He’s My Dog (Pet)…Not My Dawg (Human Substitute). (An Oldie-but-Goodie)

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 –one that doesn’t include, at least a married couple– 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.
At the launch party for my new book, The Spinsterlicious Life: 20 Life Lessons for Living Happily Single and Childfree (shameless plug), someone asked me why I hadn’t brought my “husband”…referring to my dog, Danny.  I smiled a weary smile and said “I left my dog at home.”   I love my dog dearly, but I’m not confused: he’s not my husband, he’s not my kid…and he’s not a substitute for either of those things.  It seems that I’ll never get away from this tiresome stereotype.
One day I was on the phone with my married-with-children friend, B, and I realized that she’s not listening to me;  she’s talking to someone else in the room.  Actually, she’s talking to her dog, Charlie, who is kind of adorable…and she’s cooing at him and using baby talk.  Hearing her do that was pretty cute, but I also realized that if I did that people would find it sad.
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 a 12-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
NOTE: The Spinsterlicious Life: 20 Life Lessons for Living Happily Single and Childfree— has been published and is available here and  hereand on Amazon.

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8 Responses to He’s My Dog (Pet)…Not My Dawg (Human Substitute). (An Oldie-but-Goodie)

  1. Stella says:

    Such a shame others make judgements with regard to our pets. Having a dog is great. As you say, eleanore, they're non critical, loving and a joy to own. I just ignore the people who say Crazy Dog Lady, smile and go home and pat the dog.
    Stella x

  2. Anonymous says:

    I discovered your blog today and find it enlightening, especially this post. I adopted a dog from a shelter 5 months ago and have had several problems with the dog. While he is a good dog, I'm concerned we aren't a match and I'm considering finding him another home more suitable for his personality. But when I think of doing that, I spin and think, “Maybe I'm rejecting the dog because I don't want any relationships (men) in my life?!!?…I'm running away from love!!!” After reading your post, I realized, he's a dog, not a substitute for anything, stop being so dramatic and do the right thing for the dog.

  3. Sandy says:

    Yet again you shed light on a shameful secret – it is impossible for otherwise sane people to understand you (single and childless) have a pet for exactly the same reason they do. Why that is escapes me, but yes, it sure is worse for us women. My dog is more loyal and loving than any man I have been with.

  4. Rem Anon says:

    THANK YOU! I hate it when people refer to their pets as “fur kids.” As much as we may love them, pets are animals, not people.

    I have always tried to reclaim the label “crazy cat lady” as a good thing. XD I'm a lady, I have a cat, and I take pride in being a little bit crazy! So yes, I'm a crazy cat lady – perfectly happy and totally proud of it!

  5. Anonymous says:

    OK, I will need to fess up…I, as a single woman of almost 60, have become almost embarrassed to tell anyone that I have a (ONE) cat. I get the 'awwwwww' sad look from people when they hear about her when, in fact, I'm anything but a 'lonely old crazy cat lady'. I do, however, love my 13-year-young pastel calico kitten, and she is a perfect housemate. Love her!!!!!!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I get this all the time, too. Being single and childless, I just happen to have more room, time, and financial resources to take them in…so I've adopted a dog and 4, yes 4, cats. They are fun, companions, good for at least 1 belly laugh per day…what they are NOT is a replacement for what others seem to think may be lacking in my life. If I had wanted a husband or children, I would've taken them in instead. 😉

  7. Anonymous says:

    It's even worse being a cat owner and a single woman on the “shady side” of her thirties. It's always the same “old crazy cat lady” sterotype that folks seem to like to attach to me, since they figure that's my fate if I don't buckle down, find a husband, and have some human children!

  8. Erica M. Towers says:

    I, too was a former pet owner (Niko died 2 years ago) & I got those same pitiful comments. I've never thought about it before, but there IS a double standard out there for single pet owners & of course that standard is mostly reserved for single women.

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