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The Problem With 'Pet' Loss Books

‘Pet’ loss books are helpful if you’re grieving the loss of a dog, but despite the fact that I recommend them, I have some serious issues with them.

The first complaint pertains to the word “it”. Almost without fail, these books use the word "it" to refer to dogs, rather than "he" or "she". Dogs are BEINGS - not things. They shouldn’t be referred to as “it”, and I find it objectionable that authors consistently refer to dogs in the same way they would refer to inanimate objects. In cases where the authors are talking generally about a dog whose sex is neither specified nor relevant, all they need to do is to use “he” for one chapter, “she” for the next chapter, et cetera…yet they insist on using “it” instead. I’ve also noticed that even when the author is speaking about a dog they know the sex of they’ll sometimes use the word “it” anyway.

My second gripe is the phrase "replacement animal". It’s used to refer to an animal who’s brought into the family after another animal dies. I find it to be a callous and loaded term, and think it'd be better to use the term “new animal” instead. Authors usually take great pains to point out that no animal can truly replace another, and that “replacement animal” is just a convenient term for them to use. But “new animal” is just as convenient a term. It’s also more respectful, as it doesn’t have the built-in insensitivity that “replacement animal” does.

Still on terminology, my third criticism is the words "owner" and “pet”. The words "guardian" and “companion animal” are infinitely better. And, yes, I realise that I used the word “pet” in the title and in the first sentence of this Dog Blog, but because “pet loss” is the name of the category of books I’m discussing, I felt I had to use the term so that readers knew exactly what I was talking about. (You’ll notice, though, that I used single inverted commas to show my disdain, and that I decline from using the word ‘pet’ anywhere else in my writing unless it's in disdain-invoking single inverted commas.) The thing is, dogs are our property by law, which means that it’s not untrue to call them “pets” and ourselves “owners”. So the authors weren’t imprecise in using those words, but the paradigm (and eventually the law) needs to change, and if we’re to change it, we must stop referring to animals as our property and us as their owners. In fact, one book I was recently reading referred to a dog as “personal property” and “a cherished belonging”. Awful, awful, awful.

My penultimate complaint is that the authors of these books tend to be way too flippant about the idea of giving a dog away - a flippancy that reflects how little humans overall respect non-human life. Imagine the response if authors of a book about adoption spoke about a child in the same way, by saying something like: "If things don't work out after a few weeks, just find another home for the child". The public would be livid! But because these authors are talking about dogs, it's considered normal to talk about them as you would a bit of furniture that didn't quite fit in the house as well as you'd hoped. (“Didn’t fit in as expected? Easy solution! Just give the furniture - or the dog - away!”) 

Last, but by no means least, the authors of these books don't ever give enough weight to adopting homeless dogs. I’m totally biased in favour of adopting (see the blurb at the bottom of every page of both my websites), and while I realise ‘pet’ loss books are not about adoption, authors who write about dogs should care about dogs. And if they care about dogs, they should care about the life-and-death situation so many millions of dogs are facing, and therefore NOT give equal weight to breeders, petshops, and shelters. They should be biased towards rescue and biased against breeding. With all the millions of animals on death row, I believe that it's the DUTY of anyone who writes about companion animals to know this and expound it. This should be the case no matter what the topic of the book may be, and no matter how briefly it needs to be stated to fit into the word count authors should be unequivocally in favour of adopting homeless dogs and against breeding more.

I always write to the authors of ‘pet’ books pointing out the above. With any luck, some might even take notice of what I say and write future books more mindfully. Crossed fingers.

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Adopt a homeless animal instead - they all deserve a second chance

It's estimated that 130,000 dogs and 60,000 cats are killed every year in Australia because there are not enough homes for them all. And the global numbers amount to millions upon millions every single year.

Puppy mills are a major contributor to the terrible problem of overpopulation. Puppy mills are essentially 'dog factories' where dogs are forced to churn out litter after litter, with no thought for the welfare of the dogs and all thought for profit. The dogs live in appallingly dirty, cramped conditions all their lives, and when they no longer serve their purpose they're killed, dumped or sold to vivisection laboratories.

Petshops fit into the picture because puppy mills are generally where petshops get their animals from. Furthermore, having animals in shop windows encourages impulse purchases, and adding an animal to your family should be a conscious, careful decision - NOT one to be made while shoe shopping.

Breeders contribute enormously to the tragic statistics above too. And it doesn't matter whether they're professional breeders or backyard breeders, and whether they breed for profit or not, because while there are homeless animals sitting on death row in shelters, any and all animal breeding is utterly irresponsible.

Now, here's where you come in. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. You can either buy animals from puppy mills, petshops or breeders and be part of the problem. Or you can adopt from a shelter or rescue organisation and be part of the solution.

If I haven't convinced you, visit your local shelter to see the homeless animals. Let their innocent faces convince you that adopting is the only responsible choice to make.

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