Let’s just put it right out there: Pets can be a royal pain in the ass. Animals, like children (who, coincidentally, can also be a pain in the ass), have needs that aren’t always a joy to fill. They require food and water, toys and medical care, maintenance and grooming, sometimes even a sitter. You’re entirely responsible for their well-being, right down to when and where they poop — and then you’re responsible for cleaning that up too.
Having a pet, or a houseful of them, is definitely not for the commitment-phobic. And it’s not all that easy for neat freaks, either, seeing as whether your animal companion has fur or feathers or scales, they’re going to make some variety of mess.
But pets have another similarity to kids. Though they can be downright difficult at times, once you have one, you can hardly imagine your life without them. They add something immeasurable to a family (hilarity, for one thing, because pets are funny — thousands of animal videos on YouTube can’t be wrong). Your family pet will return the love you give it a hundredfold.
As someone who oversees the (sometimes literal) shitshow that is four children, two dogs, three cats, and a freaking turtle, I can attest to both the wonderful and terrible parts of animal ownership. And I can tell you, honestly, that the wonderful parts far outweigh the terrible — although there are moments when I would like to ship the whole lot (kids included) to someone with more patience. Canada, maybe. They seem patient up there.
Moments of frustration aside, pets just make a family complete; they fill a void you didn’t even realize was there. A pet is so much more than someone who won’t judge you for eating the entire pint of ice cream while late-night binge-watching Netflix. (Although, not gonna lie, it’s nice to have someone to join you on the couch for as long as you’re there and not require you to share a single bite.)
Caring for another living thing teaches kids valuable lessons they couldn’t learn any other way. They learn not only responsibility — the ins and outs of daily care and maintenance, and the importance of keeping up with everything — but also nurturing and compassion. They keep the family active through walks and runs and general playtime (even our turtle has “races”).
Pets can be a calming influence too; my oldest son has severe ADHD and is prone to meltdowns about the slightest thing. When he’s in the midst of one, his cat Vanessa comes running from wherever in the house she’s been and calms him down instantly. It’s magical to watch.
That’s the best part: Pets are loving and tolerant of your shit, a key reason why animals are widely used in therapy. On days when I feel it’s impossible to please anyone, I know that all it will take is the toss of a tennis ball to make my dog head-over-heels ecstatic.
Most of the time, she is blissfully undemanding, a refreshing change when I’m overburdened by deadlines and to-do lists. It’s comforting to know that her little world is perfect as long as I’m in it, and that what she wants most is to be close enough for me to scratch behind her ears once in a while.
She is an unflinching confidante (not to mention a vault — who better to unload my deepest secrets to?!) who doesn’t care that I can’t seem get it together. She doesn’t see my flaws or my family’s failings; she sees only the people she adores the most. The people who can do no wrong in her eyes. The people to whom she will be unconditionally loyal and loving until, literally, the day she dies.
And if that’s not worth scooping up a little poop and throwing a slobber-sodden ball once in a while, I don’t know what is.