Sometimes, friends of mine who are dog owners but who don't have kids will notice something about their pets' behavior, or the level of involvement and investment they require, that reminds them of the responsibilities of parenthood. Because they're good people, they'll always go to great lengths to assure everyone else that they do not believe owning a pet is the same thing as raising a child, because of course it's not. Still, while parents definitely feel more strongly for their children than their pets, and while the complexity of human society makes parenthood difficult in ways pet ownership could never be, I must admit that there are times when babies and pets are exactly the same.
I used to joke to myself that my incredibly social, occasionally needy cat felt more like a human toddler at times; a thought I didn't dare speak aloud before having kids of my own. If I were working at home, she'd do everything she could to get my attention, including making mischief all around me. She'd whine at me until I played with her. Now that I do have a toddler who does basically the same thing, I'm willing to admit that I was not that far off about her. I also find myself giving the same exasperated instructions to my cat and son at least twice a week. (They know they're not supposed to get on the counter. It's all just dishes waiting to be washed up here anyway. If they're going to get up here, they could at least help wash and dry, you know?)
So yes, while there is no direct comparison of our actual feelings for our babies versus our feelings for our pets, they're all treasured members of our families. They also definitely have some things in common, like:
When They Pee On The Floor
If you have a baby, a cat, a dog, or some combination thereof, you will end up cleaning pee off your floor at some point (read: all the time). It’s going to happen, but if you’re fortunate/especially good at house-breaking, it won’t happen that often. Probably. Maybe. Just, good luck.
When They Eat Off Of The Floor
Babies and pets have a sixth sense for finding food that has been dropped by bigger animals. They're also equally willing to eat said food, no matter how old it is. A wish for all my fellow parents of humans and pets: May none of your “eat off the floor” days coincide with “pee on the floor” days. These incidents almost never happen in the same place, but it’s still an uncomfortable correspondence, even if the food and pee zones never actually touch.
When You Go To Great Lengths To Stop Them From Scratching Or Hurting Themselves
Whether it's giant cones around their necks, or tiny mittens on their little hands, pets and babies sometimes need to be protected from the consequences of their fearsome teeth and claws. (Also? Someone needs to answer for why human baby nails so ridiculously sharp. I understand why the cat’s are, but my infant never had to hunt his own dinner in an alley. What gives, evolution?)
When They Climb On Things Where They Don’t Belong
They also totally know they’re not supposed to be up there. My cat immediately gets that deer in headlights face when you make eye contact with her while she’s on the dining room table, even if she knew you were right there when she jumped up there. Meanwhile, my son, who’s been climbing stairs and anything else in reach since he was seven months old, will actually climb up onto the same table to tell the cat to get down. (Like, really? Adorable little hypocrite.)
When Friends And Neighbors Are Way More Interested In Them Than They Are In You
I am notoriously awful about bending down to play and gush over every dog I see on a walk, and spending comparatively little time or attention on their human. My cosmic payback is having a really cute kid whom everybody tries to chat and play with, while completely forgetting that I exist. I guarantee more of my neighbors know my son’s name than mine. And my friends pretty much only invite me places so they can play with him. I'd probably write more rants about that if I didn't totally see their point.
When You Have No Idea What They’re Saying
Babies and pets make a lot of mouth noises that don’t necessarily correspond to any language we speak or understand. Fortunately, they’re usually pretty good at getting their points across in other ways, whether it’s scratching on the door, picking up their leash and whimpering towards the door, or wailing while trying to pull your boob out of your shirt.
When They Have Tiny, Adorable Belongings
Not only are all of their things cute and little, but they treat their things interchangeably, making the whole enterprise extra cute. Baby stuff is almost perfectly cat-sized, so I wasn’t terribly surprised or upset when my cat swore all of the baby stuff belonged to her when we first started setting up my son’s nursery. She still tries out all of his toys before he does, and sleeps in his stroller at every opportunity. For his part, he loved (and still loves) all of her tiny toys, especially the ones with bells, and all the little DIY cat beds my partner and stepdaughter make for her. Because perfectly baby-sized.
When They Put Everything In Their Mouths
Like, everything. If you pick up anything from the floor to waist height in a house with a baby, a dog, or a cat, just know that it is covered in slobber. Dogs and cats do this because that’s the best way for them to carry things, so they get a pass. Babies, on the other hand, have hands and opposable thumbs, so they mostly put things in their mouths just to make their parents nervous. (Yeah, OK, and because it’s a way for them to get to know new things and train their immune system and blah blah blah. It’s still gross.)
When They Lick You
I can’t decide whether older babies lick you because they share the dog’s limited understanding of a kiss, the cat’s affinity for grooming their loved ones, or both. Either way, when pets or babies lick you, take it as a wet, slimy expression of love. Aww.
When They’re So Cute And Funny And Sweet You Can’t Even Handle It
Way back when, my students had a pet dwarf hamster that eventually became my pet. He was the funniest, cutest little creature, and when he eventually decided he liked me as much as I liked him (trusting me enough to eat from my hand and give me little nuzzles with his impossibly teeny nose) I’d get so overwhelmed by cuteness that I’d become temporarily unable to speak.
That happened to me more or less all the time once I had a baby of my own, especially once he became able to express affection. Like when he hugged me around the neck and said "Mama!" for the first time? I'm basically writing this from the grave because I died of cute that day. Died, people.
When They Steal Everybody’s Hearts
Basically, being cute and sweet is their job. It’s literally their only contribution to the world and they are doing it to the max. In exchange, we give them free food, free housing, and we'll move cars off of them and run into burning buildings for them and pretty much anything else they want or need just because we love them so damn much. It’s nice work if you can get it.