Why I believe we must stop using the term ‘pet’

Why I believe we must stop using the term ‘pet’

For many years, the use of the word pet has troubled me. I know, I know, the alternative ‘animal companion’ is clunky, and ‘fur baby’ makes me feel a little cringey, but there must be a better term we can use for the hairier members of our family.

This was brought home to me in spades this week, when the (dis) Honourable Member of Parliament for Wyre & Preston North used the term in what can only be described in a purposefully derogatory way to justify his forced U-turn over his previous U-turn when he took away permission for the Nowzad charity’s publicly fundraised plane, to fly into Afghanistan to pick up their founder Pen Farthing, his staff – mostly Afghans, and the cats and dogs they have been caring for.

This is what Ben Wallace MP has been quoted as saying, in increasingly angry, defensive and ever more hysterical interviews and tweets:

“What I am not prepared to do is prioritise pets over people”

“This is a total myth and being peddled around as if this is the reason the pet evacuation hasn’t taken place”

Let’s get a few facts straight:

  • The Nowzad charity was set up by ex-Marine Pen Farthing years ago as a result of Pen seeing the close bond soldiers made with local animals – all waifs and strays and starving. He witnessed for himself the comfort and support the animals brought to the soldiers in the most desperate of times, and determined to do something to care for them when their solider companions had left. The charity is so named after a dog that befriended Pen, a dog made to take part in barbaric dog fights, until Pen rescued him. THEY ARE NOT PETS.
  • Nowzad is devoted to caring for those animals. They are innocent, sentient beings who are as much victims of this senseless conflict as the hundreds of thousands of innocent Aghans caught up in this nightmare. It is Nowzad’s mission to reunite the animals with their soldier carers at some point.
  • The chartered plane – paid for by voluntary donations – is AN EXTRA resource, an extra plane that will fly into Kabul airport and pick up Pen, his staff, many of them women, and some that have been trained up as vets and nurses, their immediate families which total about 60 and a number of the animals. The rest of the capacity of 250 will be filled with other people fleeing the terror. The animals will go in the hold where no humans are ever put!
  • Indeed, there is not enough room for all of Pen’s animals, so he has already had to make some heart-breaking decisions regarding which to take, which to put to sleep and which to let loose. Because, have no doubt, when the Taliban takes control of Nowzad’s compound, they will shoot or torch the cages of any remaining animals.
  • Before you make a defence of dishonourable Mr Wallace, please know that this man, who will not ‘prioritise pets over people’ is perfectly content to prioritise a car over people as the photo below depicts. A car was evacuated and put into the main body of the airplane, thus displacing dozens of human places. He had absolutely no problem with this.

So, to finish, I am even more determined to wipe this term from my vocabulary and call on all animal lovers out there to do the same. They are sentient creatures just like us. They feel pain, terror and distress, just like us. They deserve our compassion as much as the wretched, innocent Afghan people do.

In Little Brown Dog, a fiction based on a true story of senseless cruelty but also deep compassion and bravery, one of my heroines, Lena, states:

“Our humanity will be judged by the way we treat other species, not just our own kind.”

Take heed, Mr Ben Wallace.

Cars before people