Pet parents are overwhelmingly a passionate breed. We love our “babies” and often go to great lengths to flaunt it. Be it sharing a stream of cell phone stills or kissing Butch and FiFi square on the lips in full view of recoiling strangers, we bathe in public displays of our devotion . . . and often assume that everyone else feels the same way we do. For some us us, a person who has not adopted or otherwise brought a pet into their home must be - at the very least - some kind of despot.
But not everyone feels the love for or the desire or ability to give haven to the four-legged and feathered. While a solid majority of american households own pets, about 38 percent do not. Those that don’t are not “wrong,” nor are they mentally, emotionally or spiritually deficient.
There are a variety of reasons people choose to not have a pet. Some have a desire, but lack the resources to care for a pet. Others are wise enough to know that pets do not practically fit into their life plans for the foreseeable future. God bless them for having saved the life of the pet they may have adopted - then later surrendered.
I’ve met a few people who are downright afraid of dogs and cats stemming from a childhood bite or scratch - or worse. Still others on the far fringes of the animal rights movement advocate for the abolishment of pet ownership because they believe that domestication of animals is tantamount to enslavement (cases of animal abuse and hoarding lend some credence to their arguments).
If we can park our pet-puckering lips in neutral for a moment, we may also realize that many perfectly affable, rational and altruistic folk are simply not interested in inter-species cohabitation. They are not hateful misanthropes who want to stuff dalmatian puppies into burlap bags and heave them into the river. They are people every bit as loving as you and me who channel their love in different directions.
The real question is: Are we as ardent pet lovers capable of accepting non-pet people? I believe we must - and that we demonstrate it by being faithful ambassadors of responsible pet ownership:
- Don’t take it personally if a person walking toward you and your pet crosses the street. We don’t know what’s in their head.
- While on walks, keep eyes peeled for people walking around blind corners who could startle your pet. If your pet is reactive, be prepared to divert your pet’s attention or pick them up.
- Your pet may still react, evoking a negative response from the passerby. A calm and friendly, “We’re training him” should suffice. If it doesn’t, let it go. Avoid heated debates over your pet’s behavior.
- Unless you’re on your own spread or romping on a leash-free beach, it is respectful of others to keep your pet tethered to you.
- Never use a flexible leash on neighborhood walks! My wife got lassoed by a mandriving a golf cart while “walking” his dog and was sidelined for months by her injuries.
- Train your pet not to jump on or bowl guests over (we’re still working on this one!). Your pet’s exuberant greeting may not always be welcome.
- For God’s sake, pick up the poop! The street is not a toilet. No one wants to scrape the scat of even the most adorable animal off their shoes; a sure way to sway fence-straddlers to the non-pet side.
- Never “guilt” a person into adopting a pet; this scenario is invariably a disaster for the person and the pet.
- Stay tuned-in to social cues. Hold back on that extra video or the story of how you removed a suppurating pustule from deep within Tiffany’s ear.
- Remember that the wariness, indifference or militant stance of non-pet people toward pet parenting/ownership in no way diminishes our love of pets.
In the end, the reasons why people don’t have pets don’t matter. Non-pet people do not answer to us, nor should they feel like they have to. We pet advocates could do our best lobbying by respecting the choices and lifestyles of non-pet people.
Who knows? A few might actually fall in love on their own.
Please share your thoughts on how to be a good ambassador for responsible pet ownership.