I may be going out on a limb here, but I think pets may be a good way to gauge how couples will handle the responsibilities of having a child. I mean, let’s face it, no one wants to pick up after their dog or scoop litter boxes, but parenthood isn’t glamorous either, and someone has to do it. In my opinion, pets help us gauge whether responsibility is shared equally and how well you, as a couple, work as a team, and let’s face it, parenthood is all about teamwork!
Let’s think about it. Dogs require training, discipline, and they are fully dependent upon you for food and shelter, just like children. Surely dogs cannot go everywhere with you like a child (for the most part) can, but like I said, pets are stepping stones 😉
I will use my personal example. I have two cats and they are “trained” very similar to how dogs are trained. Getting them to that point required my partner and I to be on the same page as it is difficult for pets, like children, to learn if they are given mixed messages from either “parent.” For instance, one of the first things I taught my cats upon welcoming them into my home was to scratch their scratch post and not the furniture or carpet. I used positive reinforcement (i.e. treats) to encourage scratching a scratch post and a squirt bottle to discourage scratching other items. Cats, like children, learn very quickly what they can get away with in the presence of each parent. Let’s face it – we all know whether we could get away with certain things with one of our parents but not with another, right? So, if I was the only one utilizing these mechanisms, the cats would behave in my presence but may not in the presence of my partner. Therefore, having similar “parenting styles” or at least being on the same page with respect to rules and consequences is important for couples with pets just as it is important for couples with children.
Of course, in addition, caring for the pets – everything from grooming, veterinary care, and cleaning up after them (litter boxes, vomit, hairballs, etc.) required a team effort. Though my cats have been with me before my current partner and I met, I do not feel that I am the sole person responsible for them. For instance, I had a wellness exam scheduled for one of my cats an hour after a final exam was scheduled to end. Unfortunately the final exam started late and went over so I didn’t finish until 3 minutes before the appointment. Upon finishing the exam, I texted my partner to ask if he could bring the cat to the clinic and meet me there as I would not have enough time to make it home and back to the vet in time. He texted me back, “I’m already on my way.” It’s that kind of teamwork that makes a partnership work. If there is no teamwork, one parent is likely to feel burdened with the responsibility and the relationship will suffer. I know many people who upon emerging from a break-up that involved pets that would say that they were the only one who ever cared for the pet. And they are not always the ones to emerge from the relationship with the pet. Though I maintain that pets can help a couple gauge whether there is a good balance with responsibilities, many couples do break up and it’s not always clear how the pets will be handled when that happens.