For a while now I’ve wanted to write about pets and my antipathy towards them. Not the animals so much – I’ve nothing against them and in fact I do actually quite like cats (see pic I snapped of the cat that often comes and sits on the window ledge outside my office). I also like some dogs. No, it’s some owners I have a problem with. And this idea that a pet is capable of reciprocating love to another species. You may love your pet – but it can’t love you back was pretty much the gist.
I pitched it to the Guardian, got instantly commissioned, wrote six short paragraphs, sent it off and it duly appeared. And then… all hell broke lose! The piece broke so many online records for views, hits, shares and comments it made my head spin. I gave up reading the comments after a while because I couldn’t keep up. Also some were incredibly nasty so I thought it best to withdraw.
My partner warned me “don’t go there, you’ll get death threats!” well thankfully that didn’t happen but what it did demonstrate was that some pet owners simply cannot accept a viewpoint they don’t like. It felt for a short while as if I were living in a one-party state – only one view is permitted about animals and especially pets. You must love them. No other feelings are permitted.
Hit a nerve
Clearly I hit a raw nerve. My Facebook page was deluged with people insisting their pets love them back and their dogs are their best friend. Must be a pretty amazing best friend if it can soothe you over the phone at three am when you’re at your lowest ebb, make you a cup of tea, pour you a glass of wine or fetch your shopping. Or rescue you when your car breaks down – or you do!
Of course pets aren’t like people! Isn’t that why people like to own them? Because for many, pets are better than people? Less demanding, less complicated, less unpredictable… and a good deal more boring in my opinion.
I didn’t say a word in my piece about how people’s pampered pets can cause havoc for others: dogs barking at all hours making work or relaxation impossible – not to mention never being able to sit in your garden because next door’s dog yaks at you the whole time. Cats shitting all over your flowers, dogs chasing you in the park because you fancied a light run. “Just stop running and he won’t chase you!” says smug owner. How about you control your dog instead Mrs?
I said nothing about the dogs who think the pavement outside my house is the perfect place to take a dump. Not a word about that and yet still people went totally nuts! It was if I was personally attacking them – not expressing a point of view. It was as if I’d gone out and punched kittens instead of penning an opinion piece.
I was on Australian TV programme Weekend Sunrise on Saturday morning (their time) talking about this. They had a vet on too. Here we go, I thought. FIGHT! Turns out the vet agreed with me! When people say their pets love them it’s just projection he said – hell he even used the same word as me!
In addition to this my pets piece is being republished in next week’s Guardian Weekly – a round up of all the best stuff that’s been in the paper for the previous week. I did a stint on BBC Radio Stoke about it and have been asked to take part in a documentary.
All of which has rather overshadowed the other two pieces I had in the Guardian this week. One about my parents not making it to old age – and why this was a relief. The other about my numberplate being cloned resulting in a very scary threat of prosecution for speeding. Nice piece of consumer journalism there I think and useful too I hope. I got lots of lovely comments on my piece about my parents.
But it was the pets piece got me noticed most. Dare I ever write a piece again about things others love but I just don’t get? About how I’ve never got the Star Wars love? Or computer gaming? Never watched X Factor, don’t watch any reality TV, don’t have a tattoo, don’t have the shopping gene women are supposed to have and have no interest in fashion. Perhaps I’m an alien? I don’t get your Earth people ways. Beam me up Scottie, I’ve seen enough thanks. (Star Trek I love btw!)
If you have been, thanks for reading.