Can We Care "Too Much"?

Posted by Pia

I frequently get asked my professional opinion about whether I think people go "too far" in their consideration of their pets -- people who plan their vacations around their companion animals, buy them holiday gifts or refer to them as their children.

In my opinion, the question itself is a problem.

Photograph by Amanda Jones from her book, A Breed Apart. (Click image for more)

I think it can be dangerous to label the behaviors of others as if there were universal rules about what is acceptable and what is "too extreme." Labeling another's values as "good," "bad," "right," "wrong," or "too extreme" is futile in most cases, and only serves to divide people.

Many people feel their furry (or feathered, scaled or otherwise) friends are kin in the same way a human child or relative is. Frankly, I see no problem with this -- quite the contrary. It says a lot about commitment and personal responsibility for someone to take the life of another in their care seriously. To value another life regardless of difference (e.g. species) is at the very root of peace. And to rank someone else's worth is its antithesis.

I'd even go further to say that not making certain sacrifices to accommodate one's companion animal is far more problematic than the reverse: It is one of the primary reasons our shelters are overfilled with former family pets.

There is an instance in which someone can go "too far" in showing affection for their pet, however, and that is when doing so compromises the animal's well being. If someone uses a pet to meet their own needs while ignoring those of the animal, for instance, that may be a sign of pathology. However, this would be the case with regard to the treatment of any living being.

It is not uncommon for people to view others as an extension of themselves. We see people do this with their children, pets, spouses and even material things. The question is: Are those involved able to consent, and is that person's behavior detrimental to them?

Generally speaking, though, if no one is being harmed, where is the problem? This is when I'd don my clinical hat and turn the mirror on the one complaining to inquire why such behavior bothers them.

So, as long as a person is attending to the needs of the life in their care, and that life is augmented by that care, we need not be concerned. In fact, we should celebrate -- perhaps with a soiree in which the companion animals are the honored guests! (link to Freud post)

In Kinship,
Dr. Pia Salk

Comments (6)

  • Hello Dr. Pia: I don't think so. You can never care for your pups and kitty cats and birds and things too much. My momma and daddy buy me lots of toys and snacks especially at Christmas. They board me in a deluxe kennel when dad has his checkups at Duke because they want the best care for me and they want me to have plenty of fun while I am there. Why, I get nature walks, play time, grooming and plenty of human attention and I get to stay in a suite with plenty of good food and fresh water. How cool is that???

    Mom and dad call me their little girl cause I am. They will also care very much for me when I get very, very old and I get to go to heaven. They will make sure I do not suffer.

    Yesterday afternoon when mom came home, daddy and I and mom went to our fenced-in back yard. I got to play shred and tear with my favorite things. That's right, paper bags all scrunched up. I ran and ran and tore those bags up. Momma teased me with them and I showed her a thing or two. HAHAHAHA I hope we can go to the yard tonight too. I had a swell time.

    Well, it's time for my nap. Have a great day Dr. Pia. See ya later. Love, Gracyn.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post...we should never criticize a person that has a deep affection for their pets, especially if living alone and has no or few family members...pets can serve for a life, and for living...I have family members that lead their lives around their pets and deny themselves a vacation or what for me, I worry the whole time I'm gone someplace for more then an hour...or like today, it's cold, rainy and windy...I had to go to University Wisconsin today and could not wait to come home to make sure Kitty is smart enough to get out of the rain...she loves being out, although she could stay in, but it is her preference...she rings a hanging bell on the door to go out.
    Funny after I lost my two 29 year old horses(had them since birth)I was so devastated I swore I will never bring another animal into my life and experience the pain of loss again....well Kitty came just as all the things unfolded with my horses...God's timing? maybe...but now I have a new love in my life (besides my faithful husband...he he)

    Yes, indeed Kinship,

  • kinship, indeed, as I've said before, as well as others, today!...

    I am many times convicted inside how I have doted over my cats (I now only have one since Edgar passed in July). Do I overdo it? I 'kooky'? (We ALL know the answer to both of these questions is a hardy YESSS! [giggle] ) (And, come to think of it,) why is there a stigma to becoming the proverbial 'cat lady'? If I could afford 10 cats, still maintain and sustain my immaculate housekeeping that is a must for my own peaceful well-being and existence, and have the stamina, I'd have one of every color available! I LOVE them - for some reason I don't even know. I had NO cat(s) as a child!

    I talk to my Mandy ALL THE TIME! This is where the overdoing/kookiness comes in (but hey, I'm happy! [giggle] ) Our cats were/are just part of our family - many comprehend this, I know. I tell her what I'm doing, where I'm going and why, I tell her byebye, I tell her I'll be right back, I tell her mommie loves her... You know what's 'sad'? I think (but believe) she understands me! She reciprocates communication that tells me so!

    Just this morning, I was leaving for work and had parked out front after running a quick errand and exiting from the rear of my home to go the garage at the rear of my property. I had already said my goodbyes to Mandy, but as I was buckling up to get ready to pull away, I caught a glimpse of her in the upstairs bedroom window looking down at mommie. Well, I had to get myself unbuckled and get out of my vehicle, so she'd see me plainly - to wave byebye one more time. (This is SICK [meant humorously], but again, I'm VERY happy! [giggle] ) I even blew her a kiss. She saw me! You know how I know? I read her lips!...'Mrrrow'!

    How precious is that?!

    She is the little love of my life, and I am not ashamed!


  • Hi Dr. Pia, No, we can't care too much about our animals, because there are still too many people who don't care enough. If more people cared, we wouldn't have so many neglected and poorly treated abused animals that need so much attention to help them learn how to trust people and get along with other animals. If we could put a stop to puppy mills and dog fighting groups, as well as getting more dogs and cats spayed and neutered, the lives of animals would be so much better. If our wishes could come true, what a wonderful this would be. Thanks again, Dr. Pia. Jan (Dudley Do Right's Mom)

  • Dear Dr. Pia

    I think animals bring out the best in most people the best of who they are. I know they bring out the best in me.

    Here's what "our" Martha Stewart has to say on this very topic her own words.

    I just think animals are charming. I learn a lot from them. I think animals really add something to a household. I can’t imagine a house that’s empty, quiet without any animals. I think the animals are my inner self. I look at them and try to understand them and their needs and desires and wants — just as I would a child. I think I can understand what they’re doing. My pets are companions more than anything else, and I consider them that. And I talk with them all the time. They certainly have taught me that I can be really tender, loving, caring and curious .

    So there you go Martha Stewart feels as we all do here at The Daily Wag about our animal companions how wonderful that we do/ cam feel this way and have love for our extended animal companion family and make their lives and ours better then we ever thought it could be.

    Pam from California & Mrs. Bosley Chow Chow

  • Hi Pia, As Gandhi said... "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." So we could extend that to an individual.

    Raja always comes with us on vacation... he's a conduit to meeting people all over the world because they feel comfortable approaching us through our little dog.

    Thanks for this thoughtful article, Helen

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