I don’t like animals. There, I said it.
Let me make this clear: I don’t hate them and I wish them no harm. But honestly, I think they’re dirty, needy and I just don’t get the appeal.
It is not something I tend to divulge, however, because disliking animals is socially unacceptable. Saying you’re not a fan of babies is fine these days – people accept that having them is expensive, exhausting and not for everyone – but admitting you don’t like animals is tantamount to outing yourself as a serial killer.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called ‘cold-hearted’, ‘soulless’ or even ‘dead inside’ because I don’t swoon at pictures of wet-nosed puppies or tear up at viral videos of fluffy kittens playing the piano.
I made the mistake of revealing I’m a pet-sceptic to an old friend I bumped into on a walk the other day. Her response was painful.
‘I’ve been told you should be very suspicious of people who don’t like animals,’ she sniped before sauntering away with her yappy little dog.
We are a nation of animal lovers, with almost one in two British households owning a pet. And since the start of lockdown in March, more than two million people have welcomed the pitter-patter of tiny paws into their home.
Yet I grew up in a household without pets, so perhaps my dislike is down to a lack of exposure. I’m just not used to being around creatures with more than two legs. I’m also a bit scared of them – one of my earliest memories of any animal is being chased around the park by a growling dog twice my size.
Whatever the reason, I feel like I’m judged more for my dislike of animals than any of my negative qualities.
The internet is awash with people saying that those who don’t like animals ‘are psychopaths’, and there are countless articles out there about why you shouldn’t trust people who don’t like pets.
Believe me, I’ve tried my very best to warm up to them over the years.
I’ve joined friends on dog walks, held the leash for a lap or two and even offered to watch the pooch while they nipped to the loo. I stroke them and attempt to ‘speak’ to them in some kind of cutesy baby voice, but despite my best efforts, I feel nothing other than seriously uncomfortable.
I join in the cooing when a colleague introduces the team to their guinea pig on a Zoom call. I’ve perfected my fake ‘awww’ reaction when someone shows me pictures of their cat playing with a ball of wool and I always wave enthusiastically when I see my neighbours walking their cocker spaniel.
I’m lucky in that my closest friends all have extremely well-behaved pets that they don’t impose on me or thrust onto my lap when I pop round for a cuppa.
The problems mainly arise with acquaintances who automatically assume I must be into animals – why should I be? Pet owners accuse us non-animal-loving folk of being heartless, but often they don’t show any empathy or compassion for us when we feel uncomfortable.
Too many times I’ve had to grin and bear it when a dog has jumped up on me, slobbered all over my favourite trousers or pounced into my lap.
At a previous workplace, much to everyone else’s delight and my dismay, we got an office dog. One day, the dog – let’s call him Charlie – sneakily sidled up to my desk and weed all over my lovely leather bag. Obviously, I was horrified.
When I told the owner what had happened, he expected me to laugh along. ‘Ah, what a naughty little boy!’ was his response.
I didn’t even get an apology. ‘How can you be cross with Charlie when he’s so cute?’ he said, cuddling the little rascal.
Apparently, getting annoyed by these things puts me in the minority.
I get why others love animals. Truly, I do. There are plenty of benefits associated with having pets, from alleviating stress to reducing loneliness.
I appreciate that they’re a tremendous source of comfort, joy and companionship for many people. That’s great! But they’re just not for me, and frankly, I’m fed up with being made out to be cold, lacking in kindness or incapable of love.
I care deeply about people and the issues that affect them. I care about social inequality, human suffering, racial injustice and the state of our planet.
So what that I don’t shed a single tear when a dog dies in a film? And OK, so I feel nothing when I see a photo of a newborn kitten. I still consider myself a warm and compassionate person.
There is an expectation that everyone should be fond of animals. They’re cute, fluffy and helpless – what’s not to love?
It might not be socially acceptable but I refuse to hide my true feelings or apologise for my opinions any more.
Next time someone plonks a pooch on my lap or shows me 50 photos of their hamster, I will – politely – let them know that I don’t much care for animals.
Fellow animal-dislikers, I urge you to do the same.
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