Before I launch into talking more about sterilization and permanent birth control next week, I want to quickly touch on (and probably later come back to) something that's been on my radar the last week or so. You no doubt realize I read tabloid gossip if I'm able to come up with a photo montage like this one. So imagine my surprise when I read what Italian model-actress Elisabetta Canalis—known lately as George Clooney's girlfriend—said to Italian Cosmopolitan magazine.
[Getting pregnant has] never been an objective for me. My maternal desires are fully satisfied with my dogs.
While this piqued my interest, I was ready to let it go. Though these types of comments don't show up nearly enough in the mainstream press, I figured Clooney's latest squeeze might be a little too random for some readers. But then a friend forwarded me a press release from an animal shelter program that works to find permanent homes for elderly dogs. "In today's 'me-first' society, more people would rather adopt an older dog instead of a younger puppy—or even in place of having kids," it read. It went on to talk about Canalis' statement, how puppies can require a lot of time and patience, and the work the shelters do to make adopting aging animals seem like a more appealing option.
This is where I really get excited—because for a childfree person like me, my animals are my kids. Now, I know a lot of people think you can't compare the two—at least if you do, it can only be a one way comparison à la the sentiment "My dog is my practice child," or, "I'm learning how to parent pets before I have a kid." But in what other type of relationship would it be acceptable to practice? I'm pretty sure no one here condones the idea of actively opting into a "starter marriage," or thinks it's OK to "practice being lesbian" until you figure out your sexuality. After all, real feelings tend to be at stake.
As someone who actively seeks out older animals for adoption, I find this sort of rhetoric heartening. The three cats I've adopted as an adult have been in the double-digits (10, 13, and 10 respectively) when they came to live with me. Yes, two died within the first year, both of cancer. One was extremely neglected and possibly abused before I met him. And yes, losing them both broke my heart so badly that several years removed, it can still be hard to talk about. (My partner and I even went to a pet loss support group.) None of that negates how much they filled my life with joy, or how lucky we all were to have found one another. My partner and I have also been extremely lucky to spend the past two years with our current feline-in-residence, a chunky tuxedo cat named Malcolm who survived some time on the streets before a shelter volunteer brought him in. (He's got a big X-shaped scar—hence the name—and a busted tail to prove it.) Because we adopted him in Denmark, we were also lucky that he was alive when we got there. Unlike many stateside shelters, Danish shelters tend to euthanize older animals immediately, assuming they won't be adopted out.
This is what gets me in the end. Why are some lives expendable and others not? Why are some relationships valid and others less so? Why is it OK to substitute animals for human children but not the other way around? Hell, it could even be that animal shelters and rescue programs are so full because people see animals as more expendable than humans. How is that not a heartbreaking statement about our consumerist culture that treats the most fundamental relationships as disposable? Wouldn't we be up in arms if families ditched their children in the streets, left them to fend for themselves when they move away—but took their dog instead? It certainly wouldn't be OK to ditch your pets when they "got too old," much like it shouldn't be OK to abandon a human child or partner then, either.
People say that having kids is the toughest job they have or will ever have. If you've ever taken care of sick animals, you might be inclined to believe it's similar. I've set up IV bags on my kitchen table and learned all sorts of tricks to get my cats to take their medication. I've wiped up incalculable amounts of puke in the middle of the night, driven to the animal ER more times than I care to count, and spent thousands of dollars I didn't have on treatments. It's really hard work, but I almost never talk about that aspect of my relationships with my animals because I love it. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. Isn't that, to some degree or another, how we'd describe the most fulfilling relationships in our lives? Isn't a bit of work always required to have the most satisfying, loving commitment?
I don't doubt that people will read her the wrong way, but I think Canalis is onto something, and I'm glad she had the guts to say it publicly.
Photo of Malcolm winning epic battle against some ribbon.