Joe Pisani (opinion): The reign of cats and dogs

This artwork by Mark Weber refers to cat and dog owners.

This artwork by Mark Weber refers to cat and dog owners.

Mark Weber

After reading Pope Francis’ comments about people who prefer having pets to kids, I did some serious soul-searching about dogs, cats, my four daughters, goldfish and the future of humanity.

I’m afraid I may be one of those people the pope was talking about who loves his dog more than kids, so I got to thinking that perhaps my wife and I should turn over an old leaf and consider procreating again to reverse the declining birth rate.

I know it sounds crazy. That’s what my wife told me too, in addition to a few other choice words I can’t repeat in a family newspaper. But these are trying times because many Americans aren’t planning to have offspring.

I tried to explain to her that, sure, we have four daughters, along with a dog who counts as our fifth daughter, but what’s wrong with going for two more daughters ... and maybe a cat for good measure?

Then, I told her about the headline that warned, “Don’t choose pets over children, Pope Francis says as birth rates drop.”

People all over the world got worked up by that story, but from what I can gather, the pope didn’t say it the way it was reported and re-reported countless times.

One news organization said: “Pope Francis lamented that many couples are choosing to have more pets than more children, saying it ‘takes away our humanity.’”

The pope’s comments incited an outcry from childless men and women committed to their chihuahuas and pit bulls, and from people who wondered why priests can’t get married and increase the depleted population.

The complaints on social media spread faster than Omicron:

  “I just heard what the pope said about people who choose to be dog parents instead of having human kids. Aren’t there more pressing issues?”

  “My dog is my child.”

  “I love my dog, and he’s much more well-behaved and costs me less money than any spoiled human child.”

According to the fact-checkers I read (America magazine and Snopes), the pope didn’t actually say it that way. Unfortunately, fact-checkers at some news outlets never fact-checked their own people because they were probably too busy still fact-checking Donald Trump. As a result, the headline, “Pope says choosing pets over kids is selfish” made its way around the world and back again.

As an editor once told me, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.” Of course, he was joking ... at least I hope he was. He believed in a fundamental principle: Don’t invent news and don’t write stories that misrepresent what actually happened.

Despite the brouhaha, the pope raised an important issue. He encouraged parents to “take the risk of welcoming children biological or adopted” and said parents often have “dogs and cats that take the place of children.”

Guilty as charged. Our four kids complain all the time that we treat our dog Bella as a fifth daughter. They don’t read my column, so I can tell you this. However, I’m convinced my doggie daughter WOULD read my column if someone taught her how. She already knows 300 words, and I generally use only 350, so her canine reading comprehension would be as good as that of most adults.

We love her, and more than once, I’ve said, “I wonder if we would’ve had kids if we had the dog first.” My wife doesn’t answer, and I prefer not to answer on the grounds that it might incriminate me.

Dogs and cats accept us for who we are. They don’t start grumbling that we ruined their lives or they wished they’d never been born or why can’t they have a car, a phone or a spring break vacation in Cancun. Dogs and cats keep loving unconditionally as long as you feed them once in a while.

(Don’t tell my kids, but I’m seriously considering the example of Leona Helmsley, who left $12 million to her Maltese, Trouble.)

Nevertheless, the pope’s comments got me thinking:

1. Will our cats and dogs be there for us in our old age?

2. Why can’t our kids be as obedient and respectful as dogs, cats and ferrets?

3. Let me be blunt. Our dog doesn’t sneak out at night to smoke weed in the high school parking lot.

4. Would President Joe Biden support tuition reimbursement to send our kids to dog obedience school?

There’s one thing the pope didn’t mention: Most parents say their grandchildren are the love of their life ... and you need to have kids to have grandkids. It is, as they say, “the sweetness at the bottom of the pie.”

Former Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time Editor Joe Pisani can be reached at