By Jesse Archer
Originally published on Advocate.com February 18 2013 4:36 AM ET
Travis is kicking me out of his beach house because I called his lapdog "stupid."
"You don’t come into someone’s home and insult their child!" he lectures.
I try to detect sarcasm but this is serious. One does not insult her royal highness the lapdog named Bella Zsi-Zsi Farrah Fawcett Larue because she obviously has more blue blood than the county morgue.
To be fair, Bella is not stupid. I only called her stupid because I’ve been trying to strike the word "retarded" from my vocabulary. But now that I’m facing a night under the boardwalk, should I pretend it isn’t true? Like letting someone’s HIV status slip over a couple beers at their family reunion, it’s not an easy backtrack. The moving hand writes; and, having writ, moves on…
Stupid is not subjective and I mean this dog couldn’t figure out how to go up the stairs. It kept bumping into the step and spinning around like a berserk furry top. This does not stop Travis from trying to re-write history. He declares that on top of being highly intelligent and pedigreed, Bella gets more dick than I could ever hope for.
There’s a certain self-deception that comes with ownership. Stare at something of yours long enough and it shape shifts to your heart’s desire. People with mangled toes will rock flip-flops because to their mind, mangled toes are normal. Empathy is often employed here, so when parents post pics of their scary-looking baby to the cutest-baby contest, it’s considered good form to award a pity ‘like.’
I forgot the empathy, and for that Travis is helping me pack. Sometimes people do things you can’t wrap your head around because you would never in your wildest dreams conceive of doing such a thing. Surely there was a fatal car crash because nobody would miss joining you at a poetry reading, or that time a friend arrived at the pool party with hair on his back. It’s this type of perplexing situation Travis and I are in, from opposite poles. He can’t believe I would insult his precious child and I can’t believe he is so precious to kick me out over it.
You don’t go to someone’s home and insult their child. First off, I might. Second, this is a flawed comparison because with hard work and the help of adderall, a human can overcome stupid. I’ve heard people refer to their pets as "children," but not literally; calling your gay friend "sister" doesn’t mean he’s got a vagina. Suddenly I’m not so sure. Have pets, as corporations before them, achieved personhood?
There are the similarities. You pick up their shit, accessorize them, and if they’re pretty you worry about predators but correlation does not equal causation. This isn’t to say pets aren’t beloved family members. If the house catches fire, you run in after them. When they get sick you make them well and when they die you will absolutely burst into a tearful chorus of “I’ll never love this way again.”
With all the excessive pampering, maybe it’s not loyal pets being considered children, but children considered royal pets? On the flipside, at the mercy of every whim and whimper—are hovering helicopter parents only pets of their children? Out of this confusing cultural climate comes Terri Graham, the U.K. mother of two who proudly breastfeeds her pet pug.
Dogs can’t disown their owners, and this is to their discredit. Sometimes, love really ought to be questioned and Hitler’s German Shepherd was a disgrace. If they had a capacity to question, dogs would have a lot to bark about on issues such as enforced sterilization, lack of genetic diversity in purebreds, or all the times you only pretended to throw the ball and then laughed at their confusion.
What’s so advantageous about intelligence? Too smart can be intimidating, anti-social, even confronting. If pets were smarter, they would ask how it is that we call them children while we call cows, chicken and pigs dinner? How can they trust our tastes won’t change? Thankfully, they aren’t that smart. You want an animal smart enough to get up the stairs, but ignorant enough not to know they should be offended. For example if she knew her name was Bella Zsi-Zsi Farrah Fawcett Larue, it wouldn’t be me sleeping under the boardwalk.
“She’s pretty,” I say to calm Travis. Bella is fetching. She is a palomino blonde with long ears that flop when you fly her around like Falcor from Neverending Story. She is pretty as a floral arrangement but neither will be balancing the budget over brunch and that’s fine. Beauty only exists to be appreciated.
Once I appreciated a beautiful boy and you could pick his brain to experience the weightlessness of anti-gravity. He wasn’t intelligent, not in a traditional sense, but he did pick up on things like chakras and chi-flow. He was spiritually intelligent, which is to say he was sweet. I suggest to Travis that maybe Bella is spiritually intelligent? Travis says, “Get out.”
JESSE ARCHER is a writer and actor currently living in Sydney, Australia.