No doubt at some point you’ve heard urban legends about the elderly lady who has dozens of cats or the guy who collects snakes and never leaves his house, or someone who spends thousands on clothes for their pet.
Perhaps you are one of them. Personally, I stopped caring years ago about what people think of me and my dedication to dogs, my dog-themed career, and the activities in which I choose to engage with and for dogs. It’s my name on the birth certificate, after all.
In recent months, I’ve been told by a good friend about a very upsetting comment hurled her way at work.
“I’d never spend that much on a dog; I’d sooner put him down,” the rude co-worker told her in response to her dog needing over $10,000 in medical treatments. To date, this has not been said to me, hopefully because my "don't go there" aura shines brightly.
A dog is a living, breathing being, and where someone spends their money is none of someone else's business. I'd sooner live in a cardboard box than not spend money on my dog's health and well-being. From grooming costs to cancer treatment and everything in between: When a good dog parent says "I do" to a pooch, it should be for keeps. Telling me to put a dog down in the name of cost savings is grounds for dismissal from my life, and I know I am not alone in feeling this way.
To some, a dog is just a dog, and spending a large sum of money on pet care and wellness is somewhat akin to being “off one’s rocker” or even obsessed with your pet. But to me and millions of pet owners just like me, going to such lengths in the name of dog (and all earthly creatures) is the loving norm.
Many people believe this sounds like an obsession with pets which could be unhealthy for the human and pet alike. But many others say mind your own business as long as there's no harm or neglect happening. To them, going to great lengths for their pet is completely rational, caring behavior.
Where is the line between obsession and devotion?
What I call passionate some naysayers call obsession. To me, an obsession becomes so when you give much more than you receive and the object of your said affection is less than reciprocating.
A passionate dog owner is someone who is their pet's biggest cheerleader. We make sure our dog is kept healthy, happy, and a very integral part of the family.
However, when the health or the pet's quality of life suffers, that can spiral into an unhealthy obsession.
When a beloved pet is suffering and someone is so very much in denial about it, this can become an unhealthy obsession. Elizabeth Kubler Ross, in her famed Five Stages of Grief, would label this “denial.”
Sometimes it takes a friend, relative or vet to point out the problem. One of the most common situations is when a pet has a terminal condition that is hopeless and the pet owners do not consider euthanasia.
There is a fine line here, though. We don't replace a family member by simply accessing someone who happens to look like Grandma or Mom or Aunt Susie. The same holds true for dog parents: We don't replace Ginger with Misty. For some of us, life without the pitter-patter of dog feet is simply not an option. I never thought I would want to commit to another dog after my first Cocker, Brandy Noel, died, but here I sit, with a snoring dog at my feet. He is my "never again," yet this decision was mine and mine alone.
Dedication and devotion is sometimes mistaken for a preoccupation with pets.
If the balance is unhealthy where the pet is the total focus of someone’s life and the pet parent is unable to work, function, or be a part of activities of daily living, then the term obsession starts rearing its ugly head.
I am a dog mom. I love it when folks call me a dog mom; I never grimace, furrow a brow, or correct them. In fact, a sense of pride swells in me.
I embrace that I do things with my dog in 2012 that perhaps others who went before me did not (or could not) do with their pooches. I look back on my childhood and cringe: The “family dog” wasn’t allowed in the living room, and I still wonder whether she ever even saw anything above the basement, where she was “allowed” to sleep on colder nights.
I, along with millions of other caring pet parents, go above and beyond for their dogs. As long as no one is being harmed and everyone is happy, what’s the big deal?
When obsession spirals into hoarding, that’s the big deal.
An unhealthy obsession to pets can lead to a disorder known as animal hoarding.
Hoarding is a form of abuse where perpetrators do not always believe nor recognize they are doing something wrong. In the eyes of the hoarder, they are saving animals.
Animal hoarding is unsafe and unhealthy for the pets and the people involved. Contact animal control services if you suspect animal hoarding.
Have you ever been accused of being obsessed with your dog? Does this bother you? How do you handle the naysayers? Bark at me in the comments below.