Millennial Pet Owners: Stop Calling Yourselves ‘Dog Moms’

I love dogs. I grew up with dogs who became part of our family, so it was no surprise to anyone that I got a dog when I moved away from home to Philadelphia. My husky, Annika, became my sidekick, and it has been great to have her company and an excuse to explore a new city with her. Dogs have been shown to improve your mood, make you more active, and help you make friends. They also serve in vital roles as service animals to our police force and our armed forces. They even made headlines as they searched for bodies in the recent London fire. To borrow a phrase from the popular Twitter account, We Rate Dogs, “They’re good dogs, Brent.” (If you don’t catch that reference, check out its awesome back story).

But our cultural obsession with dogs can lead to some pretty dark places. When asked whether they would save their dog or a foreign (human) tourist, 40 percent of people said they would choose their dog. That number drops to 10 percent when the choice is between their dog and their best friend—which is still appallingly high. I didn’t realize that the fact that a human life is more valuable than an animal’s life would be something difficult for people to grasp, but with stories like Harambe the Gorilla and the hunter Theunis Botha, it’s apparent that far too many people would save the life of an animal instead of a human, and some would go so far as to celebrate the death of a human when it was caused by an animal.

My millennial generation has become pretty obsessed with animals, especially their pets. I am a dog owner, and unfortunately, the term that is being thrown around—like a tennis ball—for people like me is “dog mom” or the more gender-neutral “dog parent.” People throw birthday parties for their “babies” or even go so far as to pierce their ears or dye their fur (please, please don’t do that). Buzzfeed has an article that literally shows you as a dog parent. Some of the images are cute, such as one showing a dog on an Easter egg hunt, and some are overboard, for example, a man at the post office with a dog in a baby carrier on his back. You can even buy Dog Mom merchandise from We Rate Dogs. The idea of being a Dog Mom is a sign of our growing unhealthy obsession with dogs and other pets.

The term “owner” is a more accurate acknowledgement of the power dynamics involved in the dog-human relationship. Dogs are your property. I love my dog, and sure, I spoil her sometimes. But I did not give birth to her, and I wouldn’t get in trouble with Child Services for putting her in a crate or having her sleep outside (which I don’t actually do, I’m just making a point).

The term Dog Mom—mostly used by millennials—is also indicative of how my generation is coping with our transition to adulthood. Don’t get me wrong, most of the articles about millennials are absurd and overblown (see here, here, and here). Millennials living at home or waiting to get married shouldn’t be seen as a universally negative thing—both choices suggest an embrace of pragmatism and financial responsibility. Millennials are delaying #lifegoals such as getting married, buying a house, and having children due to rational financial and social pressures. (Like many other millennials, I won’t be able to buy a house for years because of my student loan debt).

For some millennials, being a “dog parent” allows them to feel like they’re “adulting.” I get it; I feel responsible for my husky’s life and I have to “provide” for her, but being a parent and a dog owner are two different things. Just ask anyone who’s an actual parent.

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  • Grandma

    I’m entirely comfortable with such silly people removing themselves from the human gene pool to parent dogs. But you have to be sorry for the poor pooches.

  • SheRa

    I really don’t see what the problem is. I have a cat and I call myself a catmom. I don’t have children and, yes, she is my baby. Most people are well aware that being responsible for a pet and being responsible for a child are two different things. I get my cat isn’t a child, but I’m still going to care for her and buy her silly things that I know she does not need. I do raise my eyebrow at people who cart their pets around in strollers and dress them like children, but who am I to judge? Are these people hurting me or their pet by doing any of this? Most likely not. There are people who can’t have children (for various reasons) and so they shower their love on a pet. It’s not always about being out of touch with reality, but comfort for us.

    It IS worrisome that 40% of people (from a 2013 survey…why not conduct another to see if this is still true…hmmm?) would save a pet over a human life. That I wish I didn’t believe. But are those the same people who would save themselves rather than sacrifice their life so someone else could live? Is the problem selfishness in general? If it’s not a pet, what would replace it? Would you save a valuable comic book collection from a burning fire rather than a person you can hear screaming in another room?

    I guess I just don’t understand all the hate for pet owners. It’s not like owners expect to claim pets on their taxes or enroll them in school. Anyone who tells a parent that raising a dog/cat/bird/lizard/whatever is just as hard as raising a child is a dope in general and that has nothing to do with owning a pet. I’m sure if they didn’t have a pet, they’d be irritating people in other ways.

    • Nancy Glick

      Unfortunately there are people who are trying to get laws passed to be able to claim them as dependents on their taxes and have them on their family insurance plans. There are those who are trying to get animals human rights on the level of human toddlers so they can have lawyers represent them in court. There are lawyers being trained to be representatives for individual animals the same as if they were children. That’s the point of this this article. When people use the terminology of being pet parents it pushes that bar ever closer to those things happening. Once we lose the law that says they are our private property, we lose the ability to make the decisions on their care, their health and even their death.
      Some people have been accused of cruelty because they allowed an older pet to live longer than someone else thought they should simply because the owner was not ready to say goodbye to that special friend.
      One lady was accused of cruelty because she allowed their housedog to play in their yard in the winter longer than their neighbor thought they should have. The dog was a husky, was having fun in the snow and didn’t want to go back into the house. The woman was arrested in front of her children because the dog was outdoors in the yard playing and didn’t have food and water out there. She was acquitted of all charges by a judge with more sense than the neighbor and the animal enforcement agency who had her arrested.
      Another couple had an older lab who had cancer. The dog had been in remission but went into seizures over the weekend when their vet was closed so they took him to a local shelter to have him euthanized rather than wait for their vet to open on Monday. The shelter put the dog down for them and offered them sympathies and shortly after they arrived home the police were at the door and arrested the husband on animal cruelty charges for “allowing” the dog who had been under vet care for the cancer to stay alive long enough to go into seizures before putting him down. Their vet had to go to court and testify that there was no way they could have known the dog would come out of remission and go into seizures when he did.
      Those are just a couple of many stories out there of people losing their right to make health decisions for their animals. The people working so hard to make people see animals as “babies” are the same people working on taking away all of our rights of property to our pets and the ones pushing to give them human rights. These are people who do not believe in animal ownership and the best way to end that is to given them human rights because you cannot own another human being. They are well versed in how to play on peoples’ emotions and when you get people emotional, they will follow wherever they are led and will not see where it leads until it’s too late to turn back. That’s why the poll she took turned out the way it did. People are being led down that path by their emotions.

      • Betsy Rose

        Totally missed it if there was supposed to be any emphasis on those legal concerns. Sounded more like a rant on obsessive pet adoration, but I don’t see anything particularly millennial about the issue. In fact, I see it across generations, with increasing misplaced anthromorphism the older the ‘pet parent’ gets. It can be taken to an extreme, of course. But I think the people in those surveys are more affected by our society’s increasing lack of compassion, and social insulation from others outside of an immediate circle of personal community members.
        I’m a proud pet Momma/Gramma, as others in my family and social circle are. In a real life situation, even the most adoring of us is far more likely to make a reasonable humanitarian decision, even if sometimes people seem less worthy than our four-legged loves. IMHO.

      • al smith

        Nancy you nailed it..

  • Jolene Madison

    I agree with this article 100%. Glad someone finally said it!

    • imagine

      Someone final;y said what? That dogs do not die from a broken heart? Or mourn or grieve or give their lives for ours or save us?

  • Nancy Glick

    I agree with you. I love my dogs too but I choose to not disrespect them through anthropomorphizing them. They are wonderful animals but they are not humans and should be loved and respected for what they really are. They are not replacements or substitutes for children but they are wonderful, loving and many, protective companions who are a different species with a different physiological makeup and different needs than humans. Definitely love them, consider them a part of your family who needs love, humane care and guidance, but respect them for what they are and not what you want them to be.

    • Windchyme

      A F’in MEN…….you make dogs neurotic when you treat them like human children. They’re not. They don’t think or reason the same as human children, they have different goals and drives from human children. That is like making a gay person live as if they are a straight person…we’ve seen what that kind of thing does to humans. Dogs are not human children and that is what makes them completely GREAT!

  • BanBait

    Oh, trust me, one doesn’t have to be a Millennial to act this this. The foreigner would be totally hosed if it was my wife-and she’s a doctor.

    • Windchyme

      Well in a world that has overall treated me like crap my whole life…..it wouldn’t be a good idea for another adult to expect me to give up my dog for them. Not saying I wouldn’t…I don’t know, I might….but its a very risky gamble to take. If a person can wait one second while I grab my dog I will be to them directly…and I’ll die saving them if need be. Or if saving both means my life…ok…..

      • al smith

        what a sad statement as if everyone in the world treated you like “crap”

  • eLLsBeLLs

    I am not a millennial. I am 63 years old and have raised 2 now grown children. I never owned a dog until my youngest son went to college and the dog found me, I did not find the dog. She helped me through a very rough time. My husband, who did not want a dog because he felt that now with the kids grown, we were free and could travel, etc. My dog is now 13 1/2 years old. She is our baby. We spoil her as we didn’t spoil our kids, because we knew we’d have to send them out into the world as responsible adults. We adore her and yes…. we love her more than we care about most people. I feel that she is my child. I am responsible for her. Unlike a real child, she will never “grow up,” so we can spoil her to our hearts’ content. I miss being a mom to my children. My dog has fulfilled the part of my husband and myself that needs to nurture. I do treat her and think of her as my child and I do not think there is anything wrong with that. Pets fulfill different needs for different people. Your opinion is fine and it works for your mindset, just as mine does for me.

    • al smith

      the problem is it is not an “opinion” your dog is NOT your child you OWN you dog and that is a good thing know why? because when ( and if) your old dog needs to be put to sleep you can decide to do that.. if you are the”parent” you could never make that decision. and unlike a real child she will die at 13-15 years old and you will be left to mourn her.. and sadly some people who are so invested in their pets never get over that loss..even though they know it is inevitable…I fear you are one of those people.. dogs are wonderful additions to our lives.. BUT they come and go if we are sensible we understand that do the very best we can for them and go on when we lose them. Adoration is not good for a pet.. and like it or not dogs do “grow up” and should be treated like a grown up animal.

      • eLLsBeLLs

        So, we should not love and be invested in our parents, spouses, children and friends because we know they will one day die and we will mourn? Should you spend the 10 to 15 years or so that you are the “owner” of a pet keep your distance so that when the pet dies you will not mourn? Some people never get over the the death of a relative or friend. That’s life. Should I not allow myself to feel as much love for my older friends because chances are they may die sooner than I will? As a pet parent, I know I may have to make a heart wrenching decision one day. It’s too bad human medicine isn’t as humane as veterinary medicine so you could help your loved ones when they are suffering and there is no chance of recovery. There are also way too many instances of parents of children who have to make the most difficult decisions regarding their health, and what to do in the event they are sick or brain dead. Machines get turned off. Organs are donated. I know when that horrible day comes I will be a wreck and I will mourn her. I also know, as a very strong believer in rescue, that I would take in another shelter dog because there are too many that need loving homes and it would be honoring my present dog to do this.

        • Dianne Mullikin

          No, you don’t “keep your distance”. You whole heartedly LOVE your pet for who they are for as long as you have them. But you enter this type of relationship (owner/pet) knowing they will NOT be with you for your entire life. This is the only condition we enter in with when we accept the responsibility of *owning* a pet.

          • Cat Cox-Carter

            What about parents that adopt children with a terminal disease? Is that the same?

    • mtwzzyzx

      Note the number of “I”, “Me”, “Our” references in that paragraph.

      I think that explains the whole thing.

      • Cat Cox-Carter

        She used less than the original post. So what does that say? And your comment shows how much you know about personal narative. You need to go back to school and learn how to write properly.

        • imagine

          You need to show some respect!!!!

    • Grandma

      I take it that you have no grandchildren or other children in your life to love. If this is the case, I understand why you might use a dog as a substitute. But there are so many children who need a grandma, couldn’t you share some of your need to nurture with them?

  • mtwzzyzx

    I don’t think most people realize how different your dog is from a human. If you died in your house and it was just you and your dog, within a day and a half, it’d be eating you if it couldn’t get to other food.

    • Tom Brown III

      if I was locked in a house with my dog and had no other food I would eat him too. we are homies and he would understand.

    • imagine

      Or mourning you and dying of a broken heart!!!! Educate yourself on that!

    • Karissa Regaliza

      if it was just you and your baby I bet you would eat that thing too

  • Justwondering

    Amen!

  • Ashley Thibeault

    I know plenty of dog moms/dads/parents who have kids, jobs, maintain homes and are healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. We realize dogs aren’t children but many of us saved a life by rescuing our pets so we are attached and invested. While I wouldn’t let a human die for my dogs I definitely mother them by making sure they’re well cared for and live a good life, I think using this term about yourself signals to other people that you’re the type of pet owner that is responsible by spaying/neutering, properly vetting, and not leaving your dog tied outside in extreme weather or in a hot car. Not to mention for a lot of people this is preparation for them and their partner to become parents to small humans. I think everyone needs to lighten up a little bit here, most people use the term in a tongue in cheek or joking manner anyway. My friends also call me the “mom” of our group because I cook for everyone and care about their comfort. My sister calls me mom as a joke because I’m always telling her what to do and taking care of her as well. Language is fluid, and anyone who is holier than thou about this “issue” should probably find another cause.

    • Karissa Regaliza

      Well said!!

  • imagine

    You are an evil woman with an opinion!! Some women do not have children! Do I need to go into detail on what you said about that or can you do some research next time you post your opinion?? I hope too many people do not read this as any sort of worthy reading material and take it to heart.

    • Karissa Regaliza

      true!

  • Karissa Regaliza

    LOL! anyone can tell you puppies are better than babies. at least they don’t turn into rabid evil teenagers.