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Our pets, ourselves. July 27, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were looking through an L.L. Bean home catalogue the other day, hoping to find outdoor cushions for our deck that were comfortable, didn’t look atrocious, and would hold up in rain, heat, and humidity. But our attention was diverted as always by the pet products section. We’re suckers for those pictures of adorable pets, especially if they’re types we own or have owned like springer spaniels and golden retrievers, or puppies and kittens of any type or stripe. What can you say but “Aaaawww”?! We also enjoy seeing what marketers have come up with in the way of new pet products.

Marketers, being no fools, know how we all feel about our pets, and as a result, many of the products shown in the Bean catalogue (and, our friend Ben recalls, in the Orvis pet catalogue, too) proudly displayed the names of the pet “owners.” Silence and I especially noted a tote that featured an embroidered golden retriever and the name “Molly,” just like our own beloved golden. Then our friend Ben started noting the other pet names. All of them were “people names.” Our friend Ben remembers when Bean first started putting pet products in its catalogues. Then, the pets had “thing names:” Boom, Lady, Rover, Spot, Prince. The marketers, with their usual savvy, had picked up on a shift in the way we think of our pets and were making the most of it.

Nowadays, unless a small child has been allowed to choose a pet’s name, it’s almost always a “people name” like Maggie, Beau, or Bridget. It’s cetainly true at our house: Our indoor cats, Layla, Linus, and Athena (and Jessie and Seamus before them) have people names. Before Molly, we had a golden named Annie; our neighbor’s big golden male is Jackson, and on the other side, our neighbors have a little Molly dog, too. Even our chickens have people names.

The names, and the nature of the products (luxury dog beds, pet sofas, cat nests), tell a story that’s reinforced at the pet-food aisle. Pet food companies must spend bazillion dollars on packaging and advertising that tries to make pet food sound like people food, giving it names and attributes that would sound delicious to people: stews and braises and gravies and, in the immortal words, whatnot all. Cats and dogs have other criteria, and, not speaking or reading English, are probably less impressed by names like beef Stroganoff, mixed grill, surf’n’turf, and the like than their human families. And let’s not even talk about treats. Suffice it to say that we humans, sadly, aren’t the only ones contending with an obesity crisis.

All of which is to say that, in many ways, our pets have become us. They have become our best friends in a literal sense, a sense certainly not intended by the guy who coined that phrase. As more people live alone, as more people delay having children or never have them, as more people find themselves stressed and isolated even in the midst of busy work and social schedules, they turn to their pets for companionship and solace. Pets can bring everyone, from our youngest toddlers to our oldest citizens, the kind of patient, uncritical love and presence that is ever-harder to find in our multitasking, driven, speed-worshiping, screen- and gadget-obsessed society.

Our pets don’t care if we stay up all night and sleep all day, eat an entire half-gallon of ice cream from the carton, wear the same dirty sweats all week. Our pets don’t see our cellulite, balding heads, bad hair, grease-spotted shirt, or wrinkles. They will listen to whatever we want to say to them, even if we’ve already said it 5,000 times. They will not leave us for another man, or grow up and leave the nest, or rack up huge credit card bills and not tell us until the creditors start callng. They reach out to us. They love us. They are constant. They do not judge. Whatever we do, whatever we are, we’re good enough for them.

Thinking of the attributes of pets of course reminds our friend Ben of the famous passage from Saint Paul on the qualities of love (“Love is patient, love is kind…”). These are marvelous qualities to find in our pets. And even more marvelous to find in our fellow humans. Perhaps it takes a Mother Teresa or a Dalai Lama or an Eckhart Tolle to slow down, listen, and love, to offer respect, patience, and courtesy. Silence told me that she was so ashamed the other day when a good friend, speaking of another acquaintance, said that he was too impatient to even let Silence’s friend finish a sentence. “She could just as well have been talking about me,” Silence said sheepishly.

Our friend Ben fears that our ever-increasing isolation has been our undoing. Whether we’re a ninety-something alone in our tiny apartment, a teen spending every free second in front of the computer, or a professional (love that word; just what are we professing?) trapped all day in the cube farm, our aloneness makes us wrap up ever more tightly in ourselves. (The last time I flew, I was shocked: Two people actually spoke to me instead of screeching at their cell phones or drifting in an iPod daze. It was the first time that had happened in over a year.) No wonder we have lost the sense of community, the once-automatic courtesy that would even let us really listen to the people we care most about—if we’re lucky enough to have some. 

I doubt that we can ever hope to be as patient, loving, and nonjudgmental as our pets. But I pray that we may learn a better way from them, relearn at least a little patience, kindness, and outreach to others, before it’s too late. Bless them for being there as role models as well as friends! Silence reminds me that there’s another wonderful lesson our pets can teach us: not to take ourselves so seriously. We’d all be happier (and healthier) if we could make fools of ourselves with the cheerful grace of a dog or kitten. Our friend Ben (who has considerable experience in the “making a fool of myself” department) says amen to that!



1. linda - July 27, 2008

This is such a beautiful post – a perfect read for a perfectly gorgeous summer Sunday morning.

Thanks, Linda!

2. perennialgardenlover - July 27, 2008

Lovely post about pets.

Thank you!!!

3. deb - July 27, 2008

Very nice post. Another thing about giving the pets people names, you can use a name you like but would never attach to a human baby. Say a name that would get them teased and tormented. We named a bunny Idalou. A real girl would hate it , but a bunny doesn’t care.

Thanks, Deb! And I do that with pet names, too—I give them favorite names like Linus and Simon that aren’t in the family, and also names I’d have liked to be called myself!

4. sjones71 - July 27, 2008


And my dog’s name is…

Benny. Ben for short.

Ben—ha!!! A great name, if I do say so myself…

5. Cinj - July 27, 2008

Pets can also teach us to take time to care of ourselves. How often do they get so distracted by a job that they forget to eat, bathe, and nap. Everyone can be a teacher if we just take the time to reflect on the lessons that are to be learned. Excellent post!

Thanks, Cinj! And that’s an excellent point.

6. Becca - July 30, 2008

How beautiful! All of the dogs around here have people names but the cat has an exotic-for-fun name. The deceased koi was named after a flower. When we have chickens, I think I’ll name them all after flowers as well.

Speaking of chickens, someone here in town is selling 20 head of poultry AND a chicken coop for $100. Wow.

Thanks, Becca! I like the idea of flower names for chickens. Theme flock names are definitely the way to go! But I wonder what’s going on with the 20 hens for sale. Maybe the owner just had to get rid of them, but if you check ’em out, make sure they look young, healthy, and peaceable!

7. Becca - July 30, 2008

Yes, they are moving. We have not any form of $100 for chickens or I would be begging for them right now! They were listed on craigslist: silkies, dominickers, orpingtons. I was puzzled that the owner said he only gets 4-5 eggs/day from them…

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