, superior smile of an anthropocentrist who thinks s/he knows better. But rest assured, you’re missing a slice of the finest pie in life.

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