Isn’t it simply a truth universally acknowledged that an unmarried woman of a certain age without children will most likely have a small dog she dotes on, or maybe a cat or five. Some people call this a furbaby.
When I think about this term furbaby what springs to mind is something along the lines of Charlize Theron’s magnificent turn in the dark comedy Young Adult. Her character is a writer of teen fiction who moves through life in a Hello Kitty couture borderline alcoholic haze. She is emotionally juvenile and you guessed it –has a small dog. Things don’t go well for her. It is an absolutely brilliant film by the way.
But wait, hands up. It is true, I am the owner of a small dog.
I have cohabitated with a Yorkie/Pomeranian/Shih Tzu mixed breed for five years. He brings me immense joy on a daily basis, cheers me up when I’m down, keeps me fit and is a constant source of demonstrative unconditional love.
My dog sleeps on my bed, is allowed on the sofa and I sometimes pick him up for a cuddle and let him lick my face. I bore people with photos of him, I clean up his poo, I buy him a gift at Christmas, I take pride in him, comfort him when he’s scared and worry about him when we’re not together.
I’d like to put it out there now my dog doesn’t have his own Instagram account, I have never made him a birthday cake or bought him a pair of dog wellies or the like. Yes, he has a coat and a couple of knits for cold weather because like other small breeds he feels the cold and I pay to get his hair groomed. This is because I love him and want him to be comfortable. But, I know he is a dog and not an infant.
Lots of other people love their pets in the same way as I do: I know of many male and female, married, unmarried, mum’s and not-mums who treat their pets like this. And it’s correct, that the British are world famous for percieving and treating pets as part of the family.
So why the wrath against women and small dogs ? Why infantilise childfree women so much?
Do I think for one minute that owning a dog is the same as having a child? No, I do not.
Have I ever referred to my dog as a furbaby? No, I have not.
The term furbaby is particularly polemic. Whereas personally, I find it a little icky the term doesn’t bother me enough to join in a forum chat about it. Yet I have read several nasty blog posts and impassioned arguments online about the use of this term. It seems to really get up people’s noses.
As I say, it’s not something I have ever said in reference to my dog, but I know people who do and it has never bothered me that they do. It tends to be uttered in a tongue in cheek way or worse case scenario as a saccharine term of affection to signify the real and meaningful bond between pet and owner. I don’t think anyone really confuses the expense of a child or responsibility of having another human completely dependent on you when they are young, to having a dog depend on you for their basic needs, exercise and daily affection.
IMHO furbaby is just an expression of love that broken down humanizes animals and has yes because of semantics has connotations of parenting and this is a bit unfortunate. That’s all. No need to lump everyone in with Ellie Woods and her pink chihuahua and the like.
Make no mistake, owning a pet is special and hugely rewarding. It shouldn’t be diminished because a person might refer to themselves as their dog or cat’s mum. So bloody what I say. Live and let live.