As I was growing up there were a lot of pets around, cats in particular. While I wasn’t allowed to have a pet at our house (other than a few brief forays into fish ownership) I had near daily interaction with cats and kittens at my grandparent’s house. I also kept ducks for a while and sometimes helped with the chickens.
When I got a bit older, I started volunteering for the local animal rescue group. I managed their website and Petfinder listings, took pictures, and occasionally transported animals. I was even the group’s Vice President for a short while. My husband and I permanently adopted four cats and moved them with us from house to house. We even made our home purchasing decisions in part on having a suitable space for the cats to play and enjoy the sun while we were away at work.
Our son came along and the cats became slightly less important in our lives but were still a part of the family. We saw them through some major illnesses and eventually one of the four died, succumbing to a lifetime of respiratory problems.
And then our son developed pet-induced asthma.
It was miserable to contemplate giving up our companions of 10+ years, but even more miserable what the pet exposure was doing to him. We had to visit the ER and give him medicine for the first time. He fought the inhaler with all of his strength, pretty traumatic on everyone. Our luck was no better with the nebulizer. We quickly made the the tough decision to seek new homes for our cats. Finding the right places was hard, giving them up was harder still. Around the same time we also found out that our son gets massive hives when dogs lick him, making dogs something we were then trying to avoid too.
Over time I noticed my opinions about cats and dogs starting to change. I still felt passionate about animal rights issues and helping animals find forever homes, but began to see most companion animals as a nuisance. I got irritated when there were dogs in public places (even places where they should be allowed) because it meant we had to safeguard my son from getting licked. The fact that family members had cats (included that same grandparent’s house from my childhood) was a major hassle and at times made visiting them near impossible. He could no longer stay over night at his grandma’s house. We now needed to check in advance if friends had pets. Etc. Etc.
I’ve now realized the pendulum may have swung a bit too far in the anti-pet direction. This really hit home earlier this week when my son told me he is somewhat afraid of dogs. He said he thinks they don’t like him. Is it any wonder given we’ve spent so much effort trying to avoid them? We clearly need to find a better way, some balance. His allergies are not extremely severe and do not need to be treated as such. We can probably take more liberal precautions and still avoid bad reactions.
I’d love for my son to grow up with an appreciation and love for animals like I have, in part because I believe it to be a foundational piece for veganism. Understanding that animals are sentient beings that feel pain, love and other human emotions makes it easier to extend them compassion. People that have empathy for animals are less likely to eat/wear/hunt/use them. Will this love still manifest if he has no animal interactions? Perhaps. But I’d like to hedge the bets.