“It is quiet and D. is doing her D. things. Sniffing the air, checking for squirrels, and generally being a dog.” – Informant 6
Morning. A yawn escapes. From your mouth or hers no one knows. Tiny, heart-shaped pebbles clink, clink, clink into the bowl below. The cat weaves in and out of your legs, bell tinkling. The dog’s tail beats against the floor.
Pet care is one of the most routine and mundane parts of everyday life. Each morning we clean the litter box, let the dog out, fill the bowls. Sometimes the monotony might start to take its toll. So, why do we continue to keep pets?
In short, it becomes habit, which, according to Rita Felski, is an essential factor of human survival. She writes “repetition is one of the ways in which we organize the world, make sense of our environment, and stave off the threat of chaos.” All of these mundane, habitual activities throughout the day give us order, and it’s common to feel lost or out of place if they’re thrown off schedule.
It can also be argued that pet care is a desired aesthetic. Ben Highmore explains “our life practices (our ways of loving, cooking, inhabiting and so on) are not just ‘consumer choices’ but sensual and ethical responses to a world that makes its own demands on us.” He believes that our emotions “come from without, not from within.” Thus, our sense of an aesthetic is heavily influenced on emotions grounded in social, collective, and exterior areas of the psyche. Pets may serve as an exterior force that creates emotion, but they might also encourage an attuned sense to nature or the “wild world.” Highmore writes that a sense of the “complexity of creaturely life” might help us make sense of the confusions of ordinary life. 
“I take my nap but only one of us enjoyed it” – Informant 7
Mid-day. It’s almost summer, and the air is thick. You imagine this is what it’d feel like to breath water instead of air. The heat of his body woke you, but you wouldn’t be able to sleep without the weight of it against yours. Fur tickles your nose, and when you open your eyes he’s staring back. Most people say a dog can’t smile but you know better; his eyes smile. He’s happy. It’s simple.
Pets force us to make accommodations we wouldn’t otherwise make; their care brings about a shift in lifestyle. For example, one must make room in the budget for animal supplies, carve out time in one’s day-to-day life to provide affection and attention, and sometimes even compromise personal comfort.
Many of our informants mentioned the compromises they make for their pets’ care and comfort in their diaries. Informant 7 often recorded taking naps with his dog stretched across most of the bed. Informant 9 writes “thinking: about how COLD it is outside, yet I have to do what I am doing b/c I love my dog.” Some informants even identify their pets as personal alarm clocks (with a slight tone of sarcasm).
“WE spend time together.” – Informant 6
Evening. Your key clicks in the lock at the end of a long day and you can hear bells from the other side. A sigh.
Although many of our informants keep animals, I noticed one pattern in the diaries that seemed to separate one group of pet owners from the other: amount of human interaction. For example, informants that were most involved in the intricacy surrounding the routine of pet care, or mentioned pets most often in their diaries, were single and/or lived alone. Informant 9, with a full crew of dogs, cats, and rabbits is in a long-term, long-distance relationship. She personifies her pets, nicknames her cats the “monsters,” and states “I could talk about dogs all day long because I just love talking about dogs.” Informant 6, a retiree in her 70s, ritualistically shares toast with her dog each morning. Another informant, a single man in his twenties, has such a deep connection with his dog that he can identify and understand small quirks in the dog’s personality. For example, he plans his own restroom schedule around his dog’s, because he believes the dog gets impatient in the cold. All of these informants recorded spending “quality time” with their pets, and seemed fulfilled by the relationships they shared with their furry friends.
On the other hand, the more family-oriented informants often refrained from mentioning their pets by name and only recorded interactions with pets as chores. For example, one informant mentioned taking his dogs outside for bathroom breaks 4-5 times in one day. Another informant also records himself taking the dog for a walk, only to let his mind wander to other topics. He writes “Take dog out. I think ‘No stars out’ and ‘who is that neighbor a few houses down? I don’t know a thing about him’ as he drives by.” These informants seemed to keep pets solely for aesthetic purposes.
“No one in the family knows if they are missing any of their dogs. I’m annoyed. How can they not know?” – Informant 14
You slam on the breaks and you’re jolted forward, the rough edge of the seat-belt cutting into your skin. A dog stands jovially in front of your car, wagging his tail and tilting his head expectantly. HONK, HONK. He barks in reply.
Sometimes the beauty in the aesthetic is hard to find. One informant, an avid animal lover, cares for a geriatric dog that requires her to manually relieve its bladder multiple times a day. Others record themselves cleaning litter boxes, rabbit cages, and administering animal medications. Such unpleasant activities have become part of the normal day-to-day routines for these informants – “Got home, collected recycling for trash pickup, scooped dog poop out of the yard…” (Informant 12).
Pet care assumes a responsibility close to that of child care. Some of our informants even referred to themselves as pet “parents” in their diaries. Another included her pets as members of the household in a demographic survey. But the beauty in the aesthetic still lives in litter boxes and pooper-scoopers; it’s hidden in reliability, maybe vulnerability. Responsible pet parents find satisfaction in their pet’s dependent nature, but some pet owners can be much less responsible and caring. Informant 14 records her irritation with such pet owners when she finds a lost dog in the road and struggles to find its home.
Muncie has built a strong animal-rescue community in response to the high numbers of lost and homeless animals on the streets. Shelters like the Animal Rescue Fund (ARF), Muncie Animal Shelter, and Muncie Action for Animals (AFA) work hard every day to find safe, loving homes for Muncie animals.
“ARF is a wonderful blessing to the community.” – Informant 9
Metal bars separate you from the animals inside. It feels like a prison – sterile, sad, forbidding. Small slips of paper are taped to each cage giving every cat a name, every dog a personality. They’re making an effort. But each pair of eyes hides a story that paper can’t tell.
The importance of pet care in Muncie expanded outside the home in 1998 when ARF opened its doors. ARF is a no-kill shelter that did the unthinkable and transformed what an animal shelter means to the community; instead of cages, animals are kept in open rooms where they can interact with one another and potential adopters. They offer low-cost spay and neutering and even started a program that provides pet food and straw to families with financial need.
ARF works with the Muncie Animal Shelter and other surrounding shelters to find loving homes for pets in and around Delaware County. To find out more about ARF, or to adopt a new family member, visit their website here.
“I wish the dog luck.” – Informant 14
- Felski, Rita. “The Invention of Everyday Life.” Cool Moves 39 (2000): 15-31.
- Highmore, Ben. Ordinary Lives: Studies in the Everyday. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.