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Tyler Dawson: If, as the Pope says, having pets is selfish, then the word has lost all meaning


Does the Pope have any idea how much work goes into raising a pet? Or how much of ourselves we put into caring for these creatures?

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Pope Francis is in an unenviable position.

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Since ascending to the papacy in 2013, he’s attempted to modernize the Catholic Church, while also appeasing conservative Catholics, who object to his liberal tendencies.

In 2017, the Guardian newspaper reported that as a result of this tension, he’s “one of the most hated men in the world today.”

If it wasn’t true then, perhaps it is now.

Pope Francis has come for the pet people, saying they’re selfish, and arguing having a pet was “a denial of fatherhood and motherhood and diminishes us, takes away our humanity.

“We see that some people do not want to have a child. Sometimes they have one, and that’s it, but they have dogs and cats that take the place of children,” he said. “This may make people laugh, but it is a reality.”

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Unlike couples of the past, today’s couples are able to choose to have children, and are able to consider whether or not they’d be capable of parenting well. Surely, and since there’s no evidence to suggest people are happier with or without kids, the fewer children born to parents who don’t want them would have a net positive effect on human happiness.

And, lastly, in the serious reasons to be grumpy with the Pope: If people are diminished by not having children, how does the Pope account for the humanity of those unable to conceive? Are they, by default, less human?

But whatever, my objection is far less weighty.

Does the Pope have any idea how much work goes into raising a pet? Or how much of ourselves we put into caring for these creatures?

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Why, on Tuesday, while I was doing an interview for a story, downstairs, my partner’s dog was preparing to vomit on the rug. A fine specimen, a sleek fellow who’s the colour of fall leaves, Doug is polite, and tends to ask to go outside when he needs to barf. Tethered as I was to the desk, I was not there for him, and he deposited it, in three oozing piles, onto the carpet.

When you first get a dog, it is, for the uninitiated (as I was), an almost incomprehensible amount of work. They need to be potty trained. My dog, Sal, thought the couch the best place to poo for months. They need to be taught to eat slowly, so they don’t puke. They need to be trained to walk on a leash, to interact in a civilized fashion with other humans and animals. Sal, a rampaging oaf of an animal with eyes that hint there’s a trapped human soul inside, is still learning and I’m still trying to teach him. (I have no idea whether any of this holds for cats, lizards, ferrets, parrots and so on.)

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This training costs time and money and strains one’s emotional limits. Some variety of all this goes on for their entire lives. When they’re seniors, you prepare their food for aged teeth and bellies, clean up their messes indoors when they’re incontinent, lift them onto couches and into cars.

When they are sick, you get up in the middle of the night to tend to them, and they can’t tell you what’s wrong. When they’re full of energy, you need to entertain them. You look after their health, feeding them well, limiting their treat intake, and making sure they get enough exercise.

A dog cannot be plunked in front of cartoons or handed an iPad when you need them to shut up for a while.

In the four years I’ve had Sal, I’ve altered financial plans because of veterinarian bills, and travel plans because of daycare costs (unsubsidized, I might add). I’ve left dates and turned down parties because for a time, Sal suffered from separation anxiety and became distressed if left alone.

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All of these sacrifices have been worth it.

Pets are an almost unalloyed good. There are challenges, but, as, I imagine, with some children — surely not all! — they bring considerable joy.

The thing about pet ownership is that the minute you get one, whether you’ve bought a cute boutique puppy, rescued an abused animal in need of rehabilitation or taken a street cat into your life, you’ve signed yourself up for heartbreak.

In some years — five or 10, maybe 15 or 20 if you’re lucky — you will hold that animal while it dies, and you will be the last person they see.

Probably, at that moment, you’ll be the only thing they’ll want to see. And, it will break your heart, even knowing you’ve given them everything you could to make their life wonderful.

If the Pope would call that selfishness, then the word has lost all meaning. If that isn’t the purest expression of humanity, then nothing is.

• Email: tdawson@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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