My friends and I, the vaguely adult-esque millennials that we are, don't have kids yet. One friend has a son, but we never see or hear about him, and I'm beginning to think we made him up. Instead of children, we have starter children: pets. They're like kids, but with a little more self-sufficiency. If I forget to feed a baby, it'll die and I'll go to jail. If I forget to feed a dog, it'll eat large portions of my couch and poop IKEA products for a few days.
Our ownership of these animals, and the joys and heartbreaks that come with them, binds us as friends. But I've drawn a line in the sand when it comes to my friends' pets, and I feel like their feelings are mutual. I love my dog and I love my cat, but theirs can burn in Hell. And yours can, too. Along with all the other miscellaneous ill-behaved creatures you call pets.
I appreciate my friends' pets. I admire how they can look past the animals' faults and find only sweet love and devotion. But sympathizing with those emotions doesn't mean I feel them toward their four-legged fur goblins. The social contract dictates that we not openly criticize other people's pets, but I will give you and your dog the middle finger the second you turn around. Their pets are beloved family members who receive all the love and attention of a human baby that can physically dominate a thief. It's their precious child which sometimes tries to shove it's penis into shins. It's their spectacular progeny whose antics the rest of us have to put up with or risk being socially ostracized. Under normal circumstances, any other creature would get punted to the Moon for acting like a stuck-up brat.
Visiting the home of a friend with a pet requires a type of strategy that is most commonly found in prisoner escape plans. Yeah, Andy Dufresne had to crawl through 500 yards of human waste, but I once had a friend's dog lick my leg for a solid 40 minutes because I was assured "She'll stop soon." I endured. Where's my Outstretched Arms in the Rain moment?
Pets get away with it because a lot of pet owners have lost their role as the leader of the house. This degradation can be seen on their tired, defeated faces when you walk in and their Labrador assumes your torso is their bed, and no amount of "Off, Drogo! Get your anus off his lips now, Drogo!" will change that. They are disheveled, subservient wrecks, catering to their pet's every fickle whim, living as second-class citizens in their own claw-marked homes.
Cats hold their own special torment for visiting friends. People don't own cats; they kidnap them and hold them against their will until an adorable form of Stockholm Syndrome sets in. They aren't easy to read as it is. They're even harder to gauge when a friend assures you they're lovable, so you reach out to pet it, only to discover otherwise after you're defibrillated back into consciousness in an ambulance. "Bad kitty," you'll mumble before you pass out again, the EMT's "Live, damn you! Live!" resounding as the last thing you hear before the loss of blood from all the scratches fades the world to black.
With some luck on your side, a person's cat will flee at the first inkling of another human's arrival. And that can sometimes be a best-case scenario with a cat -- that it runs away in terror, never to be seen or heard from again. The worst-case scenario is that it sits, like a troll in a folk tale, waiting for you to get cocky enough to try to pet it. Waiting for you to become stupid enough to embrace death.
In the same vein, upon entering a house with a cat, an owner might say, "And we have a cat. He's ... here, somewhere," speaking of the presence of their own pet the way people talk about the lingering spirit of a deceased relative. The cat might be here; you just have to believe. It's a gorgeous cat, they assure you. Very friendly, loves getting its head rubbed. Now if only we could gather enough people for a proper seance to summon it.
Other people's dogs present the opposite problem -- they're too present. You can feel their overbearing love before you walk in the door. All guests who visit my home have to physically brace themselves for impact, because when I open the front door, a dog torpedo will launch into their chest. My dog runs so fast from the far end of the apartment to the front door that if I screw up the timing, she's going to Kool-Aid-Man through that door. I can see how that can be annoying to guests, but hearing friends and family grunt from the impact just as they start saying "Hello" will never stop being funny.
A happy, jumpy dog that climbs all over a guest to lick and snuggle is a bit much, but there's love and fun there. How am I supposed to feel when a dog's sanity is so shredded by my arrival that they lose all their mental faculties and piss all over my feet? (Which is a thing some dogs do when they get excited.) "Don't piss on my feet and call it a hello" is something that I should logically never have to say, yet here we are.
The annoyance extends to birds, too. A friend's father had a battalion of finches. Finches are organic bullets. Navigating hallways of the house required the pace of a soldier under heavy fire trying to find better cover. Finches would whiz by my ears and explode in poofs of feathers as they slammed into the wall behind me. If, for a second, they didn't want to burrow into my skull beak-first at 75 mph, and instead sat on my shoulder and chirped adorably, I'd get my back shat on. No apology. Barely even an acknowledgment that I, a human living in a civilized age of lightning and steel, was walking around covered in animal feces.
But there was the silent implication that I was supposed to think this was normal. I'd look around at the other people living in the house, and they all had bird shit dribbling down their backs. This house existed apart from the regular flow of reality. It was a Bizzaro World, where birds flew at lowly humans from their Olympus, and getting pooped on was the ultimate honor a bird could bestow upon you.
I would take a stand against all the pets who are turning friendly visits into embarrassing nightmares if I wasn't so afraid of their pet taking my seat as soon as I stood. This would be followed by the subjugated owner telling me that the seat is gone, that I shouldn't fight it. It'll be easier to find another seat. They tried to stand up for themselves once, but they lost their seat too. They lost it forever. The impromptu musical chairs game that you play with dogs will last until eternity. But one day, maybe when that friend's dog is licking its balls, or when their cat attentively stares at nothing, I'm going to throw a toy. When they chase it, I will reclaim my rightful seat. I will reclaim it for all of us.
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