Monthly Archives: March 2013

“My Pets Are my Children”

453px-Nika_iiWhen you first got a pet–any pet, but especially a dog–how long did it take to start referring to yourself as “mommy” or “daddy?”

No time at all, right?  For most of us, it wasn’t even a conscious choice.  When that fluffball comes bounding up to you, it just feels like the natural thing to say, even for people who neither have nor want children and generally like to maintain some dignity.

Back in the days of yore when, believe it or not, I actually attended the infamous Mars Hill Church, this was one of Mark Driscoll’s hobbyhorses.  He and his assistant pastors all loved to talk about the silly things people do for their dogs and how they’re putting their pets on a pedestal and treating them like gods and, above all, how pets are not children.

I won’t bother with a full rebuttal, since it’s obvious from the clip that this is a blindered stock rant rather than a substantive analysis; Driscoll seems unaware that we do things for our dogs not because they are in charge, but because they are helpless.  680px-Gismo-Anzug-01But I wonder how many people went away ashamed that they loved their dogs too much–not that they were giving attention to their pets that ought to be given to their children or anything like that*, but simply that they were showing too much affection, period, and ought to suppress it.

That’s nonsense.  As long as no abuse or neglect is happening, there’s no right or wrong way to be a pet owner.  Dogs do have a biologically defined relationship with us, one that has developed over our 30,000 years of shared history, but it’s one that would make Driscoll renounce evolution all over again.

Evolutionarily, dogs are our children.

6a010535647bf3970b0168ebbd4f64970c-800wiThe concept is called neoteny: As humans selectively bred gray wolves to be more docile and obedient, what we actually selected for was younger traits.  Dogs, in fact, are genetically just wolf puppies that never grow up, as demonstrated by traits like drop ears, seen in wolf cubs but not adults.  This applies to behaviors, too: For instance, herding dogs that instinctively chase prey without attacking it are behaving like wolf cubs that have developed basic hunting behaviors but haven’t yet learned to kill their prey.

Other pets also fall into this pattern.  In the wild, adult cats don’t mew to communicate.  Mewing is a kitten behavior used to get the attention of the mother.  When I hear Sweet Pea mewing at me for food while her kittens mew at her for food, it’s easy to observe the similarity.

450px-Funerary_loculus_slab_with_names_of_Antigona_and_Aristopolis_(c._300–250_BCE),_Alexandria,_Egypt_-_20070817You may know that the idea of a pack of unrelated wolves lead by a dominant alpha pair is a misconception.  In fact, wolf packs are basically nuclear families, composed of a mated pair and their offspring.  Thus, when you make yourself the “top dog” to your wolf-puppy dogs, you’re quite literally casting yourself as their parent, who they instinctively look to for food and protection.

So the next time you tell your dog to “come to Mommy,” don’t feel silly or frivolous.  You are just interacting the way that dogs and humans have for thousands of years.

Images from Wikimedia Commons (here, here, and here), except for wolf cub, from Zooborns.

*The substance underpinning the rant, such as it is, is Driscoll’s common theme that things and people ought to belong to sharply-defined categories and that blurring the boundaries is a huge transgression.  He’s on even weaker ground when he applies this teaching to dogs than when he applies it to gender; there aren’t even any clobber verses about dogs.

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This Week in Kittens

Sansa is still cute.IMG_5633

All the kittens are now playing.

IMG_5637Rickon stole a towel.

IMG_5669Tails are now being held upright in proper kitty fashion.

IMG_5678Bran licked his paw.

IMG_5684And slept in an adorable manner.

IMG_5689And I achieved maximum kitten saturation.

IMG_5718

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Kittens!

It’s spring and you know what that means: Kitten season!  Doad and I are fostering a mother cat and her five kittens and, you know what, I’m going to keep the text here short because we all just want kitten pictures.

IMG_5499Here are the kittens the first day I brought them home.  They’ve already changed so much: They’ve begun emerging from the box, playing, and even washing.

IMG_5486Sweet Pea, the mom, herself less than a year old and only 6 1/2 lbs.  She is nevertheless a very attentive mother.

IMG_5562Robb, the biggest and bravest, shown here investigating a dish of milk.  He is a lynx point and his markings will get darker with age.

IMG_5590Sansa, our torbie.  She is one of the most playful, but also one of the smallest.  Robb and Bran are in the background.

IMG_5532Arya, our other lynx point.  She is the shyest and smallest, here weighing in at 12 oz.

IMG_5554Bran, a brown and white tabby.  He is our other adventurous one and he can be identified by his adorable little freckle.  Robb and Rickon are on either side of him, with Arya in the background.

IMG_5599Rickon, our shyer brown and white tabby.  Here he considers a toy while Bran explores nearby.

IMG_5585The whole family.

IMG_5574And to finish us off, Bran’s adorable little paw.

I’m sure there will be more kitten pictures to come.  If you are in the LA area and you’re looking for a kitten, all six of these need loving homes!

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Gentleness and Gender

4267iSesame Street aired an episode that warmed the hearts of unbiblical egalitarians like me.  Baby Bear’s favorite toy is a baby doll, but he runs away embarrassed when Telly finds out.  Gordon has to explain that there’s no reason that certain toys have to be just for girls or just for boys, and Baby Bear returns to discover that Telly likes playing with the doll, too.

Naturally, when the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood found out about this (just a year and a half after it originally aired), they weren’t happy.  Shamer-in-chief Owen Strachan opines about what you’d expect:

I grew up watching Sesame Street. That was in an era when it was largely, like much of American culture, compatible with a basically traditional outlook on the world. In other words, you could predict as a Christian parent that many cultural outlets would support, in a general sense, a Protestant worldview. Boys were boys; girls were girls; right and wrong exists; authority figures are good; and so on…We’ve now transitioned culturally to an era in which the basic foundations of the Protestant worldview are under assault…Boys can play with dolls; there’s no reason they can’t do exactly what girls do.

The progressive Christian blogosphere has already responded seriously and less seriously to the basic points, so I won’t reiterate them here, except to note the absurd post-hoc nature of Strachan’s defense of his clumsily legalistic position.  Only girls should play with dolls because dolls are girls’ toys.  Dolls are girls’ toys because only girls play with dolls.  It would be okay for a boy to play with a cute, cuddly toy animal; in fact, Strachan adds a note to clarify this:

update: not a stuffed animal or a toy figurine, but a little girl’s baby doll, complete with a bottle

So what is it about a human figurine that makes it so unassailably for girls?  Strachan’s predictable tirade about how modern culture is launching a war on traditional roles and how Sesame Street was way better when he was a kid* doesn’t even try to explain.  He goes on to rehash the Culture for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s basic arguments about how men and women are different.  But there’s nothing about, specifically, dolls**.  And dolls are a particularly curious case.  Baby Bear is pretending to be a father.  Strachan, head of an organization devoted to promoting “traditional families,” is at least nominally a strong proponent of fathers; why would he object to a boy learning to feed and burp a baby?

4267dThe idea that, although both men and women should rear children, only girls are allowed to practice leads into what really struck me about the episode: Gentleness.  Baby Bear kisses and cuddles his doll, and he gets upset when Telly plays roughly with it.  Strachan, of course, would say this is girl’s play.  I suspect he’d actually be less upset if Baby Bear stole his sister’s doll and played violently with it.  Boys will be boys, after all, and according to Strachan, “it is right and good to train them in masculine, not feminine, ways.”

But, setting aside the inherent problem of gendered behavior, why should gentleness be only a female virtue?  From a Biblical perspective, of course gentleness is a universal.  Jesus says “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).  Paul refers to “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1) and urges his readers to “let your gentle spirit be known to all men” (Philippians 4:5).  And, of course, gentleness is a Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23).

4267aFrom the perspective of simple logic, it doesn’t make any more sense.  I don’t want to come down against roughhousing altogether and say that kids should always play gently (kids have a lot of energy), but it’s disturbing to think of one gender being taught that gentle behavior is actually wrong and that rough or even violent behavior is the only appropriate way to act, regardless of the situation.  Are there times when punching someone is the only sensible course of action?  Maybe.  But there are many more situations where gentleness is called for.  Boys who are taught that this isn’t an option are going to struggle as friends, as husbands, and of course as fathers.

It’s a good thing that today’s boys will have Baby Bear as an example.

There’s a secondary message that I hope children will also pick up on: Whether it’s a favorite toy, book, movie, whatever, don’t be ashamed of the things you like.

*The latter position is common all along the political spectrum, and I’ve got to say, guys, get over it.  Modern Sesame Street rocks.  Andy Samberg’s Conversation with Bert is frakkin’ hilarious.  Don’t forget to watch part 2.

**This inability to talk on-topic without just returning to generic talking points is typical of conservative Evangelical apologists.  You see it in pro-life crusaders who can’t discuss current events like healthcare without constantly steering the conversation back to “baby-killing” and in evolution deniers who somehow just repeat the same argument about baramins regardless of what you said.  To me, this demonstrates the difference between intellectualism and pseudo-intellectualism: The latter is just repeating what one has been told, so in a specific conversation, one has no ability to analyze a new situation and can only revert to the most applicable talking point.

Images from Muppet Wiki.

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