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.
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)
Dr. Pia Salk