I love animals. Obviously this goes without saying, since I'm a vet and everything. (Well actually I know vets who don't really like or want to be around animals but they're in the minority. Hopefully.) I often have clients who are embarrassed to admit how much they love and cherish their pets, saying things like "I know it's stupid to cry over a dog," or "My family thinks it's crazy that I spend this much money on my cat." They shouldn't be embarrassed. Animals don't ask for anything from us -- just to be cared for and not abused, and maybe treated with affection every once in awhile. They listen when we talk without passing judgement. They're always happy to see us (well, dogs anyway). They deserve to be treated well, and if you have the money I think there's a lot worse ways you can spend it than taking care of your sick pet. I wholeheartedly believe that they are members of the family.
That said...since having J my perspective has changed a little bit. I still love animals. I am more fulfilled than ever helping them and working with them every day. Only now, I cringe a little bit when I hear people say about their pet, "He's my child," or even (I'm not making this up) "I love this dog more than I love my kids." Before I became a parent, I thought that I loved Yoda (the cat) as much as I could love a child. I took pictures of him, even carrying one in my wallet. I bought him toys and expensive food, and I paid people to take care of him when I was out of town so he wouldn't be "traumatized." We told people that we were practicing for kids by having pets.
Then we had J. And pretty much immediately, Yoda became "just a cat" again. I love him, but he's not my kid. He still holds a special place in my heart, and if he shows the slightest sign of illness he gets whisked off to the clinic with me for immediate treatment. I still let him get in bed with me and we often spend a good hour on a "brushing session." But...I've never snuck in to peek on him while he's sleeping in his cat bed like I do with J in the middle of the night. I would never leave work at the drop of a hat because TH calls and tells me that he's got a fever and is shaking. I don't have 500 pictures of Yoda just eating. I've never cried at the prospect of being away from Yoda overnight, like I did last month when I spent a weekend away from J for the first time. It goes without saying--if it ever comes down to J or Yoda, well, sorry kitty, but I gotta choose the kid every time. (And notice that I'm barely mentioning our other cat Sunny, although I love her too.)
So now, when I have clients who tell me that their pet is their child, I understand where they're coming from, and I always treat their pets the way I would want my pediatrician to treat J. But still. I know that you can love an animal almost as much as one of your children.... almost, but not quite.