It’s not a radical idea. I really just love my dog, so I say nice things to him and call cute names. And no, you cannot come over and listen because I’ll probably tone it down for company.
I find most dogs — besides that one obnoxious guy at the dog park; you know who I mean — endlessly fun and fascinating. They’re generally loving and they don’t talk back. They do funny, odd, and frequently very, very cute things. (Check the one quadrillion internet videos for proof.)
You can yell at them for walking on your head at 3am and they forgive you almost instantly if you come crawling back with cookies, thereby reinforcing that they can walk on your head at 3am. Sometimes, my dog even does what I say, and he listens to my problems whether he likes it or not.
The reason dogs are so awesome actually might be because they really aren’t like people. (Sorry, people.)
I have an intense emotional bond with my dogs — the one I have now and the two I’ve lost and still miss. I invest lots of time, money, energy, and, yes, love, into caring for them, and I get so much more back, including the right to use whatever words I’ve got at my disposal in this language, or even any other to describe how I feel about them.
Sometimes it’s, “Hey dude, knock it off. I’m trying to watch Law and Order,” and other times it’s, “Who’s Mama’s baby?”
I didn’t come up with this on purpose. I never had a plan to identify as a “pet parent” or to use any term of endearment in particular with my dogs. It just happened. One day I just called my dog baby.
My first puppy did something amazing, like standing up unassisted in his dinner plate or barking his face off at me for an hour for no reason, and I was all, “Who’s Mama’s baby? No, seriously, who?!”
I’ll even admit to being a little embarrassed sometimes when this happens, because who talks like this?
I’m not a person prone to baby talk in public, but my dog happens to knock down my defenses in ways I didn’t expect and can’t explain. So, it’s technically my better self talking and after this many years, I’ve embraced it.
I admit that I don’t say “furkid” or “furbaby” because I just don’t enjoy those terms for myself. But I defend the right of my pet parent colleagues who enjoy and use these terms to do so.
But using these words and feeling intense love for my dog — seriously, do not mess with my dog — doesn’t mean that I think of myself as anything like a human parent, though.
Sure, I wake up at the crack of every unreasonable hour to watch my dog walk around in the yard and do nothing resembling going potty.
I mindfully buy him healthy food and take him to his vet appointments, walk him for endless hours, and obsess over his care in the time I need to be away from home.
He spends hours at my side, including sleeping in my bed. But calling him baby does not translate to “Hoover, you are a baby in the literal sense of that word, just like a small human is a baby, with the same physical and emotional effort thereunto appertaining.”
I’ve never said, “Oh wow, I’ve got it just as rough — or as awesome — as a mother of a human,” or “Wow, waiting for my dog to come home from the rescue place was just as painful as giving birth to a human baby!” or, “Look, I can make my dog walk around on his two hind legs JUST LIKE THE HUMAN HE IS!”
If I said those things, I’d like to ask in advance that someone send me to my room, and please also take away any of my electronic devices so I can’t talk to the Internet, either.
But the love for my dog is deep, and language follows feeling.
The word “baby” in our lexicon has come to connote any being that you care for, that you love, to whom you have a deep emotional tie.
People call their significant others “baby” all the time and no one is b****ing about that (in public, anyway.) I’ve heard people launch businesses and publish books, and liken it to birthing a child or having a baby. Semantics.
The closest English word we have is the closest thing we’ve got to the truth, sometimes. The relationship with a dog might be the closest that person comes to a baby, or it might be the best they can do in words for what they understand that sort of love to be.
I mean, I’d rather hear “Duke is my baby” than “Duke is my super duper shmoopykins!” Feel me? Maybe we need to make up a word that means “dog who is like my baby, but not my human baby.” Besides “dog.”
Moms and dads — or not-moms and not-dads, for that matter — can think my love for my dog and how I express it verbally is stupid or overblown, especially in any kind of false comparison to human parenting that they’re perceiving. And that’s OK with me.
I see and hear a lot of crazy-to-me stuff every day, and I just let it roll on by, or else I would never have time to work to buy my dog onesies. (Kidding. Sorry.)
My deal with my dog doesn’t insult or diminish parental love for children, which has a solid spot at the top of the societal chain, way higher than humans and our pets.
Likewise, parental love for human children has no effect on my feelings for my dog, so I feel fine about continuing to express that in the most allegedly embarrassing (and completely fulfilling) way possible. I will not rest until I have thoroughly embarrassed him at the dog park, is what I’m saying.
I’m confident that we can all live together peacefully. Our pets can probably teach us something about that.
Laurie White is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to YourTango.