The unpredictable creature at the centre of a story about a monkey named Darwin is proving once again how strange it really is. We’re talking about the North American human, of course, and its propensity for turning pets into “children.” Yes, it’s attention-getting that a woman would refer to herself as the macaque’s “mother” and want to dress it in a Santa Claus outfit, but in a society in which cat and dog owners are referred to as “pet parents” and pets are “fur kids,” she is in no way outside the mainstream.
You only have to Google the words “fur kids” to see the extent to which pets in North America are treated as members of the human family. Dogs and cats no longer go to the kennel; they go to “day care.” They dress up for Halloween and are given birthday and Christmas gifts. Pet food companies routinely refer to pet owners as “parents” in their advertising and press releases. A dog that will eat its own feces and the rotting corpse of a dead animal is fed expensive, all-natural, organic foods guaranteed to contain no gluten.
Agriculture and Agri-food Canada reports, in fact, that the U.S. pet food industry is now driven by the same factors dominating the human-food business. “Consumers' tendency to humanize pets has driven premiumization in pet food and has given rise to new fortified and health-driven options for pets worldwide,” the department reports excitedly on its website. But why stop there? You can buy health insurance for your cat or dog. And on and on.
Darwin, the infant monkey that became an Internet star after it was discovered wandering around an Ikea parking lot in Toronto dressed in a faux-shearling coat and a diaper, is now in the care of a primate rescue centre. Yasmin Nakhuda, the woman who was raising Darwin and dressed him like an incontinent mountain cowboy for a trip to a furniture store, has rather valiantly expressed her love for the little monkey and her determination to keep him. She has also stated that she accepts that Darwin may be better off in a shelter, which is a good move. A young monkey is cute, especially in a blue-jean onesie, but adult monkeys are unpredictable and dangerous; they don’t belong in public the way a cat or a dog does.
But there is no reason to question Ms. Nakhuda’s maternal instincts and affection for Darwin. In North America, we love our pets and treat them like family. That Darwin is a monkey hardly makes a difference any more.