If any one of us were to be poisoned by tainted food, our loved ones could probably get some compensation should we die as a result. Some animal lovers are wondering if the same applies to the family pet, especially in light of the contaminated pet food that has already killed dozens of dogs and cats.

Several states have laws that define Fido & Fefe as personal property and NOT your next of kin. In the eyes of the law, they are considered no different really than a stereo or a sports car.

Some people are trying to change that, arguing that pets can become true extensions of a family unit. Getting a basic reimbursement for vet bills, pet food, and any burial costs is just not acceptable for many. They want compensation for emotional distress, and slowly, some courts are granting it.

Jon Katz has authored books on the changing relationship between dogs and people. He professes that it is the changing nature of how we relate to our pets over the last couple of decades that has led us to this elevated treatment of household animals.

Don’t get me wrong. I like all of our pets, from our Labrador to the python. My family and I take good care of them. We nurture them, protect them. But they are not in our wills, nor are they seen as completely irreplaceable. We recently suffered through the death of a dog that had been IN the family for 15 years. She was IN the family. But she was not a family MEMBER. There is a huge difference. We weren’t planning a college fund for her nor revolving every moment of our lives around her. We grieved her death, certainly. We have a picture of her on the mantle, to remind us always what a good companion and protector she was. But life went on. It was not the death of a parent or a child.

This brings me to a story in the news of an elderly couple that committed suicide in India over the death of their dog of 13 years. SUICIDE?!?! Oh come on now. It was a DOG. A DOG. I predicted correctly that this was a childless couple. My experience finds that most people who are especially fanatical about their pets ARE, in fact, childless. They adopt the dog or cat or bird as their “kid” and even refer to themselves as Mommy and Daddy when they come home from a long day at work.

Do you think your grandparents called their pets their children? Do you think most of them SLEPT and ATE and WORKED and PLAYED with their dog or cat 24/7 the way many people do today? Nope. They were pets, loyal and lovable. But PETS nonetheless.

This is where we went wrong. Restaurants for dogs, Bed & Breakfasts for cats, day care for the Cockatiel. We once acquired pets for companionship, service, and protection. Now we acquire them to be our psuedo-spouses and children.

My words of advice: Be gentle and protective and loyal to your pets. But if you ever start thinking that the ownership of an animal is the same, or even CLOSE to being the same, as parenting a child…maybe it’s time to give the birds and the bees a try and have a child of your own. Maybe then you will truly understand unconditional love, and unconditional grieving as well, and not just think that you do.