Why pets are the new kids
TikTok star Andrea Cavaleri’s delectable vegan recipes, parenting sound bytes and a former stint on Amazing Race Canada are not the only reasons this young mother is going viral. After telling viewers the love she’d felt for her pet was the “same thing” she felt for her three-month-old child, many adamantly disagreed. Apparently, the love for a human child is more profound. Can’t relate. I don’t want them.
While many peers have openly supported (and abided by) my decision to remain childless, Filipino Millennials can hardly say the same about the response from older generations.
“You’ll change your mind when you have them.”
“You won’t feel the same about your dog when you have a baby.”
“You can’t possibly love a dog more than you’d love a baby.”
I do love my dog. I don’t want a baby. So do many others who consider pet ownership equivalent to the likes of parenthood. Younger generations have recently dismantled traditional definitions of family. Pets are the new kids, and plants are the new pets—but why? We asked pet parents to share their thoughts.
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Why do we have pets?
Pet companionship is nothing new. You might have seen it in hieroglyphs, cave paintings and ancient musings. For some, they were an integral part of childhood. But mine was an unorthodox mix of domestic and exotics. My experience with early pet ownership existed beyond the usual. I’d seen rabbits, crayfish and river snakes throughout their lifetimes. In our household, cats were a staple.
According to 26-year-old freelance artist Snow, having pets was a deeply emotional decision. “Having cats really helps my mental health. It reminds me that I am needed and that I am loved in one way or another.”
Snow is the mother to Wirt, whom she playfully dubs her special boy. “He is so smart and cuddly and playful. He always knows when I’m sad and stays with me until I stop crying. He turns four-years-old on Independence Day. He likes to sit on my partner’s desk with his head on my partner’s wrist when he plays video games. We sing silly songs to him a lot.”
New to Snow’s household is Krobus, a two-year-old rescue from CARA. “He is, right off the bat, the most affectionate cat I’ve ever met. On the second day here with us, he was already sitting on our chests and purring. He is quite mischievous, though. He knocks things over a lot because he likes to headbutt.”
For 28-year-old writer and creative coach Belle, pet ownership was an experience left to chance. “One day in 2020, on the eve before a lunar eclipse, a stray black cat wandered onto my windowsill. He kept coming back to me and keeping me company when I was at one of the lowest points of my life. I’ve since moved out of that house and brought Bubu with me because I wanted to keep him safe and give him a home, the same way he made me feel safe and loved.”
Pets and the mental health epidemic
Pets have been combatting anxiety and depression long before the pandemic. Whether medically trained or not, pets do an unintentional albeit extraordinary job of providing companionship, increasing physical activity and adding structure to your day.
For Belle, the benefits of cat ownership have been more than evident. “Having a cat and living alone during the height of the pandemic truly saved my mental health. I wasn’t as lonely. And I had free entertainment sans WiFi. My cat can do a lot of things. He can pull tarot cards with accuracy. He’s also a menace to society with a penchant for shredding important paper documents and doing stunts on my balcony. As chaotic as he is, Bubu is the sweetest pet I’ve ever had. He can tell when I’m sad or anxious. He knows to rest on top of me, purr and knead biscuits when I’m bedridden with crippling anxiety.”
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I believe these relationships are mutually beneficial. I lost two of my feline children in early 2022, one of whom was a talkative, touch-and-go-from-birth tuxedo named Panda. Panda developed a storybook best friendship with our Siamese cat Meeko, whose grief after his loss was inexplicably saddening. Meeko, a gluttonous cat whose joints were saved only by a slow feeder and portion-controlled meals, refused to eat. Meeko, our most affectionate and attention-seeking cat with only-child syndrome, refused to leave her under-the-couch sanctuary.
Meeko reeled from the loss in the same way I did—detached, sometimes hysterical, but never alone.
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Yes, pets are children!
Losing Panda reiterated something I’d already long known—that Meeko needed me as much as I needed her. They don’t have the words to express it, but animals are just as emotionally attuned as we are, and Snow can attest to this. “I find it to be very fulfilling to be able to build a loving relationship with my pets. They are capable of giving and receiving so much love. They are such empathetic beings.”
If emotional dependence—if sheer need—is what defines a child’s need for a parent, then our pets need us all the same. When we are told pets aren’t children, Belle chimes: “I don’t like kids, but why is having a pet any less than having a child? I’ve also heard from elders that it’s weird that Millennials are treating pets like their own kids. Why are they given the same…priority and treatment as a baby? Why do we spoil them as if they’re human? In defense, I remind them of how fucked up the world is today. Why would we raise kids with this level of inflation and all the hatred and unrest going on today? Why would I willingly pass on my bloodline’s trauma to an innocent being? I’m also not equipped to be a mother. I can’t bear the responsibility of supporting a child financially, emotionally and physically.”
@bitchcraftph have you ever seen an angry spaced out flower? #catsoftiktok #cats #bubuthedestroyer #coneofshame ♬ original sound – goldenbiscuit.tx
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The bottom line
The fulfillment one obtains from parenthood, whether to a pet or a human, is entirely subjective. If the overarching ideas of parenthood are to nurture, give, learn and thrive together, we can hardly tell the difference between skin and fur. Nonetheless, all walks of parenthood share one identical factor: the desire to love and commit.
Words Zoë Isabela Alcazaren
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver