In 2008, the English comedy-drama Marley and Me released, in which an American couple (played by Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston) decide to adopt a dog to see if they’re ready to raise a family of their own. The couple test their parental capabilities with their fur baby (Marley) first and then eventually go on to raise children (three!) of their own.
For Ganesh and his wife Aparna Sen, who are pet parents to three cats – Maya, Siyah and Tingu – the tale sounds familiar. Except here, they don't want to have children.
“To each his own. We don't want to have kids because there are so many children in this world who don't have a home, food or clothes,” says Ganesh.
Ganesh and Aparna with their cats
This idea – to not have human babies, but parent fur babies instead – has captured the imagination of several young adults in this generation.
They are the millennials – a generation that depends on technology, is politically opinionated, aware of climate change and has witnessed one economic recession already. Millennials are ‘woke’ in their understanding of society, culture, politics and environment.
Perhaps their need to foster animals trumps procreation for a socially conscious reason? Or maybe they are second-generation hippies who prefer to stay independent instead of being bogged down by parental responsibilities. Or, even simpler, they just like being pet parents!
Scroll down your social media feed for about ten minutes and you encounter at least a dozen ‘amazingly cute cat videos’ and ‘#ilovemydog’, ‘#mydoglovesme’ posts. Some even go to the extent of creating exclusive social media pages for their pets – Jiff the Pomeranian, Nala the cat. Instagramming pets comes second only to instagramming food. And there are those who even celebrate their pet’s birthdays – cakes and party hats and all.
Aruna, a copywriter, gets very animated when asked about her pets. “Gucci, my jet black male cat with green eyes, loves chilling by the Bougainvillea or on my bed and is very accommodating of my random squeeze hugs, while Heidi, my white female cat with one eye green and one blue eye (Heterochromia Iridis) is apathetic, skittish and wouldn't sit or relax in anything less than 6ft in height. And Mac, my two-year-old pug, struts around the house and is convinced he that he keeps the cats in check,” she laughs.
Aruna's cats Gucci and Heidi
Currently living with her parents in Chennai, Aruna shares that a love for animals runs in her family. “I’m not raising pets as a distraction for being single. I've always loved animals and have had pets even when I was in school. As a family of animal lovers, the only thing that stopped us from having pets were the various apartment association rules,” she says.
But the 30-year-old is firm that come what may, her pets are here to stay. “An ex of mine didn't like animals and wouldn't even pet puppies. On hindsight, that should have been warning enough,” she says, adding, “My animals make me responsible, compassionate, entertained and relaxed. I experience love and companionship with them. My pets are here to stay, irrespective of who is or isn't in my life.”
Choosing to become full-time pet parents often comes with a lot of questions from society. Ganesh admits that the decision to not have children has often put them in a spot with many people. “They are usually shocked to hear that we don't want to have kids. Many of our friends have even sat us down and tried to convince us to have children. It's crazy, but for now we are content with taking care of our 3 little stooges,” he smiles.
Rashmi, who has had multiple pets, including a rescued turtle she fostered for a brief period, says, “People often think that they own you. I often get questions like ‘Who'll take care of you when you're old?’ or ‘What about the purpose of your life?’ I guess the purpose of everybody's life is to spread happiness and animals do that so well!”
According to Rashmi, the idea of ‘settling down’ in the traditional sense of the word is completely absurd. “I have a huge list of people who say they'll be there for you, but simply walk away when they find someone else. Dogs are for life. All their life they try to keep you happy. They take you very seriously. I somehow empathise so much more with dogs than with people.”
Social media ensures that everyone on it is aware of the changing perceptions. People no longer stick to traditional roles and don’t seek comfort from toeing the line.
Naturally, people in the spotlight play a role in defining this new norm. It does help that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg and his wife Priscilla had Beast before their daughters Maxima and August. There’s also artist and designer, Alicia Souza, who’s got two adorable fur babies of her own – Charles Brown (a dog) and Henry Oats (a hamster).
Parenting pets, or even plants in some cases, involves commitment and many youngsters are choosing to first try their hand at raising their pets or plants before plunging into parenting. However, there's also a new generation of youngsters who prefer their paw-pals over having children of their own.