I have two children, and when I meet people with pets who equate their experience to mine, I don’t know how to react. I should be able to say, “Please don’t equate your pet with my children,” but something stops me; it now feels rude, practically reactionary, to insist on the difference.
Here’s what I want to say: Your pet had a parent, and that parent was not a human being. That parent was another animal who, if it had the chance, would have taught your pet everything it needs to know about being the animal it is. Mostly how to find food, where to find shelter, and what to avoid that might kill it. What you have to teach your pet is how to relate to the human world (mostly how not to eat shoes, hump legs, or ruin carpets). This is the paradox at the heart of having a pet: We love them because they aren’t human, then spend their lives treating them like people. We project onto them what we wish we could see in ourselves and others. We don’t really want them to be animals — wild, free, ultimately unknowable — we want them to be like us, but more static and predictable. Something we can control.
Which is why they soothe our fear of the future: Pets don’t change. Your pet may slow down as it ages, but, otherwise, the time you spend with it will always be the same. They provide the consistency we crave. Every day when we come home, they’re happy to see us, eager for our attention, ready to give us love. You can count on your pet, you can trust it. Your pet won’t betray you.