My brother’s cat, Beau, has been sick with a UTI so many times before I find it hard to count. It’s not something we take lightly, and these recurring UTIs have been something the whole family’s done its best to research and resolve. But these past few weeks were different: Beau’s UTI issues became life-threateningly serious, pretty much overnight – leading to emergency visit after emergency visit, and finally, to a pretty major surgery that has hopefully extended his lifespan by many, many years.
At the start of this extremely painful experience (for him, for his humans, and for those of us who love him dearly), we had no idea if Beau would make it. In fact, we didn’t even have any idea what was wrong. We didn’t know why he wasn’t getting better on his prescription cat food, or if there was something unique about this time that had made the infection so much worse than before. Did he have another illness making him sick? Would the vets be able to find out how to help him in time? If he made it, might this happen again? And would Beau be able to live through another round of these terrible experiences if they recurred when he was old?
Throughout those initial days of uncertainty, I felt I might lose a family member.
I picked those particular words for a reason. I didn’t feel like I would have if a human family member got sick – I felt that a family member was sick. Because while Beau is no human, he is family.
The emotional roller-coaster you feel when a family member or close relative gets sick – if you have a pet – that’s what you feel when they get sick.
And no, Beau is not my pet. He does not live in my house nor has he ever – but he is like a nephew to me, my brother’s son, and my mom’s cat, Walker, is the same. Were anything to happen to either of these cats, though they are not my own, I would feel that I lost family.
Are pets exactly like people? No. And certainly your relationship with them is not like your relationship with other people. Pets are obviously not able to hold conversations with you, to share similar hobbies and interests (besides napping and a love of food, of course!), to share with you their innermost thoughts and desires, or even describe to you how their day went, but for the many of us who live and interact with pets for so many hours each and every single day, the fact that our relationships with our pets are different from our relationships with other humans doesn’t at all change the fact that they are indeed family.
Do pets fit into the traditional definition of what a family unit is? Technically, no. The top Oxford English Dictionary definition of a family is “a group of people related by blood or marriage.” But arguing on behalf of this definition means you’d be excluding adopted children as family members – and I most certainly think you’d be hard pressed to find a soul these days who’d agree with that.
Pets are our adopted family members. We choose not only to be friends with them, but to take them into our lives full time, to bring them into our homes and to look after them the same way we would look after adopted children.
People adopt children to give kids who need a good home one, and also for a more selfish, yet equally good reason – because they feel the adopted child would make their lives better for having the child in it, too.
These same two reasons are why people adopt animals: to give the animals a better home and to enhance their own lives through the joy and fulfillment that having a pet can bring.
We spend countless hours with our pets each and every day. We protect them, look after them, and care for their well being the best we can – same as if they were our biological children, sisters, or brothers.
Pets are not “just” pets.
We treat our pets like family because family they are.