Man's best friend?

There's a fine line between aspects of parenting pets and people

Posted: Sunday, January 23, 2011

I’ll admit it: I’ve been watching a lot of late-night basic cable. Shows about bizarre foods, ghost adventures, underwater UFOs (they’re actually called USOs, the “s” for “submerged”) and stuff getting destroyed in seconds. Who says you can’t learn from the Learning Channel these days? Okay, okay. Sometimes, I’ll rock a “Bridezillas,” too.

Anyway, I view these shows in real time. This means I don’t fast-forward through the commercials, which, honestly, I’ve come to enjoy.

At that time of night, and on that end of the channel guide, ad space is cheapest. This is when they air all the slightly irregulars. You know, commercials for Survival Seeds, mail-order catheters and the Shake Weight. Turn your gold to cash. Learn a foreign language in six weeks. Herbally enhance yourself. Join the class-action suit against that particular herbal enhancement. And so forth.

In heavy rotation on the Travel Channel — on which airs my latest jones: “When Vacations Attack” — I’ve noticed a spot for some high-end, organic, non-GMO, kosher, fair-trade, gluten-free, free-range, grass-fed, dolphin-safe dog food. The ad copy seems extremely careful not to refer to people with pets as “pet owners.” Rather, the solicitous voice over calls them “pet parents.”

This makes sense. I never read a single food label before I had kids. Now a toddler and a newborn into parenthood, I won’t buy any products listing corn syrup as an ingredient. Well, except for that big bottle of corn syrup I pour all over every meal. For some reason, nothing seems to taste right without it. Point is, only a “parent” would care that much about nutrition, whereas an “owner” would just crack out the factory-seconds Alpo.

Still, the phrase “pet parent” sticks with me. Maybe it’s because I remember a point not too long ago when my wife and I weighed the option of pet versus pregnancy, specifically dog versus child.

See, dogs and young children share certain similarities. Obviously, they’re both carbon-based life forms, kingdom animalia, phylum chordata, class mammalia, possessing hair, specialized teeth and a strong affinity for chicken nuggets.

More than that, both dogs and young children also:

• Need to be walked regularly. Go to the beach on a particularly foul weather day. The only people out there are dragging along/chasing down kids or dogs. Or both.

• Invariably find the nastiest bits of debris to put in their mouths.

• Run away the second you free them, only to take their own sweet time coming back, until you wind up calling their names, over and over again, come on, let’s go, leave that broken glass alone, over here, let’s go, stop eating brown snow, etc.

• Rank among the world’s most unapologetically flatulent.

• Enjoy throwing up on rugs, often in the middle of a dinner party.

• Respond well to treats, and the promise of more treats.

• Invite all sorts of unsolicited advice from people who don’t have dogs and/or young children.

• Can be placed on leashes. Granted, for kids, these devices may be disguised as backpacks or stuffed monkeys and sold under cutesy names like “Love Handle” or “Tot Tether” or “Child Safety Harness,” but a leash by any other name…

• Are endlessly amused by the same soft, squeaky, brightly-colored toys. Honestly, I bought my daughter a rubber steak in the pet section to use in her toy kitchen set. And are you telling me there’s any difference between a baby’s teething ring and a doggie’s chew toy? By the way, what teething baby wouldn’t love to wrap its swollen gums around a rawhide pig ear?

• Your kids, like your dog, can really feel like a member of the family. Not to get too gushy here, but my daughter, well, she’s like a daughter to me. And my son? He used to be the son I never had.

• Eat out of suspiciously similar looking bowls. There’s a fine line between “high-rimmed starter tableware” and a dog dish. A very fine line. Ironic, because not only will young children happily chow down on your dog’s kibble, but your dog will grow fat off your children’s table scraps. This is perhaps the only instance in which trickle-down economics actually works.

But of course, there are differences, too.

For instance, young children look much less ridiculous than dogs dressed up in little sweaters and tiny pants. You can also leave all your money to your kids; leave all your money to your dog, and people will think you’re nuts. But which one’s more likely to squander their inheritance on large-scale depreciables? Who’s more likely to blow it in Vegas?

Of course, you can’t really blame your kids for eating your homework, although, if given the opportunity, they’ll scratch every single DVD in your collection. Also, you wouldn’t feel nearly as guilty letting your dog watch TV all day long.

Then there’s this: If you’re going to be a slave to a creature’s bodily functions, then why not expect that creature to return the favor one day? Not even that “Dog Whisperer” guy from the National Geographic Channel could train your dog to change your adult garment.

In the end, though, the biggest difference for us was the deciding factor: my wife was allergic to dogs. And we needed something to talk about.

• Geoff Kirsch’s “Slack Tide” runs every other Sunday in Neighbors. E-mail him at geoff@geoffkirsch.com with any comments, or to purchase tickets for Juneau Montessori School’s 10th Annual “Hot Salsa Cool Ballroom,” 7 p.m., Feb. 5 at Centennial Hall.



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