January brings a time of introspection for a lot of us, and this year I found myself turning down a path of trying to better understand people who are totally different than me.
I found a subreddit called PetFree, an online community for people who do not have pets and don’t want them. Some of them downright HATE cats and dogs.
It’s fair for people to not like dogs. It’s fine by me if they even have hate or disdain for dogs, pet parents, as long as they don’t bring harm to anyone. As difficult as it is to understand, this was an important mini-journey for me, and I want to share with you why this even matters.
Why Some People Don’t Want A Dog
If you’re like me, you can’t imagine waking up without a dog. What’s it like to not have a sleepy Chihuahua stretch, sigh, and burrow into your chest again, hoping for five more minutes? Or a marvelous mutt bouncing around, excited to greet you and go outside for her first poop of the day, each morning as gleeful as a kid going to Disneyland?
Sometimes, mornings mean getting up earlier than I’d like because the dogs need food and to go outside. Sometimes that means even if I’m not feeling well, I have to get up and care for them.
Pets bring us so much joy, but they’re so much responsibility, too.
We commit to care for them every day. We make sacrifices. We spend money on them that we could otherwise spend on ourselves.
Even though, when I’m picking up poop, vacuuming up hair, or dealing with barking and jumping and whining, the thought doesn’t enter my mind, “I don’t want to do this.”
It’s automatic, I just do those things. I don’t think about life free of it. Even the grossest, most annoying, most time consuming and expensive responsibilities leave me with a warm feeling, because anything I can do for my dogs is highly fulfilling and meaningful. I’m lucky to spend thousands in vet bills. I’m fortunate to get to pick up poop everyday because it means my loved ones are healthy and fed and comfortable. We are so, so lucky.
If doing all of those things doesn’t make someone feel that way, they shouldn’t do it. They often have other commitments in their life, like family or children or a parent that needs care, and that’s usually the case with those who post in /r/Petfree.
And… taking care of yourself is just as important and can be just as fulfilling as caring for others. I also realize how hard it can be for many to simply shower, brush their teeth, or get dressed everyday. Mental health issues can make those tasks not only absolutely unfulfilling, but impossible.
Taking care of my dogs makes it easier for me to care for myself. I know that’s not the same for everyone.
Why Some People Hate Dogs
Sometimes, pet parents get carried away with the moralization and personification of their dogs. And I think that can be why it can be difficult for others to understand us at times.
My dogs bark at strangers. They take a very long time to warm up to my friends, and they don’t trust easily.
Some people say that dogs are a good judge of character, and that if a dog barks at you, you must be a bad person. And it’s not the truth. Dogs bark at people that look different, smell different, or even at a person they normally love who happens to be wearing a hat.
And for someone who doesn’t like dogs, but is constantly told that dogs are a beacon of character and morality – getting barked at by a dog must feel pretty awful.
Worse, many people in Petfree have been bitten or attacked by animals. Some have scars, a few have been disabled or disfigured, and many have trauma – and we can’t pretend that dogs always have a reason, or that it’s always someone’s fault. They’re animals, and their survival instincts can take over.
I’ve been bitten by my childhood dog to the point of having permanent scars. I’ve been growled at by Matilda when she didn’t want me to touch her treat. And my dogs have attacked one another.
To that point, humans hurt humans all the time, especially those we love.
We can internalize it, or we can accept that people and animals do hurt one another, not always with good reason, and that violence and love are both very real and very, very hard to understand.
What Dog-Free People Have Completely Wrong
There’s one thing that I’ve seen pet-free people say that’s simply untrue.
Some say that cats and dogs do not love us back, at all, and that they only act cute and cuddly because they’ve evolved to be as means for survival.
We know that dogs and cats and other animals experience a rush of serotonin and dopamine when they’re with the ones they love. Just like us.
Humans, too, benefit when we’re kind to each other and seek companionship. The first sign of civilization is said to be a healed femur – something that’s only possible when a human has loved ones to care for them while they heal from an otherwise fatal injury.
Yes, dogs are bred for maximum cuteness and sweet temperaments and companionship – but love is real, and that’s a fact.
Why We Need To Listen To Dog “Haters”
I don’t implore anyone to go into the subreddit or otherwise seek out or participate in communities of people who do not like dogs. There’s no reason for it. Those are safe spaces for those people, and even when they say things that I can’t justify or understand, they’re free to do it.
What’s most important is not taking our dogs for granted. They’re wonderful, and they enrich our lives in countless ways. But they aren’t morally superior to humans, and they’re hard to take care of.
My dogs are my spiritual caretakers, but also my dependents, my friends, my companions, my equals, and my babies, all at once.
And that would mean nothing if I saw them as universally loved, perfect, flawless, needless beings.
Sometimes dogs bite. Sometimes they eat their own babies. And sometimes, they love unconditionally. To me, they’re the full package, and I love them completely.