Our dogs saved our relationship by raising a family

Written by Arrian Lim

Co-founded Pawdel to be at the forefront of this crazy emerging trend of pet humanization by creating wearable pieces of love for our pet companion.

01/21/2022

My fiancé has just come back from a 6-year tenure as an overseas flight attendant. I waited six long years for this day to come. To be honest, I had doubts if I’ll ever see this day through. So this made me look back on all of those six years.

I reflected on our long-distance relationship, “Really? Is it really over now? How did we overcome it?”

Rasmia and I had been living together for one and a half years before she left. We adopted Robby, a stray puppy, and our first pet as a couple, 3 months before she took that new job. Quarrels in relationships are not uncommon. Whenever we fought, she would pack her bags and stay in their house to cool it off for a night or two. I would, of course, hold her back and tug her bags. We, men, know how it always ends up. We’d always have to give way. Giving each other space was our healing period.

Robby had only been with us for several weeks before we had another quarrel. Tired of each other, she’s ready to have her space again. Without saying a word, we both instantly raced to grab Robby. I didn’t try to lock her out of our bedroom to prevent her from getting her stuff. She didn’t bother to beat me to the door either. That’s strange. Her bags full of her stuff were no longer her most valuable belongings. Neither were my electronic gadgets and appliances. The custody of Robby had become our most prized possession in the relationship. It’s not surprising that pet provisions in today’s younger couple’s pre-nuptial agreement are growing.

 

It’s not surprising that pet provisions in today’s younger couple’s pre-nuptial agreement are growing.

 

Three months isn’t a long time. It didn’t take long to realize how Robby was shaping our relationship. Our new dog has become the new thread that interweaves the very fabric of our relationship. Only in this time of reflection did it occur to me that that was a harbinger of a looming long-distance relationship. In a long-distance relationship that was slowly growing us apart, Robby was one of our few remaining common interests. He bonded me and Rasmia together. Our growing family of dogs saved our relationship.

 

In a long-distance relationship that was slowly growing us apart, Robby was one of our few remaining common interests.

 

You don’t really choose who to love. Love chooses you.

Before anyone criticizes me for looking at Robby as mere collateral, I rub it to Rasmia’s face to this day that she adopted Robby only to abandon him. I am the true PawParent of Robby for raising him myself for six long years without a “mother”. She insists she was the only one who had the heart and the guts to pick up Robby but I clap back by arguing she doesn’t know how to raise a dog. Of course, that is just playful banter between a couple.

I narrated in my previous blog how raising Robby alone consumed me. It taught me responsibility and maturity. Robby was my first dog as the primary caregiver. The responsibility is leaps and bounds different compared with before wherein you just pat their head, play with them and leave the rest of the responsibility to your mother. I certainly believe raising Robby advanced my maturity, patience, and discipline by several years.

 

Robby, our first family pet
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Robby, our first family pet

 

I promised Rasmia to look after Robby. I did that because I love her. I love Robby too. But it was more for her than it was for him. As I also mentioned, I didn’t become a pet parent overnight. My routine to feed and walk him every morning and evening; along with my schedule to bathe him every Sunday; were daily tasks that couldn’t be skipped. There was no day off. It was inevitable to form a bond with our dog. I learned to love Robby more than an average pet lover would normally have.

You don’t really choose who to love, as they say. Love chooses you. All we can really do is accept it for all its mystery when it comes into our life. Feel the way it fills us to overflowing.

 

You don’t really choose who to love, as they say. Love chooses you. All we can really do is accept it for all its mystery when it comes into our life. Feel the way it fills us to overflowing.

 

Companionship: Man’s best friend

Aristotle the legendary Greek philosopher said, “Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual.” He said this because human beings live in groups whether they are smaller like a family or larger like a city or country.

Man cannot live alone. He must satisfy certain natural basic needs in order to survive. He has to enter into relationships with his fellowmen for living a life. No man can break the handcuffs of mutual dependence. This begins perhaps between the embryo and the mother and continues until his last breath. The need of the embryo may be more physical than emotional, but the mother’s need is the other way around.

 

Aristotle
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Aristotle

 

Among many other things, this psycho-emotional relationship is what makes us “social animals” as humans and not just mere animals. Domestic dogs and cats have developed this same kind of emotional relationship with their human companions in the past century. Pet ownership has served many purposes in the history of mankind; hunting, security, farming, herding, symbolism, and companionship. There are many arguments, and in fact researches too, on how our behavior towards these animals predisposes their genetic evolution to their domesticated lineage today. The new generation of pet owners alone, playfully called pet parents, are shifting the next evolution of a 20,000-year old interspecies relationship into a humanized companionship. The shift is so dramatic in the last 2 decades that we are seeing radical economic, socio-cultural, and legal developments revolving around the humanization of pets.

I’m aware there will always be criticisms of our vision to lead a world where mankind deserves the love of pets; where pets are no longer mere animals but our equal companions. But it’s hard to argue against the natural course of genetics and evolution. Not too long ago, we lived in a normal world where a person’s basic rights depended on the color of their skin or their sexual orientation. It was so normal and acceptable at the time that we couldn’t imagine ourselves living in such a primitive society today. Isn’t our world a better place now than it had ever been? And wouldn’t our world be a whole lot better if we open our minds, stay on its natural course to evolve?

 

Humanizing pets as children is selfish?

The pet world was abuzz when Pope Francis commented that people having pets instead of children was a form of selfishness and takes away our humanity. This wasn’t just a passive opinion. In 2014, he said that having pets instead of children was “another phenomenon of cultural degradation”, and that emotional relationships with pets were “easier” than the “complex” relationship between parents and children.

I wouldn’t argue with the Pope. I’ll leave that to your individual judgment. There are so many reasons why people choose to have pets over children. Mostly, these are very valid health-economic reasons. But I’m here to talk about why people were left with no choice but to have pets.

Several days ago, I talked to one of the contestants in the Philippines’ Next Top Pawdel. His name is Francis. He reached out because he wanted his dog Furby to win the monthly contest. He couldn’t think of a better gift to his wife on their 16th wedding anniversary today, Jan. 21, than for Furby to be a Top Pawdel. I couldn’t get over what he said, “Maybe you can tell now that we don’t have a child yet and we consider our Furby the best gift we have ever received in our lives.”

 

“Maybe you can tell now that we don’t have a child yet and we consider our Furby the best gift we have ever received in our lives.”

 

This resonated with me very strongly. Francis and I were both reluctant pet owners. He had been in a marriage for 14 years before he and his wife, Gladys, even decided to have a dog. I guess the couple’s reluctance in having a dog was stronger than I had. Francis and I have our own separate reasons for not having children. We both couldn’t have it, at least not yet! He wants to and I don’t. But relationships need to evolve. My relationship with Rasmia is at a different stage than Francis’ relationship with Gladys. Rasmia built a career overseas. Gladys eventually worked as a pharmacist after 3 years as a housewife. Between our different worlds, it felt like each of us in our respective relationships was living two different lives. We loved each other but our future was no longer clear and we were starting to grow apart. Like me and Rasmia, the increasing emptiness of a relationship prompted Francis to renew their commitment to each other. He surprised her with a dog in 2020. To keep the relationship bonded by a shared interest. Glady’s didn’t love the idea. But she didn’t have a better choice. So, all she could really do was accept Furby for all of his mystery when he came into her life. Feel the way it fills her to overflowing. Ironically, Furby is closest to Gladys now than to Francis.

 

Smiling Furby
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Furby wearing his personalized AlphaCollar ‘Umber’

 

Growing is the only evidence of happiness

Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle came to the unsurprising conclusion that what a person wants above all is to be happy. In 1961, the US psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote: “While happiness itself is sought for its own sake, every other goal – health, beauty, money or power – is valued only because we expect that it will make us happy.” Csikszentmihalyi looked for a term that described the state of feeling happy. He called it ‘flow’. I simply call it sustainable growth.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi concludes, after interviewing thousands of people, happiness or ‘flow’ occurs when we are:

– intensely focused on an activity
– of our own choosing, that is
– neither under-challenging (boreout) nor over-challenging (burnout), that has
– a clear objective and that receives
– immediate feedback.

 

The Flow Model
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Source: The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking

 

The prospect of Rasmia and I having children is over-challenging. For Francis and Gladys to remain alone beyond 14 years into their marriage was getting boring. Furby, Robby, and the rest of my dogs kept all of us in the flow of our relationship. Our dogs saved our relationship.

 

People grow physically. We grow our knowledge, possessions, and everything that we care about. Our natural inclination to grow extends to our own family. The family is the nucleus of civilization and the basic unit of society. Aristotle wrote that the family is nature’s established association for the supply of mankind’s everyday wants. Unfortunately, for me and Francis, our economic and health reasons are robbing us of our “sustainable growth” in our respective relationships—to grow our own “family”. The prospect of Rasmia and I having children is over-challenging. For Francis and Gladys to remain alone beyond 14 years into their marriage was getting boring. Furby, Robby, and the rest of my dogs kept all of us in the flow of our relationship. Our dogs saved our relationship. To me and Francis, labeling pets as a family doesn’t merely mean living in a single household. Family pets make us happy in our relationships and our lives in general.

 

Furby and his Pet Parents
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Francis, Gladys, and their furbaby Furby celebrating his barkday

 

Pets vs. Children

There shouldn’t really be a debate here, honestly. We are all free to choose either of the two or both. I understand that the Pope is needing more births if the relationship between economics and the social safety net is his focus. He’s also right to wonder what effect the seeming preference for pets might have upon our humanity. That’s his main job, after all. Others may also argue that developed economies are in trouble because of declining birth rates that are not leaving enough productive people to support aging populations. Some will also have concerns about what the effect will be on humanity as people increasingly turn from human families to pet families. And there is another argument for overpopulation and declining quality of life because of global warming. Studies both in 2009 and 2020 reveal the relationship between population growth and global warming. The 2020 research determined that the “carbon legacy” of population growth wiped out two-thirds of the reduction in emissions arising from greater energy efficiency between 1990 and 2019. Meanwhile, solutions such as reforestation may be more difficult to implement with more people needing food and land. According to the 2009 study, each child born in the United States will add about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average parent. The study concludes, “Clearly, the potential savings from reduced reproduction are huge compared to the savings that can be achieved by changes in lifestyle.”

 

Pets and children make people happy. Good (pet-)parenting surrenders one’s self to the care and nurturing of these helpless, tiny little creatures. Love for one’s child, human or pet, is unselfish.

 

I’m not equating the parenting of a child to pet parenting nor am I underestimating the sacrifice it takes to raise a child. Francis and I will never understand that because we are both not a parent of a child yet. But we are both grateful to our pets for teaching us what an overwhelming, all-consuming, all-protecting love is. Because of Robby and Furby, we are more responsible, mature, and selfless to face the challenges when the blessing of a child finally comes.

The decision isn’t really about pets vs. children. The best decision for would-be parents, I can say with absolute confidence based on my own experience, is pets before children. If caring for a pet is too much trouble, imagine what sacrifice children will require. Pet parenting is an excellent warm-up and training ground for child parenting.

Pets and children make people happy. Full stop. Good (pet-)parenting surrenders one’s self to the care and nurturing of these helpless, tiny little creatures. Love for one’s child, human or pet, is unselfish. I think that we can all agree.

 

 

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