It’s pets that have been grabbing the headlines in the last few days: Spain announced a new law giving pets more rights and recognises them as "sentient beings" rather than "objects." The new law ensures that pets' welfare is considered when couples separate or an owner dies. Meanwhile, Pope Francis, an unmarried man with, presumably (but you never know) no children through choice of career over marriage and family, was reported as saying that couples who choose having pets over children are "selfish". Spot the irony.
The pope is concerned about the future of humanity and falling birth rates, but surely having children just for the sake of it is more selfish than not having any in the first place, if your heart’s not really in it. People cite all sorts of reasons for not procreating these days, from helping the environment to economic pressure as well as just not wanting to raise a family. According to a YouGov survey conducted in the UK in June 2021, one in 12 parents regretted having children!
He also suggested that those couples unable to have their own children should adopt. As the aunt of two adopted children and close friend of people who have recently been through the process, I know that it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. If people who want to have their own children had to go through a similar process to that of potential adopters, most would be put off at the first hurdle.
While the Spanish law has been welcomed by animal lovers, the pope’s words have angered the crazy cat and dog (or whatever the canine equivalent is) ladies and gents among us. I’d like to know what the Pope’s namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, would think of the pontiff’s words. He is, after all, the patron saint of animals and ecology. Does he not teach us to be kind to animals and indeed, as an ecologist, would he not support the couples who choose not to have children for environmental reasons?
The responsibility for animals is anything but selfish, something that the dozens of animal rescue organisations in Malaga and beyond are at constant pains to stress. Much like having children, there’s food, medication and finding someone to look after them if you work or even have to go away. Just like children, pets are messy; they don’t make their beds or tidy their toys away and leave hair everywhere. All of this takes time, money and patience. You have to be pretty unselfish to have pets, in my view.
Neither is pet ownership simply more convenient than having children. Children are allowed in pretty much any hotel, campsite or Airbnb. Pets, for the most part, however, are not. You’ll never hear a waiter grumble at parents taking children to a restaurant, but in some restaurants we’ve been told we can’t even sit on the terrace with our dog. When we do take him, he lies down under a table and sleeps, while the kids on the next table are running riot, playing irritating games on their parents’ mobile phones and teasing our dog, who remains docile and patient in the face of adversity.
I think the pope should spend one month living with two kids, followed by a month with a cat and dog and then be asked to re-evaluate. I keep quiet around parents of children, as I don’t think it’s my place to opine on something I know nothing about. The pontiff’s words have caused considerable contention among pet-owning, childless-by-choice couples, who are, by the way, also sentient beings.