Earlier this week, I wrote about the ways in which, without entirely meaning to, I treat my daughter, Sasha, like a dog. Turns out I had that backwards. According to my beloved alma mater, dogs are the new children. In a New York Magazine cover story that ranges over a variety of topics—from how urban environments are changing a dog’s life to animal-rights issues—John Homans writes how this resulted from centuries of breeding:
What was created was not, precisely, a human child, but it certainly was able to push some of the same buttons. According to one study, 84 percent of dog owners consider their animals akin to children—not a surprise, given all the baby talk.
Besides giving dog owners the opportunity to spend millions of dollars on “dog bakeries, and haberdashers, and luxury kennels … a vast and ever-growing junkyard full of kitsch,” this has provided them with some unusual benefits, according to the research studies Homans digs up:
Pet owners recover at a substantially faster rate from heart problems than do non–dog owners. … A child raised with a pet is more empathetic than one who isn’t. The dog—no secret here—is an excellent wingman. A 2008 study found that a man with a dog had a much better chance of getting a woman’s phone number than one without. And the dog can even tell you whether or not you’re a good person. A 1999 study found that people who strongly dislike dogs score significantly higher on the measure of anal character and lower on the empathy scale of the California Psychological Inventory, indicating “that people who liked dogs have less difficulty relating to people.”
Okay, so maybe I’m a bit anal-compulsive (I did, after all, edit the crossword at New York), but there’s a strenuousness to all these facts that I find unconvincing. It’s like the guy at the office who raves about the juice cleanse he just experienced, or the Truther/Birther with his intricately Sharpie’d placard in Times Square. In other words, who cares if you and your dog-owning human child are more empathetic than me? Or maybe I’m just having trouble relating?
Not maybe—definitely. Dogs are okay, but I’ve never really understood them. But at least now I know why Homans and his ilk do: Dogs, he writes, are “camp followers of our microtribes, the only beings that fully understand the customs. And unlike children, they’ll never reject them.” In other words, dog owners want loyalty—they breed it, they nurture it, they own dogs (and possibly raise children) specifically hoping for that inexplicable, unconditional love.
But me, I don’t want unconditional love, whether from a pet or from a child. I want Sasha to grow up to think of me not as a father to be loved without thought but as a human being as capable of screwing up his family as the next guy. I want her to love me out of experience and consideration, not blind instinct. I want her to reject the customs of our little microtribe if those customs fail to fulfill her. She may act like a puppy right now, but she should end up a cogitating homo sapiens.
If that makes me a cat person, so be it. But just remember this: The Internet is made of cats.