126. Pets

There’s something about a pet that meets a human need. A dog can be the kind of friend we sometimes wish people could be. It’s probably good that people don’t give us the same kind of unthinking loyalty we can get from a dog, but nevertheless, there are times when some of us wish they could. And a cat will give another kind of love. A cat is looking for warmth and nourishment. Cats don’t seem as loyal, but they seem less dependent. Some people prefer that. Dogs and cats can get on our nerves, but they serve functions, and they can be lovable. Other animals make good pets, but I don’t have as much experience with them. In fact, my sweeping generalizations about dogs and cats may not apply to your own dog or cat.
I don’t know when or how people started to make pets out of members of other species. I think, but am not sure, that we’re the only species that does that. Other animals may use their fellow earthlings, but I don’t think they have pets. The ants who herd aphids probably don’t name their aphids. I don’t think the hippopotamus loves its secretary bird. But I have no way of knowing. Children do name and love their pets. I recently saw a child burst into tears when a goldfish died. It was named Swimmy, and it was one of the goldfish in the classroom fishtank. I think, but again am not sure, that Swimmy never developed the kind of attachment the child developed. But it didn’t matter whether the attachment was mutual. I miss my dog, Chipper. I wasn’t there when he died; I was in college. But when I was growing up, he was happy when I was happy, sad when I was sad. If he thought someone was going to hurt me, he growled. If he had died when I was a child, I would have learned something about death and sadness that I didn’t learn until later. I think there are valid reasons not to let a child have a pet. Allergies may get in the way. The family’s life style may leave no time or room for a pet. The child may want a pet that is too expensive, isn’t allowed by a landlord, or just isn’t practical for other reasons. There can be a philosophical objection – what right do we have to own another creature? But I don’t think the possibility that the pet will some day die is a good reason. “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” (Tennyson)

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