“Las my testimony, my confession, my investigation into a new narrative scheme of family, which can also be built around an animal. I venture onto a border, without knowing precisely whether it separates two truly distinct worlds: that of men and that of animals, that of motherhood and property, that of normality and that of scandal.” Thus the French veterinary surgeon Hélène Gateau, 42 years old, presents his book on Instagram. Yes, it’s already a scandalous book. Is titled Because I chose to have a dog (and not a child)” (Pourquoi j’ai choisi d’avoir un chien (et pas un enfant). And it is dedicated to Colonel, the border terrier she adopted four years ago, after separating from her husband.
“Why I chose to have a dog (and not a child)”. A book that provokes discussion. Not just France
The book therefore addresses a central question. In Italy as in France (where 60% of French people with pets are aged between 25 and 34, the age in which they most often become parents). And that is the special bond that you can have with a pet in a historical phase of birth crisis. Can the maternal instinct be turned towards a dog? Is there a limit in this love that is being overcome? And why is this happening?
«Loyal and reliable partner, the dog can also fill the lonelinessespecially in an individualistic society”, explained Hélène Gateau in an interview with Madame Figaro. «More than others, the French have a particular relationship with the dog breed, ever since Louis XIV who was passionate about dogs». But there is another explanation: «There is my explanation: the dog replaces the son I don’t have».
In France, Gateau recalls, women without children but surrounded by dogs were called “mémères à chiens”. A rather offensive expression. Today something has changed and the choice of «wanting to look after a dog, because it forces you to have fewer constraints than a child» can be expressed freely.
Gateau adopted Colonel after her divorce from her husband (after 10 years of marriage). “And she changed my life,” she says. “I began to have a different pace in caring for him, to the point that some people around me found it a bit excessive.” The woman therefore questioned herself, she questioned herself. «Colonel had an important place in a crucial phase of my life. At the end of a love story and in this crucial age, at the beginning of the forties, when the question of children still arises. For my part, I never wanted to have one, not even when I was married. I preferred to adopt Colonel. I made the choice to be more individualistic and to give priority to my way of life, my freedom».
The maternal instinct towards a dog
The question is whether this bond is comparable to the maternal instinct. «Yes», is the author’s answer. «It plays on the same mechanisms of the classic maternal instinct. From a hormonal, biochemical, neuronal point of view, what I am experiencing is very close to mother-child attachment. It is typical of human beings to have this need to take care of someone else besides themselves, the famous care. Caring for an animal is an outlet for our educational desire».
The difference is that when you become a mother you have to accept many risks. While Hélène Gateau, living with Colonel, she does not have to challenge his “need for control” nor the “fear of the unpredictable aspects of life”. For example, detachment. «When you have a child, you see yourself aging faster. With Colonel it will never be like this because I will be the one to accompany him until the end. The strange thing is that a dog lives until 18 years old, more or less the age when the child leaves the house and his parents. It’s quite surprising.”
Society struggles to accept that a woman, or a man, would prefer to have a dog rather than a child. «The freedom we allow ourselves arouses criticism, questions and even jealousy. I choose a life that it is not that of perpetuation of the species, which is also why it is disturbing».
The veterinarian admits: «It’s true that when I say to my dog “Come visit mommy” I can make him smile. I turn to him like a mother addresses her child. I use high intonations, short words, sentences with rough construction. I may seem ridiculous, but human beings do this when they address a living being that does not possess verbal language.”
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