About six weeks ago, I got myself a puppy. A black cocker spaniel, whom I have named Boo. Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to have a dog, but unfortunately, my dad – a lovely dad in every other way – is not keen on animals. So no dog as a child. No dog later, either. Student life, followed by years of travelling, more years of living abroad, then more years of shared living, apartment and no-pet living, and then a cottage with no garden all meant I couldn’t have a dog.
But I do now finally have a garden, and hence I am finally able to have a hound. I don’t have the dog long, but she’s cute and smart: she can sit, lie down, give the paw, stay, and walk on a lead pretty well. So far, so predictable.
But what has surprised and annoyed me in these weeks since I’ve had a dog is the number of people – all women – who look at the dog and look at me, and say things along the lines of, “Oh, she knows who her mummy is!” or “where’s your mummy? (never, I note with dry interest, ‘where’s your mammy?’)
I’m flummoxed by this figure of speech. Boo is a dog, not a child. At the vet, where I brought her for a booster injection, two women declaimed thus. Female strangers on the street, admiring her, all say the same. Every single day when I’m out walking her. Even friends who call to my house also use the same term, until I ask them not to, because, frankly, it makes me cringe.
I have a dog. I am not her mummy. I’m the dog’s owner. Her four-legged golden cocker spaniel mother resides in rural Galway. My puppy Boo – sweet and smart as she is – is a dog and not a human being and will be treated like the dog she is. Of course I’ll take good care of her, but I am baffled as to why people want to humanise an animal, or automatically assume that your role of owner makes you that animal’s “mummy”. If it is simply a figure of speech, it’s a weird and uncomfortable one, and I wonder why it is only women who use it?