Can a Person Love a Pet as Much as a Child?

In this thread, McNew voiced an objection to those who say they love their dogs as much as he loves his daughter.

I posit that love is love. My reasoning is as follows:

  1. Love is essentially a chemical process with no inherent nobility. The same chemical joy-juices (seratonin, endorphins, etc.) which flood the brain of a human mother when she looks at her infant are found in the brain of a chimpanzee mother who looks at her baby. We humans have formed an entire social structure around this emotion which makes it more complex than what animals experience, but emotions themselves are relatively simple.

  2. The object of the affection confers no intrinsic worth to the emotion. Many a woman has loved an abusive man, after all. Some people love their spouses more than they love their children. Some people don’t experience love at all. People will love an ugly, stupid and nasty child just as much as they’d love an adorable one.

  3. How can I know that McNew actually does love his/her daughter? s/he may say that s/he does, but how can I know? And how can I measure how intense that feeling really is? Does s/he love his/her daughter more than I love my neice, or even my *dog *for that matter?

  4. Why is it “insulting” to think that someone loves a pet as much as you love your child? How does that in any way diminish your love for your child? It strikes me much the same as the gay marriage debate: that allowing gays to marry somehow lessens the significance of straight marriages. I just don’t see it.

(NOTE: I am NOT saying that a pet’s* life* is as important as a human’s.)

To sum up: Love is love. One form of it is not “better” than another form. I don’t think we should diminish other people’s emotions because we don’t feel like the object of affection is “worthy.”

Think for a moment about teenagers. A teenage girl can fall passionately in love and have her heart broken in a relatively short period of time. Adults may roll their eyes because they know that in a few years the girl may have trouble even remembering the name of the boy who hurt her so badly, but that doesn’t mean the young girl isn’t feeling very intense emotions. It would be insulting, in my opinion, to disregard what the girl is feeling because we don’t put as much importance on the relationship as she does. An adult going through a divorce after a long marriage probably experiences just as much pain as the teenage girl, but there’s no way to quantify it. They’re both experiencing heartbreak-- why is one more “valid” than the other when we’re talking about emotion?

Love and logic often have little to do with one another. As I mentioned in point 2, people love unworthy spouses all the time. The most heinous child molester probably has a mother who loves them, or even a wife who’s determined to stand by him. is that mother or wife’s love less “worthy” because the object of it is a reprehensible human being?

And, to get back to my original point, why is emotion less valid when the object isn’t human? I don’t think anyone would say that a dog or cat’s life is more important than a human’s, but that’s not what is at issue. The issue is emotion. By saying that people can’t love their dogs as much as they could love a child, you’re saying that they’re not emotionally “fulfilled.” In other words, they’ll never become fullyt emotionally awake until they’ve experienced what you have. I think that’s a very unfair statement to make, especially since you have no way of measuring what they feel.

I dunno - but I love my cat more than I love other people’s kids. Thankfully for all concerned I have no kids of my own.

I’m sure it’s possible to love a pet as much as a child. It might even be easier, since pets really don’t ask for as much as a young person. When was the last time you had to change diapers on your cat, or buy it the full Mega Morphin’ Power Rangers playset for its birthday?

I agree children are higher up on the scale than animals, but to think someone is insulting you because they equate their love for their pet to your love for your child is just silly. Hell I know people who love their dog more than their children. And you should actually be more sympathetic to people who feel that way, because I would think many of them have this sort of love for their pet because they don’t have a child, and thus the pet is a substitue for the child they wished they had, or had and lost. My nan loves her dog more than anything in the world, but when her kids and grandkids were around, she didn’t even have a dog. Coincidence?

I agree with much of what you say here, but I have also had experience similar to McNew, when my son was first diagnosed with diabetes, and a coworker told me that she knew how I felt because her cat had diabetes.

I know we’ve been through all this here before, so I apologize for repeating myself. But the emotions that one feels with a child just cannot equal those one feels with a pet. In real life, I’ll just keep my mouth shut and feel both irritated and sympathetic (for the reasons you describe), but here, I’ll take the opportunity to share my opinion that it is non-sensical and embarrassing when people equate the love they feel for a pet with that others feel for their children.

No. Children eventually stop peeing and pooping everywhere. They then become much easier to love than a pet.

I’m sure it is possible to love a pet as much as a child. I’m not at all sure it is psychologically healthy to do so.

If someone did in fact love a pet as much as they would love a child, and they would love a child as much as a normal parent, then they will suffer very badly when the pet dies, and for most pets that is going to be within 20 years. Also it is normal for a parent to make significant scrifices in their life for a child, it does not seem wise (or even sane) to make similar sacrifices for a pet.

My question is* why.* How is it that the emotion they are feeling is somehow less valid than yours? I’m genuinely trying to understand your point of view here. To me, emotion is emotion, no matter what the subject may be.

I would say it is possible, but I think you generally find such devotion among people who don’t have children. I had one co-worker who spent thousands treating her dog’s diabetes. She doesn’t have children.

For us, we had to make the painful decision of putting our beloved dog to sleep when it was discovered he had prostate cancer. We have two children, and we couldn’t justify the costs to our family for his treatment, which the vet said would be unlikely to cure him anyway. Whereas if one of our kids came down with cancer, I’d turn to prostitution in a heartbeat to pay for it if I had to, even if the treatment would be unsuccessful in the long run.

Now, if someone has children and still loves their pet more than their own kids, that’s wrong, IMHO. One’s kids HAVE to take priority over one’s pets.

Yes. One should acknowledge the love as being less worthy of consideration: for instance, if it is shown that a person loves a truly reprehensible being, and that person also loves another unknown person, my estimation of that unknown person’s character would be lower than if the known person she loved were “better”.

Of course, there’s no reason to say that the love is less powerful or “real” than “worthy” love, since as you say it is basically a chemical stimulus/feedback. But that won’t prevent me from thinking that someone who loves an evil person none the less for their evil actions, or who lets a love for an animal take place over that of a (non-evil) child whom they have a relationship with, does not have as strong a sense of community and morals as some who don’t, all other things being equal (conceding that some people’s brains may be wired in such a way that they can’t help but love people even when they show no desire to abide by any code of ethics.)

After all, love, despite what some claim, while chemical in expression is not strictly chemical in its development and maintenance but is dependent somewhat on intellectual inputs as well, IMO. In other words, if someone breaks my heart the part of my brain that knows they broke my heart will force me to stop loving them despite the other part of my brain that is inclined to automatically produce feel-good chemicals due to our relationship or other factors. When this is the case, I might still love them a bit but it will certainly be reduced from the feelings I had before, even biochemically IME.

Honestly, when someone says they love their pet as much as I love my daughter, I immediately categorize them as “emotionally stunted”. I don’t question their love for their pet, but I certainly doubt their *understanding * of what it is to love a child, and note that they lack the necessary empathy to do the exponential math.

You’ll note, I hope, that I’ve never suggested that love for a pet is “less valid” than love for a child. I love my dog, more now than even six months ago. The question is whether that love is the same as the love a parent feels for a child. As a parent and pet owner, for me, the question is ridiculous.

I’ve also never said a pet couldn’t be seen as a proxy for a child, and fill some of the needs a person might have. I think you’re very wrong, however, that “emtion is emotion,” if you mean to suggest that all emotional experiences of similar type are of equal intensity. Like most human experiences, there is a range of that which we call “love.” One loves friends, but hopefully not in the same way one loves parents, spouses, chocolate, football, life, poetry, children or pets. These are all examples of “love,” right? They are not all of the same intensity, right?

Perhaps a pet is a thing that a person has felt the greatest love they ever have, along with a sense of responsibility and some pride. I’ve got no problem with that. But, as an analogy, I thought I knew physical pain, until I had kidney stones last month. Suddenly, my comprehension of the range that “pain” may span was expanded. In other words, my 1 to 10 scale got a new 10. (“But these go to eleven.”)

On the other hand, I would never say to someone “Oh, I know how bad the pain must have been when your arm was taken off in that thresher. I once had a cavity that hurt like a bear!” Similarly, I’ve never thought to say to a rape victim “Oh, I know how much fear you must have felt; this one time a guy gave me a funny look while I was taking money out of the ATM. Boy was I afraid he might pull something!”

The question for me, given that I would never insist that my emotions matched those of others who have clearly been through much more extreme events, is why it is necessary or even okay for people to insist upon equivalence between the love that they feel for pets and that others feel for children. Obviously, it isn’t parents who are going around saying, “The love people feel for pets is less than that I feel for my child.” Isn’t it commonly seen as poor form to minimize the pain, fear, anger, or other emotions that people describe by comparing it to a cavity, a sideways glance, an unpaid lunch debt and so forth? Thus, I understand, respect and wholly support the fact that a pet owner does love pet, and that it fills some needs for that person. I don’t like being forced out of politeness and civility to tacitly agree with the minimization of my emotional experience so that a pet owner can feel better about hers.

Shouldn’t common sense tell you that the feelings one has for a child must be much more intense and complicated than one has for a pet? A child is much more a reflection of a parent’s good and bad qualities, dreams, hopes and fears than a pet could ever be. There is no genetic contribution to a pet’s behaviors and qualities from a parent. When a dog starts walking, it isn’t a triumph for the owner and a reification that they are generally okay as humans. A pet owner has no similar experience with first words, getting good grades, hitting line drives, having friends – all of which bring joy, but also reflect on the quality of the parent as a person. A pet isn’t going to continue the family name, represent the family to the rest of the world, bring shame to the family, or take care of the owner when the owner is old… In fact, owners don’t typically expect and hope for their pets to outlive them, and don’t try to prepare them with skills to make their way in the world on their own. The goal with a pet is not for it to eventually leave. How could the emotions, including love, for those two things remotely be similar?

I agree exactly with Hentor; he has put it excellently. I do tend to think that people who refer to their pets as “children” in a serious way are somewhat stunted or something. I understand the feeling that a pet is a beloved part of the family, but not that it’s the same as a child.

For the most part, the people I’ve known who referred to their pets as their babies promptly changed their tune once they actually had children. One woman who adored her cats was entirely prepared to get rid of the one that was obviously hostile to the new baby. Once you get that sort of situation, unless the parent is abnormal, the pet loses; it’s no contest.

I would say that under normal circumstances, the love for a pet is qualitatively different than the love for a child, just as (to magnify the difference) my love for chocolate is qualitatively different than my love for my husband. We use the word love to mean about 40 different things, and that clouds it up.

I guess it boils down to "Would you die for your child?"and “Would you die for your pet?” For me, the answer to the first question is yes, in a second, I don’t even have to think about it. But I’m not going to die for my pet, much as I treasure the little mutt.

I agree. You can love your pets but it’s nothing compared to the love you feel for children. You want to call them “kids”…that’s fine. I call ours kids too. But it’s a joke. They aren’t children. They’re something to nurture. It’s real. But it’s not the same as loving children.

I am certainly in no position to question what someone else does or does not love.

I gotta tell you though - I’ve owned dogs and cats my whole life and loved them dearly. I just adored my little dog DJ. I loved all my cats. But the emotion I felt for my daughter when she was born last year was on a completely different level; it’s not at all comparable, not even close, not even on the same scale of measurement.

Thank you for saving me some typing.

I have a suspicion that the vast majority (if not practically all) of people that believe that the love for a pet is equivalent for the love of their own child does not have a child to begin with. I have been a pet owner, now I am a mother. The two are nothing alike (IMHO).

Remember people, we are jut animals, we are wired to love our kids. Love for a pet, however, is a social construct (IMHO, again). Our Western sensibilities are hurt when we see in how little steem some societies have pets (nowhere near the pampered pets of rich countries), yet we cannot say in honesty that those same people don’t love their children as much as we love ours.

What about baby pet goats? :smiley:

I also wonder if the main problem here isn’t insensitive “I know just how you feel” statements and not whether they’re about a child or a pet. Would it really be that much better if, when you talked about your daughter being in the hospital, your co-worker said, “I know just how you feel- my son sprained his ankle and has to sit out of gym class for a week.” It still seems like they’re trivializing what happened to your daughter. I try to avoid those “I know just how you feel” statements, because they’re not true (you’re a different person than I am, and you and I wouldn’t necessarily feel the same way even in exactly the same situation) and they tend to come off as insensitive, pretty much no matter what follows “I know just how you feel.”

I can’t speak for the OP, but I thought at least part of this stemmed from the post where the original pet lover said something to the effect of “I know just how you feel” and then told a sick dog story to compare with an injured child story. My thing is, why would that annoy anyone, regardless how you feel about kids or pets? If I tell someone my just mom died, and they tell me “I know how you feel, I can’t find my favorite pet stuffed animal”, I would think they are batshit loony, but it wouldn’t annoy me on an any level. It would just make for a funny story to tell other more rational people, but get annoyed? no.