Recently an article entitled "Pets are Not Children So Stop Calling Them That" by M.A. Wallace appeared in New York magazine. It’s a snarky piece tailored to generate outrage as viral click-bait for what appears to be a completely manufactured baby vs. doggy culture war. The article came out a bit before Sharkita’s five-year “adoptiversary,”or as some people call it “gotcha day,” and inspired me to contemplate my own views on pet parenthood.
I met Sharkita (then Jesse) in 2011, while promoting Evermore at a Halloween dog costume contest at PS9 Pet Supplies in Brooklyn. She was among the earliest groups of rescue dogs for the then-young organization Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue. A few days later, I was (very easily) convinced to foster her until an adoption event that was to occur on November 5th. Needless to say, she never made it to the event, and I entered the ranks of “pet parents.”
When my career as a Brooklyn dog walker began in 2005, I distinctly remember being initially amused when my mentor Carol West, owner of Other People’s Pets, referred to her clients as “Diesel’s Mom” or “Astro’s Dad.” Over time, I began to understand that while no one confuses pet ownership with raising a human child, there are certain undeniable parallels in the relationship. In bringing pets into our lives, we are assuming the responsibility to feed, shelter and care for another being. Much virtual ink has been spilled about how we are shifting away from a paradigm where we view our pets as mere property. Science also backs this up with more and more research confirming that oxytocin (the so-called love hormone) levels increase in dogs and their humans through gaze alone. This is the same hormone that is released during breastfeeding.
I personally believe that beyond actually describing the relationship between pet and caretaker, there is also something subversive about choosing to use maternal (or paternal) language to describe the relationship to one’s dog. I originally began referring to myself as a dog mom in order to deflect my own mother's inquiries as to when she could expect grandchildren. Shark became the "grand-dogger." It started as a joke, but over time I have come to identify myself as a pet parent—especially now that I am of a certain age. Even with less and less women choosing to have children, there is still immense societal pressure to procreate, and the question of whether or not I have children or plan on having them seems to permeate social interactions. Nothing brings me greater joy than derailing that line of questioning by inundating whoever dares to ask with the highlights of my dog’s Instagram account (@badass_sharkita).
Thanks, Sharkita, for five wonderful years together and for helping me cheekily shut down the busybodies.