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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Pets: property or part of the family

Published: September 17, 2010
Section: Opinions

GRAPHIC BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

My family has had what might be called a brush with death these last few months. Back in May, I noticed an odd growth on my cat’s shoulder. It grew fast and I forced a trip to the vet. Amanda (the cat) had cancer and we had it removed a week later. I spent 3 full days taking care of her, and it was hell, to say the least. Every day though she got better, returned more to the cat I knew from before college and over breaks. I thought we were in the clear, as did the vets; we were wrong. As I got ready to return to school I noticed something else odd in the same spot. My brother took care of stuff this time. Initially, it seemed like a minor infection, but as time passed the situation became less confident.

Some would say that pets are property, and they have some validity in saying this. We buy pets, but we don’t buy family members. Family members hopefully live long lives; pets die comparably quickly. Euthanasia is illegal, we put pets “to sleep” to prevent excessive pain.

I have no doubt that some form of fate placed Amanda with my family. When we went to the Animal Humane Society we looked at all the cats, first the healthy and then the sick when we didn’t bond with any of the healthy ones. Instantly my brother and Amanda bonded. The best way I could describe it would be like when Harry gets his wand (Sorcerer’s Stone.) He chose her, and she chose him. If not for this cat running straight to my brother, jumping on his lap, and purring almost immediately we may not have ever got her, and she would have died that very month.

Pets, while purchased as property, can very easily evolve into members of the family. I got my first dog (Dasher) at the end of 3rd grade, one week before my parents announced their separation and plans for divorce. For my brother and I Dasher was our constant, for a while no matter which parent we were with Dasher was right there by our side. In May of 2006 Dasher got cancer. It was inoperable and in June we put her down. As I went through high school my bonds with both Amanda and my newer dog (Raine) grew deeper as I began to appreciate the fact that my time with them was finite. I was going to college and even then they would eventually die, most likely sooner than the rest of my family.

It seems society has a mixed message when it comes to pets: Buy them, bond with them, then put them out of their misery if something really bad happens. Minor stuff gets fixed but when it comes to something major like cancer, you are supposed to end the pain and be done with it.

Pets are part of the family. Most Americans buy pets for the bonding element. Sure, we pay the breeder or humane society for them, but that’s more for the labor and prenatal care, not to mention the many early vaccines that keep pets alive until they develop their own immune systems. Money may change hands, but that doesn’t demote a pet to mere property.

This piece is dedicated to: Dasher D. Stillman (4/23/2000-6/14/2006) Amanda M. Stillman (May 2000- Present) Raine D. Stillman (5/29/2006-Present)