It's pets that have been grabbing the headlines in the last few days: Spain announced a new law giving pets more rights and recognising 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 to have pets over children are "selfish". Spot the irony.
The pope is apparently concerned about falling birth rates, but surely having children just for the sake of it is more selfish than not having any in the first place. People cite all sorts of reasons for not procreating these days, from helping the environment to economic pressure, as well as simply 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 an aunt to two adopted children, I know that it's not a decision to be taken lightly. If people wanting to have their own children naturally had to go through a similar process to that of 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 cat and dog owners 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 as an ecologist, surely he'd support not having children for environmental reasons?
The responsibility for animals is anything but selfish; something that the animal rescue organisations are at constant pains to stress. Much like having children, there's food, medication and so on. 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 any more convenient. Children are allowed in pretty much any hotel, campsite or airbnb. Pets, for the most part, however, are not. 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 and playing irritating games on their parents' mobile phones.
The pontiff's words have caused considerable contention among pet-owning, childless-by-choice couples, who are, by the way, also sentient beings.