Your pets would really appreciate some space, thank you

Clingy owners don’t realize how much they’re stressing out their critter companions

I used to spend my mornings roaming around my owner’s condo in silence, left with nothing but peace and tranquility. Sure, space is tight, but I’ve discovered every nook, cranny and dusty corner that’s the perfect setting to accompany my naps and scheduled bathings. I had always felt as though I was living on a cloud, floating high in the Toronto sky without a care in the world. Until my owner started working remotely. I didn’t think much of it at first; in fact, I thought I might like the additional company and cuddles. Within a couple days, he had moved his creaky desk set-up into the den that I loved so much and shut his bedroom door behind him.

Things ran smoothly for a week or two, until my owner made the egotistical assumption that I wanted to be in the room with him 24/7 while he was working. He shifted my beloved pillowy cat bed into the den along with the rest of my toys and dignity. I have never felt such claustrophobia in my life. After so many years together, I thought we were the perfect match; now, my mind is polluted with dark thoughts. A year and a half later, there’s nothing I want more than for my owner to leave to go to Whole Foods and never return.

Whether it’s family stress, a condescending boss or the effects of a recent breakup, pets often serve as the emotionally supportive best friend that’s always there to listen to their humans. However, self-centred owners are quick to assume that the pet they love so much, loves them equally in return.

While a cuddle at night or quick conversation with them at dinner is reasonable, many owners take it upon themselves to impose their entire life’s details on their poor pets.

Animal psychologist and rat snake owner Linda Parakeet said an over-attentive owner can cause severe psychological stress to household pets, who need the boundary of their own downtime.

“Emotional dumping and catastrophic clinginess causes turmoil for many animals, who find themselves caught between their love for their owner and their desperate desire to be left alone indefinitely,” she explains.

All this time, I had wondered whether I was the weird one for not being able to tolerate my owner’s incessant neediness. But Parakeet made me realize that a lot of other household pets feel the same way. When Dino, a five-year-old bearded dragon, was brought home from an Oakville PetSmart as a baby, he was incredibly excited. His owner Herbie was a single man whose greatest passions were dinosaurs and sudoku. Initially, Herbie was deeply respectful of Dino’s me-time.

“My terrarium was euphoric,” Dino recalls. “My bowl was always filled and the only time I had to deal with my owner was when he was frustrated over a sudoku game. Luckily, those outbursts of rage never lasted long.”

Unfortunately for Dino, everything changed after the perpetually single Herbie found his perfect match on Bumble. Shortly after being introduced to his owner’s new partner, Bonnie, Dino soon found himself being referred to as their “child,” their “perfect baby boy” and, occasionally, their “little peanut.” In addition to these new names, the couple also started taking Dino out of his enclosure to spend more time with them, cramped on their white Ikea loveseat as a family. After years of independence, he says the constant affection has become too much for him.

Dino, who is consistently hungry at exactly 6 p.m. and doesn’t enjoy the “unsophistication” of reality TV, has had to undergo massive shifts in dynamics since becoming the centrepiece of a couple madly in love. His owners have now included him in their weekly Monday night viewings of The Bachelor, pushing his nightly feeding time back a few hours so that the “wholesome family” can eat together and bond over feeling superior to the desperate contestants.

“Sometimes they even ask me who I think will get the rose that week, as if I’ve been listening at all,” Dino laments.

For some pets, reality TV and copious amounts of “bonding time” may seem like a paradise. But others, like Dino, are not as lucky and are forced to go the extra mile for their owner without their consent.

“I just want my personal boundaries to be respected. Just because I’m a bearded dragon, doesn’t mean I’m their ‘little peanut’ that no longer needs me-time,” he says. Last Halloween, one-year-old mouse Nibbles was too small to fit into a Halloween costume. Instead of dressing up together, Nibbles and her owner, Lizzie, stayed home and ate copious amounts of sunflower seeds and mini Kit Kat bars while watching Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge.

This year, however, Lizzie has made the spontaneous and unwavering decision that Nibbles will be dressing up as a block of cheddar cheese.

“She thinks it's so ironic and hilarious but the costume is so heavy and hot,” says Nibbles. To make matters worse, Lizzie has decided to go a step further and find an accompanying cracker costume so the pair can hit their hometown of Richmond Hill as cheese and crackers.

“It’s not that I’m totally against it,” Nibbles explains. “I get that she doesn’t have many friends. I just think she’s a bit old to be dressing up anyways.”

Nibbles says her relationship with her owner has been incredibly co-dependent since Lizzie moved to downtown Toronto for university two years ago. The pair have been inseparable, dealing with all of life’s challenges together and keeping each other company during many lonely nights.

But just like Lizzie, Nibbles has grown up since they first moved away together and has begun to establish her own sense of independence. Dressing up for Halloween feels very juvenile for the maturing mouse, especially when accompanied by her overly-attached cracker.

“My boundaries were completely thrown out the door, alongside any consideration for the fact that I don’t even really like cheddar cheese,” Nibbles says. “I would much rather be a buttery brie.” As I try to cope with over-exposure to my own owner, I find myself chewing on any loose cords I can find and scratching the sofa with my claws until the stuffing pokes out. I expected him to be angry after I destroyed his third pair of headphones, but my owner doesn’t seem to be getting the hint. I’m exhausted trying to make him notice my frustration and even more exhausted scratching the sofa during every waking hour. I wish things would go back to the way they were, when I was alone and my owner was far, far away.

The harsh reality that your beloved companion may not love you as much as you thought can be crushing. Amidst the drama and chaos of life, having someone there for you whenever you need is comforting. Nevertheless, your pet almost certainly can’t take it anymore. As easy as it is to turn their meows, barks, croaks or squeaks into signs of admiration, take a step back and reconsider before you push them to the breaking point. Do they want to watch you work at your desk for eight hours? Do they really care if Jessica gets the rose? Do they enjoy wearing itchy, acrylic Halloween costumes? And, most importantly, have you given them any alone time this week?