What I really take issue with is the saying "having a dog / cat is like having a permanent three year old." Now we're not talking about affection, love or emotional attachment. Now we're talking about pure experience. I've heard this saying from many people. Strangers on the street, childless friends, and even my own mother, who must have forgotten what having a three year old is really like.
Now there are some similarities. Pets can get into things and make a mess. Pets can pee on the carpet. You have to keep an eye on pets so they don't run into danger. We can't fully understand them and they can't fully understand us, so a fractured language is used. But day to day, I feel the responsibility much greater for a kid.
How often does your pet cry? They do cry, in their way, especially puppies, especially when night training, if you aren't allowing them to sleep in your bed. But how long does that painful period last? A few weeks at the very most. And when your pet is unhappy about other things, you can usually get them what they want or distract them easily. If your pet is thirsty or hungry or wants to play, you can fetch them a drink, some food, or play with them for a few sparing minutes and they move on. Rare is the occasion where a furry friend will completely meltdown because the food you gave them is an unsatisfactory color or because you won't let them play with the butter.
Which brings up my next point. Pets, after a brief training period, listen to you. They listen to the word no. Even if they don't, it's easy for you to take away whatever they are doing, or put them in another area without garnering resentment or temper tantrums. Pets forget. They move on. When you tell them they can't run away, they might still try, but at least they don't make the time they're not pursuing that desire miserable for you.
While you can talk to a pet and they can understand basic commands and they have a certain empathy, sometimes knowing when you are having a rough day, you can't really talk to a pet. Nor do you have to. There is a running ridiculous dialogue in this house every minute of the day. "Yes, you're a butterfly. Quick give daddy butterfly kisses. No the sprinklers are not for butterflies. No, it doesn't matter if you're a lion now. Sprinklers aren't for lions either. Why don't you play with your blocks? No, don't throw your blocks. Pick up your blocks. If you want to bring your blocks outside, we have to wear shoes. No, my shoes are too big. You need your own shoes." And that's giving them a lot of credit, assuming they stick to the same train of thought for more than 30 seconds.
From my experience a conversation with a pet goes like this: "Hi, you! You're a good boy! I love you! Aww, pet pet pet. Okay, go lay down." Shorter and sweeter, no? Pets listen to you and don't require a reason for every decision you hand down to them.
While having a pet ties you down more than not having a pet would, you can leave a pet for hours on end and not have to worry about him. You can say goodbye to him in the morning, go to work, come home eight or ten hours later, and everything is fine. As a parent, you can't even run downstairs to throw a load of laundry in the wash without worrying about what your kids are up to. Any absence longer or farther than that and you need childcare.
Most importantly, you have to worry about your kids' future in a way that's not really applicable to pets. As parents, we have the responsibility not only to get through everyday with everyone alive, but we have to shape those days to make different tomorrows. We have to teach children how to become responsible adults. So that the very thing that makes the statement "having a pet is like having a perpetual three year old" correct (the fact that you never have to worry about them growing up to be productive members of society, so that they're stuck in a blissful toddlerhood, is the very thing that proves it false. The very fact that three year olds are not perpetually three years old changes the dynamic of having one because you have to take into consideration not only the irrational cute little beings they are now, but also the rational beautiful big things they will become.
So, yes, there are a few similarities, but only on the surface. In my experience, having a child is simply not comparable to having a pet. But your mileage may vary.
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