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Fur Baby and Pet Parents

This column is a response to a comment made on one of my other columns where I was taken to task for what was described as “The contempt you seemingly have for the “fur baby” type is offensive.” You can find the column and the comment here – I don’t think you need to read the comment to get the gist of the author’s objection to my objection regarding advocates for the use of terms like “fur baby” and “pet parent.” I think the points I make in my rebuttal will apply to many that use these sorts of terms both innocently enough and with an agenda in other cases but read the original comments for clarity if you think my reply needs it.

All in all, I think it would be a worthy debate topic for my podcast. What do you think?

I’ve read what you have written several times and hope I correctly understand your perspective. If so, I still don’t think it justifies the use of those terms or the risk to companion dogs and companion dog owners that make me find the terms undesirable.

I’m not sure the characterization of contempt is fair, a concern is more accurate. Either way, I believe your perspective is tied into several types of logical fallacies.

The first that comes to mind is what in the logical fallacy world is an argument based on an anecdotal perspective. An anecdotal perspective is when an opinion or belief is formed based on an isolated example such as personal experience rather than looking at a broader spectrum of experiences. I understand why you would have the feelings you have about the terms when you are basing them on your experience and your dog. I am however basing my opinion on observations over approximately 30 years of working full time with many thousands of companion dogs and their owners. It doesn’t mean I’m necessarily correct, or you are incorrect, but I am drawing on far more data that refutes your conclusion.

You are also using the exception fallacy. Because you don’t feel it harms your relationship with your dog there is no harm in it for companion dogs and companion dog owners in general. Another example of the same dangerous reasoning would be because my grandfather smoked cigars and drank copious amounts of whiskey and lived into his 90’s there is no risk associated with smoking or heavy drinking.

I take some issue when you say, “I don’t believe he would have been able to pull through if I were not the “fur-baby type” I would have to ask why ever not? I assure you I know many people that have saved and rehabilitated dogs as equally disadvantaged that feel no need to refer to a dog as a fur baby or themselves as pet parents. You appear to be trying to equate the terms I believe are ultimately damaging to companion dogs and companion dog owners as some prerequisite of what is required to be a responsible dog owner willing to take on dogs with physical and emotional baggage. In the logical fallacy world, this is referred to a false cause argument.

You go on to slightly misrepresent me by saying, ”My attitude towards him may not be one you find acceptable”. Your attitude and commitment are not only acceptable to me it is admirable. It does not, however, require the anthropomorphizing you feel is a prerequisite of the “pet parent” label that I think is having a negative impact on companion dogs and dog owners.

Another logical fallacy you’ve incorporated to make your point is tied into the extraordinary efforts you made to rehabilitate your dog. I believe this reinforced some and created other potent emotions. Arguments can undoubtedly have emotional aspects, but there is a susceptibility for feeling to replace reason and I as I mentioned earlier I see no reason to think the efforts you made, require you or anyone else with being a “pet parent” or a dog as a “fur baby.”

My perspective comes from several – not suitable for companion dogs or dog owner observations. For instance, I have seen far too many examples of things like “pet parents” with “fur babies” dressing ruggedly built dogs in winter and raincoats, wearing boots etc., and essentially treating the dogs as one might a grandchild as opposed to a child. Beyond the ludicrousy of such acts, I have seen Siberian Huskies wearing coats and boots being obliviously walked by their owner’s past disadvantage children without footwear and clothing suitable to the climate. This social embarrassment is a byproduct of the “pet parent”, “fur baby” perspectives.

I find those above, and other equally abhorrent versions of spoken or unspoken “fur baby”, “pet parent” companion dog ownership to be morally repugnant. It is something I repeatedly see connected to companion dog owners that perceive themselves as “pet parents” of “fur babies”.

Repugnancy aside, a more accurate representation of the attitude of the “pet parents” with “fur babies” that I encounter is more akin to how grandparents interact with grandchildren rather than a parent and child. That is fine in small doses but grandparents with full custody of a grandchild change over to a parenting style more in the keeping of developing a healthy human being. To do otherwise would not only be irresponsible it would be unfair to the child.

To be clear, I’m not opposed to enjoying and loving dogs. I am against the current trend which is blurring the line between humans and dogs. In fact, it’s gone far beyond merely treating dogs like humans. What could go wrong?

It now extends in many circles where they are now giving companion dogs a status non-existent amongst any social species in the world as in the current belief amongst some in the dog training world amongst that dog training is only scientific and humane if it is “‘All Positive/Force-Free'”, all the time.

I have yet to see any legitimate support for the alleged science behind this philosophy in the real scientific community that applies to companion dog ownership (try evolutionary biology for starters). Even so, where it is marginally legitimate, it’s one thing for a bunch of orcas trapped in an aquarium but quite another in the open ocean. It’s one thing in a dog agility context and quite another in and around the complexity of a home. Based on the number of dogs I come across in my work negatively impacted by the philosophy, (not science if applied to real-world companion dog ownership realities) a strong argument can be made that it is in fact inhumane.

I am going to add lest you embrace another common logical fallacy perpetrated by the ”All Positive/Force-Free” all the time acolytes that just because I do not believe in ”All Positive/Force-Free” it does not mean I believe that the answer is ‘might is right’ training.

The truth is that I see far more anxiety, and aggression cases since this “ethos” reared its head. I mention this because I do not believe it is a coincidence that the dog “trainers” (and rescues) that embrace this bizarre “pet parent”, “fur baby” ”All Positive/Force-Free” all the time treat, treat, treat philosophy are the heaviest users, instigators and propagators of the “fur baby”, “pet parent” nonsense.

I have seen far too many dogs messed up, some permanently, some even euthanized due to well-meaning but off base ”All Positive/Force-Free” dog trainers and companion dog owners that fell for their “pet parent”, “fur baby” super status anthropomorphization.

Companion dog owners can call themselves and their dogs whatever they wish. I know that most like yourself mean no harm. Even a few of my favourite trainers have fallen into the “it’s just harmless terminology” trap but after reading some of what I’ve written on the topic are taking a second look. Still, when anyone making money from companion dog owners uses those terms while I won’t’ necessarily dismiss them as someone not to be taken seriously, it will remain a huge red flag that they may be the sort that loves dogs far more than they understand them.

I still firmly believe that when looked at from the big picture this trend is harmful and will not be signing my emails, John and his fur babies anytime soon.

-John (sans fur babies)

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