Posts tagged " pets "

Needlessly Offensive?

June 7th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 41 comments

I got called on the carpet—very politely and graciously—but called on the carpet nonetheless. The challenge came from a viewer of our Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV show. I’m not sure when the particular episode aired so I haven’t found it yet, but I must have spoken critically about substituting pets for people. I imagine that I might have mentioned a pet food ad that irks me which shows a cat saying, “Mom, please get me….”

In her letter, our viewer said, “Susan, my animals are my family. They’re all I have. I think the old “walk a mile in my shoes” before you are so critical. My pets are there when I go to bed and when I get up in the morning. I know I’m not their Mother but they are probably the closest living thing to me.” She is making a perfectly valid point and I imagine that my words cut her, for which I am sorry. Yet, I don’t think I can leave it with just an apology.

One of the dilemmas for society is how to deal with unique individuals and their specific circumstances while at the same time maintaining public policies and social norms. At one and the same time, we want to be accepting and helpful to all, but in doing so we run the risk of normalizing things that we don’t want to encourage.

Let’s look at the example of teen pregnancy. I think we can all agree that if a fifteen-year-old girl gets pregnant and opts to keep the baby, she, her baby and society will be better off if she finishes high school. However, when the school sets up a nursery on-site and provides extra support for this mom, it sends a message to other girls that this is a viable and perhaps even a positive scenario. There is a mismatch between caring for the individual and protecting the larger entity. 

Even when there is no element of mistaken behavior, there can be a conflict between a person and the group. When I was a youngster, my friends and I spent most of our summer afternoons riding bikes, splashing in backyard plastic pools and, if enough of us were around, playing punch ball in the street.  For some reason, we didn’t get together in the morning. Instead, I would park myself in front of the TV and watch I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show, My Three Sons and the rest of the morning line-up. Some of the episodes stick in my mind through today, including one from the show Family Affair. Unlike what the title brings to mind in today’s environment, Family Affair was an innocent depiction of a bachelor who unexpectedly found himself, with the help of his British valet, raising his orphaned nieces and nephew.

An episode that I distinctly remember concerned the teenage niece, Cissy, suffering as her school prepared for its annual mother-daughter evening. Understandably, the evening loomed as a painful one for the motherless girl. Granted, the school administration could have been more proactive and discussed the evening with her uncle, but it was completely unimaginable that an annual get-together would be canceled because of an orphan in the class.

I think that if the show was taped today, current sensitivities might have her school friends thoughtfully scrap the event. That did not happen in 1966. What we have seen happen in real life in the ensuing years is schools erasing Mother’s Day and Father’s Day from their calendars in order not to make children from broken homes feel bad. That became a step on the road towards insisting that all family compositions are equally positive. By not wanting to make anyone feel bad (an impossible goal – one can be sure that the fictional Cissy deeply missed her parents and that the pain would more strongly surface at major life events) we inadvertently sent a message that led to more heartache for more people.

Our society continues to send mistaken messages, among them that career is more important than marriage and family. As part of that message, we are told that animals are interchangeable with children. I have a daughter and you have a cat so we are both mothers. In parts of Europe today one can barely find a baby aisle with diapers and bottles, but one can find shelves filled with delicacies for dogs. Don’t worry about missing out on children—your pets will love you.

Naturally, there are those who are alone, sometimes even housebound, and who derive comfort, affection and a loving relationship from their pets. That is wonderful. I’m sure that I could have made it clearer that I wasn’t directing my words at those individuals. But I do think it important, as a society, that we not send a false message that at the point when people are making decisions about their future, they come to believe that a pet and a child are equivalent. So, I cringe at the idea that words of mine might have hurt someone, but I also cringe at the idea of going along with a trend towards replacing people with animals that will lead to heartache and sorrow down the road. I thank our viewer for writing and hope she understands.

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Are Pets Animals Too?

July 19th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 15 comments

It says in the Bible that a good man cares for his “beast.” ‘Does this just mean animals that are “useful” such as cows that give meat and milk or does it mean all pets, such as dogs and cats.  

P.S. Like your show very much. We watch it every day when possible. There is so much knowledge and practical advice.

Titus R. 


Dear Titus,

There are certain topics that are almost guaranteed to lead to controversy, including vaccinations, the 2016 election results, and abortion. We have tackled all of those in various settings. But if you really want to get people’s emotions roiled, talk about their pets!

You don’t mention what Bible verse you are referencing, but there are many Scriptural references to treating animals well, among them Deuteronomy 25:4 with its prohibition on muzzling an ox while it is treading grain and verses that include animals in the Sabbath day of rest.


Don’t Call Me Mom – originally posted Feb. 12, 2009

August 29th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

Is it just me, or do some of you also cringe when you see ads for pet food where the cat or dog looks soulfully into the camera and says something along the lines of, “Mom, this food will keep me healthy and strong. Will you buy it for me?”

Mom? When did pet owners turn into parents? Was it some time after parents turned into friends and asked their children to call them by their first names? What kind of weird world is this where you imagine your cat calling you Mom while your child calls you Stacy?

Like most mothers, I was absolutely thrilled when each of my children started saying Mommy. (A word to the wise here- I know some mothers who work very hard on making sure their child first learns to say Daddy. Isn’t that what you really would prefer to hear at 3 a.m.?) And at around age three each of them experimented with calling my husband and me by our first names, which we laughed about privately while we made sure they knew that was unacceptable.

Then, over the phone one day, a young man who had recently become engaged to our daughter, called me Mom. I’ll admit to feeling some very weird sensations at hearing that word come from the mouth of someone whom I barely knew. I mean, I knew my own children for quite a while before they called me that! But, of course, he was doing the absolutely right thing. My own future mother-in-law, many years earlier, had me use the word Mom in every sentence I spoke to her until it sounded natural to both of us. In succession, three more sons-in-law call me Mom, and in each case I am delighted to answer to that name.

But I draw the line at four legged creatures. Those ads don’t strike me as cute nor do they pull at my heartstrings. They instead make me both recoil and feel troubled at a world which is actually getting more and more confused each day. Warm and loving relationships can and should exist between people and animals. But years ago, radio host Dennis Prager mentioned being astounded at how when talking to students, many said that if their pet was drowning as well as a stranger, they would save the pet. They were quite sure they were making the moral and correct choice.

Suggesting that owning a pet is the same as being a parent doesn’t make the animal any happier; but it does devalue the mother/father/child relationship while diminishing the value of all human life.