Stephen Grant

Petty Differences

By Stephen Grant

I’ve always been fascinated in the mentality of what makes the human race want to have pets. Certainly, it can’t be part of our animalistic DNA; no other animal seems to harbour the desire to do similar. OK, geese and donkeys have this weird affinity, but neither as ‘pets’ to the other; and while certain animals can co-exist relatively peacefully, I’ve never seen, for example, a horse take a guinea pig for a walk.

And certainly the reverse – animals keeping humans as pets – is in the realms of mythos alone. Though possibly, after Romulus and Remus went on to be all-powerful after their wolf-based upbringing, other animals have found this incredible act too hard to follow. We all know how tricky it is to compete with an overly smug parent. Maybe the animal kingdom peaked too soon.

There is an argument that nature, in the face of it’s greatest threat (us), has allowed the brighter creatures an ingenious solution to the threat we pose. From stone-age times, man has farmed animals by fattening them up at close quarters, sometimes for months and years, before the inevitable cull. Evolution has let some of those creatures develop strong bonds with the human race, rendering us too attached and emotionally invested to then go on and slay our new found best friends. This may well be the problem with turkeys and cows; it isn’t that they’re too tasty, it’s that they’re not cute enough to be socially amortised. The only inner circle they are making their way towards is the electric hob.

Up until recently though, my belief was that pets were simply dress rehearsals for parenthood. Responsibility wise, animals sit neatly between ‘children’ and ‘houseplants’. If we can keep a cactus and a kitten alive, we might be ready for a human. I’ve seen the facebook evidence; many people openly, and embarrassingly, calling their dogs and cats their ‘babies’. I can cope with that, though those who update their profile pictures to their pets’ pictures are put on probation; and those who start to dress them in jumpers and bow ties are unfriended before you can say, “doggy birthday invite”.

So with this theory firmly in place, my wife’s recent admission was of some surprise to me. “Wouldn’t it be great to get a pet.” What? For who? This made no sense. We already have two children – one of them only 3 months old. What purpose trying to make our already hectic life that much tougher? I do tend to throw out flippant opinions from time to time, but even I can’t remember that including, “God! Please give me some variation in the effluent I’m having to scrub out of this carpet.”

There are ample articles online explaining how exposure to animals benefits children, but I felt our fortnightly trip to a farm (where our eldest cries at rabbits) and our even less frequent trips to our labrador-owning friends’ house (where our eldest gets licked for 15 minutes and then has to be bathed in Dettol) was ticking that box already. But here’s the curved ball I wasn’t expecting, “Children with pets learn to deal with death”.

Wow. I can’t argue with that. Though children need to understand the differences; I once knew a dog that was put down as it couldn’t help constantly fouling the sofa. On that basis, my eldest has died about 15 times already. And psychologically preparing our children is fine, but the only major death that’ll probably help prepare them for is mine, or my wife’s. Hopefully, that’s some way off yet. Though if she brings home a dog one day without telling me, I’m pretty certain I know which one is coming first.