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and your little dog, too
in defense of the deliberately petless
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)

I live alone. Really alone.

For the past two years, give or take, I haven't had a roommate or a housemate, marking the first time that's happened since October 10, 1974. I've been meaning to get a plant.

And, barring the absence of a significant other, I love it.

I love coming home and having no one to answer to. I love that I can veg out to the TV for hours at a time and let the world drift away. I love that I can let mail pile up on the kitchen table if I so desire. And I love that on those rare times when I do have a female guest of the womanly persuasion, I don't have to close my bedroom door.

She'll do it for me.


Oh, and I love not having to walk a dog. Or feed a dog. Or a cat or a turtle or a fish. Yes, I love not having to walk a fish.

It's not that I don't like animals; I do. I think puppies are adorable. Bunnies, too. I love the self-reliance and cleanliness of cats. Watching fish is calming. Playing with a dog is a lot of fun. And a hamster on a wheel can be very zen. In small doses.

But I tend to relate to pets as I would an infant. They're alive, sure. They can be entertaining. They're not that bright. They require care and nurturing. You generally love yours more than you do those of other people.

However – and it's a big however – infants are, if everything goes according to plan, heading towards something really big. They're going to be people. Beyond training your dog not to use your rug as a pee pad, or getting your fish to swim to the top of the tank when you walk over, or teaching your snake to spell out his name in script, you're pretty much "what you see is what you get" with an animal. No one ever thought, "Maybe if he really applies himself one day Mittens can be President!"

Though, to be fair, Mittens does have a shady past.

Growing up, my brother and I went through a series of "easy to attend to" pets. Which is to say pets in tanks. We both had turtles. Brett had a snake (an idea sold to my mother post-purchase by opening the dialogue with, "Guess what? We didn't get a tarantula."). The family had a guinea pig for a little bit, and for a long time we had fish, until they literally went belly-up while we were away on vacation.

The reason for this parade of limited-mobility animals (with the exception of the snake, who kept escaping his cage and winding up in the basement), was that Brett and I, in a fit of honesty, had answered the question, "If we get a dog, will you walk him every day?" with a surprisingly purpose-defeating "Probably not."

(I feel I would be remiss here if I did not give a special nod to the guinea pig, a creature so devoid of intelligence that even after a full year of my mother feeding it daily would still cower in the corner whenever she approached its cage with a handful of lettuce. The one time we brought it out on the lawn, in a jerry-rigged enclosure fashioned from a hat box with no bottom, it grew so frightened of the grass that it would only run around in panicked circles until we brought it back inside. It is telling that at some point during its year-and-a-half-long tenure with us – we wound up giving him away – his name got changed from Pig-boy, a random "Waltons" reference that no one really appreciated, to Captain Stupid, which stuck from day one. Here's to you, Captain Stupid.)

I did have a dog, once. Or, rather, I had a roommate who had a dog. My Lord, he was cute (the dog; the roommate was a she) – a cavalier king charles spaniel – the dog was shorter than the name of the breed. And quiet. And well-behaved (mostly). And did I mention cute?

I loved that little guy. He's still alive, with said ex-roommate in Florida. And honestly, I really don't miss him.

I'm not heartless; I swear. What Deven (yes, that was his name) taught me was that my desire to not own a pet is not at all based on any sort of dislike of animals. I loved playing with him and cuddling him. But, and this is getting back to my point regarding nurturing for a purpose, the reward/cost equation just doesn't add up in favor of my having a pet. I can totally give up the benefits I get from animal companionship in favor of not being responsible for its feeding, walking, cleaning, health care, and general attending to.

Which isn't to say that I plan to have children only for what they can offer me. It's not that kids are more useful; if I were judging solely based on utility, I'd own an ox. Or a poisonous spider.

For the record, I would absolutely date/marry a person with a pet. I just won't be bringing my own. Cat-Cat will not find himself suddenly having to adjust to the presence of Sir Licks-a-Lot, don't worry.

My brother finally has a dog, by the way. His name is Salvatore. He's a fairly high-strung Boston Terrier (I think), who I believe is part pig. Brett loves Sal. I was tempted to say he loves him too much, but I don't want to imply you can love your dog too much. If you can, however, Brett's right on the border. Thank God my niece came along soon after the dog, or their fridge might be covered with drawings Sal did.

I like Sal, mostly. I used to hate him, but in my defense, he used to try to jump up on me for hours at a time. "Sal, no." "Sal, NO." "SAL, NO!" I'm surprised my niece doesn't think his name is Salno. But Sal and I are okay now. I know he'll only jump up on me for 15 seconds or so, and he knows that I'm not nearly as likely to play with him as I am to let someone else play with him.

Sal, as you may have guessed, does not make me want to have a dog. But nor does Sal's behavior (past and present) actually feature into my desire not to have a dog. I mean, the odds of my getting a Boston Terrier are about the same as the odds of my giving birth to one, but it's not about the breed; it's about how much pleasure I see my brother taking from owning a dog and just knowing that I would not enjoy a pet nearly as much as he does. The cost/benefit analysis just doesn't work for me. It wouldn't be fair to myself or my ersatz doggie.

I can hear all you cat people out there mentally screaming at me that cats are so much less responsibility than dogs. And theoretically, yes, I could get a cat. But, heck, for all I know, I might already have one.

So for all you animal lovers out there, for all you supporters of our fine feathered or furry friends, for those who wanna iguana, or give a hoot about your newt, I salute you. But I honestly don't want to be you. I absolutely am good as is.

But I really should buy a plant.


A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

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katherine (aka clevertitania)
4.12.10 @ 10:05a

My sis has a cat (Osiris) who she definitely almost loves too much. In fact, when she talks about him it sounds a fare amount like when talking about my son. I try not to roll my eyes anymore. Osiris knows by now that I'll pet him for 30 seconds, wash my hands, and that's as much as he's getting (in fairness I'm allergic). "They're great when they're someone else's to take care of," is how she feels about kids and I feel about animals. But we both know the other doesn't get it. :)

adam kraemer
4.13.10 @ 10:48a

I don't know why people don't comment on the column itself, but I got this on Facebook:

"I can hear all you cat people out there mentally screaming at me that cats are so much less responsibility than dogs. And theoretically, yes, I could get a cat. But, heck, for all I know, I might already have one."

I LOLed at this for a good long while. You nailed the cat-owning experience on the head!

lisa r
4.13.10 @ 2:05p

Don't you mean that you might be owned by a cat? Remember, as the comic strip Mutts once pointed out, dogs have owners, but cats have staff.

Note that if you don't actually share the same permanent residence with a cat, it doesn't matter. Temporary servitude is considered mandatory the minute your feet cross the threshold of their domicile for even the briefest of visits. Just ask the two regal felines who live at my friend's house--the moment I walk in the door the imperious demands for food and lap-time begin. You haven't lived until your lap has been squabbled over by a determined 4-year old child and a tenacious cat. Most of the time detante is achieved without bloodshed, but it is an uneasy truce at best.

dr. jay gross
4.16.10 @ 11:05a

Yes, cats are less useful than a fish with a bicycle. I really like my Golden Retriever going bananas when I come back even if I'm away from the house for an hour. If you have an intelligent dog, he/she might even learn to walk and play by themselves.

I was a little confused when I first read your statement that Salvatore was your brother(?), and then I read it again and now I know that your brother is a dog and that you really like Sal.

I'll bet you can find a place in New York that rents dogs. If not, maybe a good business would be; rent-a-dog. That certainly would satisfy the goldfish in you.

adam kraemer
4.16.10 @ 11:13a

I like it - Rent-a-Pet. I feel as though our major clientele would be single men trying to start conversation with women in parks.

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