By Dr. Patty Khuly, PetMD
Ever marveled at how much more livable your life is now that you’re lucky enough to have pets in it? Wondered how you could function without their presence? Yet you constantly field annoying comments questioning how much you spend on them, right? As if keeping pets was a mere luxury…
Driving to work early Sunday morning I caught a snippet of the American Public Radio show, On Being. Among other ontological tidbits, the guest, celebrated poet and scholar Elizabeth Alexander, addressed the following question: Is poetry a luxury?
Her answer, a thoughtful “no” to the notion of poetry’s ready dispensability for its elite or cushy connotations, was based primarily on its permanence as cultural touchstone through the ages. When did we not have poetry? This form of communication is purportedly as old as the earliest civilizations. Hence, it’s posited, we must harbor a quintessentially human need to engage in it.
Which, of course, got me to mulling over much the same with respect to our pets: Are they a luxury?
Excessive, indulgent, inessential, hedonistic, frilly, sumptuous, extravagant. Such are the adjectives the word, “luxury” denotes. None of which, I’d argue, apply to my own conception of the animals I keep as pets. Nor is it likely to jibe with your worldview of petdom — not if you consume animal infotainment, like this blog, on a regular basis.
After all, some of us don’t necessarily see animal keeping as a personal choice. We view animals among us as the result of the millennia old process of domestication — a complex, symbiotic relationship that serves as a significant measure of our humanity.
Which is perhaps why so many of us feel almost compelled to live alongside animals. This, despite the fact that with all our modern advances we’ve mostly “aged out” of keeping pets as ratters, hunters, and defenders (among other survival-based uses). Because, as the argument goes, there’s something so fundamentally co-evolutionary (about dogs and cats in particular) that we continue to forge lasting bonds with them in spite of the less pressing need to keep them close.