Post-Millennium Pet Culture: Cool to be Kind

Having been the daughter of two vets for the best part of twenty-nine years, it will come as no surprise to anyone that the issue of animal cruelty is very close to my heart. Of course, most of us consider ourselves to be utterly opposed to the mistreatment of God’s creatures great and small, so perhaps my background has a relatively small part to play in shaping this ideology. 99% of us would baulk at the very idea of wearing fur, we will only buy dolphin-friendly tuna and free-range eggs, and some of us are even prepared to go vegetarian to prove our commitment to the cause.

Cats are adorable but they are largely dependent on you!

Cats are adorable but they rely on you to take care of them.

Unfortunately, I am beginning to feel as if society is developing something of a blind spot when it comes to modern-day pet culture. Owning a pet, typically a cat or a dog, seems to be the ‘in’ thing at the moment among my group of friends, if their updates on Facebook and Twitter are anything to go by. And why not? Pets make wonderful companions, they give unconditional love, and they will lavish all their attention on you. However, I remain unconvinced that some of today’s pet owners are prepared to give back as much as they receive in terms of caring for their furry friends.

Actually, I would say that being a pet owner comes with almost as many responsibilities as being parent. You can’t go off on holiday on a whim. You have to make sure you’re home every morning and every night to feed and care for your pet. You must always place their needs above your own. So before you rush out to get that darling little kitten or puppy that’s been tugging on your heart strings, I beg you to bear the following in mind:

1) Does it really matter what kind of pet you have? Some pet owners seem to use their cat or dog as a reflection of their identity and will therefore spend an arm and a leg to get the hippest breed possible in order to make the desired ‘statement’. While there is nothing morally wrong with this, it just annoys me. You can get a rescue cat or dog that really needs a home for free from any animal shelter. More to the point, if you’re after a ‘designer brand’ as opposed to a living, breathing creature, you’re doomed to fail as a pet owner before you’ve even begun.

2) Do you have enough time for a pet? Following on from the previous point, pets are not accessories. That is, it’s totally fine to take millions of pictures of the dog, of you with the dog, of the dog doing x/y/z to put on your Facebook page, but just make sure you spend most of your time actually taking care of the dog. Dogs need walking daily. Dogs need you to pick up after them. Dogs need lots of company and stimulation. Dogs should not be put out in the garden and left to their own devices for long periods of time as soon as your camera phone goes back in the bag.

3) Can you actually afford to keep a pet? It’s not just a case of whether you can stretch to a few cans of cat/dog food a week and the odd chew toy; vets’ bills are expensive and animals occasionally get sick. My blood has boiled repeatedly over the years upon hearing stories my parents have told me about clients who, unable to pay for the treatment of Cuddles/Tiddles/Mr Fluffy Bum, have then accused them of callous indifference towards the animal’s suffering in an attempt to get out of coughing up. Be smart and get pet insurance.

4) Do you have enough space to keep a pet? This point is particularly salient if you want to get a dog any bigger than a Jack Russell. Ideally, dogs need a big yard in which to stretch their legs on top of their daily walks. If you don’t have a yard, don’t get a dog. It really is as simple as that. Equally, don’t get a cat if you live in a tiny studio apartment and won’t let it go outside. If someone shut you in a shoebox for the best part of your life, you’d go crazy too.

There is no doubt that the post-millennium pet culture has taken the (first) world by storm, but with the festive season fast approaching I must admit that I am concerned about the repercussions. Too many animals are brought home as presents, only to be abandoned a few months later when the novelty has worn off. I don’t mean to be a kill-joy; I’m just asking you to have a long, hard think before you take on a pet of your own. After all, a dog is for life, not just for Christmas.

By Natalie Orr

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