An ode to the family pet

With the children grown and the nest empty, writer Joe Banks reflects on how long-overlooked pets – and ‘grand pets’ – reclaim their household royalty status

dads-corner-spring13-2Surely there is no being in your home that so much lives the roller-coaster existence as the family pet.

Whether it barks, meows, oinks, preens or squeaks, it is alternately ignored, ogled, admonished, and finally, elevated to the status of household royalty. No wonder they come and go every dozen or so years, to be replaced by another that grabs your heart – and vocabulary.

I’m as guilty as anyone, calling my daughter and her boyfriend’s Corgi the “grand dog” and speaking to it in such a sucky way, any visiting alien would believe the animal is a four-legged version of us taught to speak our language.

And yet, if said pet could actually communicate back, it would attest it isn’t always this way.

In pre-kid days, pet became the centre of your existence the moment you picked them up at the shelter/store or they followed you home. In the days immediately after, you lavished attention and fawning words on that bewildered wee creature, using words of affection that would be at home on any pet food commercial.

And that’s just the guys.

Young women don’t just adopt pets. They become mommies, from bidding the animal(s) goodbye in the morning, to scooping it up in the evenings for face-mushing cuddles so dramatically affectionate any other human partner in the house begins contemplating fur and tail transplants.

Then, distractions creep in; first a boy or girlfriend who leaves less room on the couch, with all of the aforementioned cooing now shifting to the two-legged companion.

Pet gets subordinated to the floor, first the one in the living room, then, if temptations run their course, to the bedroom where it can expect to be ignored until owner or visitor says it’s OK to curl up at the end of the bed.

Then, as if two’s not company, a child or two arrive, pushing pet further down the attention chain to near obscurity.

Heck, if it wasn’t for its ability to nose the food dish around the kitchen floor like an aardvark at an ant
convention, surely starvation and the Humane Society would soon arrive.

But does it complain? Maybe in pet language, but since everybody in the household is now too busy to notice, it may only do so to the stuffed toy, or to the other pet that arrived between the last diaper change and the first camping trip because apparently loudly alerting owners to a dirty bum or a raccoon’s presence means a new pet is needed.

And then it happens.

As soon as they arrived, seemingly, those kids who tossed treats and complained about cleaning litter and/or yard mine field clean-ups, are off to college. The nest empties.

And there it is again, that musical timbre that denotes pet attention. They may be new, but the goo-goo words are back, this time spoken with the saccharine sweetness of a grandmother on baking day.

So when they return from college or life for family gatherings, the grown children now notice the pet is spoken to, and is treated with, far more attentiveness, pampering and affection that they, as young humans, were.

And then all at once, the family sees, maybe with bemusement or a sense of irony, the pet’s place in the family fold has come full circle.

Joe Banks is an Osgoode Village resident, daddy of three cats and granddaddy to Finn the Corgi.