What is a Fur Baby?
Call your dog, cat or other furry pet your fur baby (or fur child) and you might get a mixed response. Often not a positive one. Some may roll their eyes and sneer, a few physically cringe whilst others deride you for undermining the wonder of childbirth and parenthood. With that in mind, it was potentially a boneheaded idea to give this moniker to my business. But some of us… we get it. I totally get it. Let me speak for all dog moms here. We KNOW the animal is not a child. Some of us pet parents, myself included, have human children too. Some do not, yet still understand that a pet is no equal substitute for a son or daughter. When we refer to our pets as fur babies, we are expressing the value those animals hold in our hearts, in our lives and as a family member. We recognise their lives as sentient beings, not as items we posesess – even if a designer price tag has been paid. Fur Babies come in all shapes and sizes, and the rescued stray mutt is equal to the Champion pedigree in this respect.
For the purpose of this blog, I’m referring mostly to the dog mums and dads but the sentiment applies to all pet parents.
There’s no need to get bitchy
It’s not just the net mums and dads who scoff at us. We get it both barrels from animal professionals, too. Some animal behaviourists ridicule use of the term, claiming that in doing so we are humanising and failing to respect the dog for it’s canine virtues. PETA go so far as to say that even referring to an animal as a pet is condescending, and pet ownership implies that the animal is a posession. (Instead, the terms ‘animal companion’ and ‘animal guardians’ are suggested.) Speaking in Feb 2020, PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said: “How we say things governs how we think about them, so a tweak in our language when we talk about the animals in our homes is needed… …A dog is a feeling, whole individual, with emotions and interests, not something you ‘have’.”
I could not agree more that dogs (all creatures, in fact) are wonderful beings. But we are discussing the domestic dog, not wild wolves and whilst some ancestral behaviours remain such as sent marking by urination and burying bones in the garden, the former do depend on human care to thrive. The modern relationship between people and dogs is mutually beneficial and at times, co dependent. The Bonn-Oberkassel canine remains provides evidence that the emotional bond between dogs and humans dates back at least 14,000 years. (Utilitarian use for hunting and guarding goes much further, perhaps 30-40,000 years). One cannot simply reverse this but in maintaining the status quo our dogs do deserve the very best care and understanding to meet their individual needs. This is something we pet parents take very seriously and in the use of our language, we are verbalising an unconditional love. You don’t do that for an inanimate object. Yeah it’s a bit chocolatey and gooey but you can’t deny the sentiment. It’s like calling your mum’s best mate Aunty Sarah – we all know she’s not really family but she’s as good as. It’s a compliment. Besides, we just don’t take ourselves that seriously. When we say our kids have fur, we’re laughing at ourselves a litle bit because we know we’re crazy about our dogs. And you can laugh at us, that’s fine. But laugh at our dogs and the fur is gonna fly.
Not ‘Just a dog’
I can’t deny that the term ‘fur baby’ is humanising but in defence, anthropormorphism is a human tendency which helps us to build empathetic relationships. It helps us form a bond, and incentivises protection. That doesn’t mean I’m going to treat my dog like a human child. Sure I might dress him up with a bandana or bow tie but I wouldn’t force him to wear things if it bothered him. (In fact, as the owner of a big, jowly boxer dog, I have found that such things soften his image somewhat to people who might otherwise be scared of him. That’s anthropormorphism in action and it works to our advantage.) I’m going to care for his needs and celebrate his individual personality. I will make desisons in his best interests, as I do for my children. I nourish him with the best diet I am able to provide, teach him how to behave, provide physical exercise and an enriching environment to stimulate his mind. I cook him special treats and bake dog celebration cakes for his birthday. I dutifully clean up his dog poo, wipe away his eye boogers and turn his ears back when they are inside-out. I protect him. I have even taken him for swimming lessons and arranged doggy play dates. But the difference is, whilst I want to teach my children to be independent adults, my dog will always depend on me as his care giver, like a furry baby. Sadly the laws of nature dictate that I will outlive him. So forgive me for indulging, for the gazillion photos, the homemade dog treats and the luxury dog leads, because he actually deserves more than I could ever give in return for his loyalty and friendship, fun and the many physical and therapeautic health benefits too numerous to mention. As for denying respect for my dogs canine qualities? On the contrary, that’s why I love him so much.
Until next time,
Julie & Bosun
PS: If you’re a crazy dog mum too, sign up for my newsletter and receive a free dog biscuit recipe to bake at home for your fur babies!
Where shall we go next?