Pope Francis made waves last week in a speech criticizing people who choose to have pets instead of children. Although a family-focus is not new for the Catholic Church, in a world obsessed with our four-legged friends, this felt harsh.

Although I am now a mother to a human child, for a long time I counted myself among the “dog moms” of Derby, although I could never quite bring myself to use the phrase “fur baby.”

I agree that people are kind of crazy about their pets. If you don’t count medical insurance, I spent more money on my dogs last month than my child, and I know how strange that sounds.

I am not the only one spending a lot of time and money caring for animals when children in our very own community need homes, to say nothing of the plight of children worldwide facing numerous atrocities. Based on national averages and census data, Derby is home to at least 5,500 dogs, 4,000 cats, and 7,000 children. Yikes, kids are outnumbered!

Estimates vary, but owning a dog costs roughly $20,000 over the dog’s lifetime, and raising a child is routinely cited as well over $200,000. So, while pets outnumber children in Derby, children cost 10x as much, to say nothing of the human resources involved. Although most parents agree a baby is “worth it,” one cannot deny it is a tremendous commitment.

Philosophically I take issue with Pope Francis’ claim that men and women need to fulfill their innate fatherhood and motherhood. However, if one interprets the Pope’s statements more broadly, I could support the idea that it is a human need to nurture other living creatures. Practically speaking, a pet is a lot easier to nurture than a child.

I don’t have a solution for the many children in need of loving families. But, to equate owning a dog with raising a child is ludicrous. There are similarities, to be sure, especially in the potty-training phase, but raising a child is far more responsibility and expense governed by far more complicated conditions.

I agree with Pope Francis that more needs to be done to nurture children without homes, and that we as humans should exercise this nurturing instinct more. However, I think exerting our human drive to nurture in any direction we feel called, be it four- or two-legged, is a net positive for humanity.


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