Is it wrong to call pets 'fur babies'?

A writer named Elizabeth Broadbent became offended, and wrote about it. The headline on relationships website Your Tango sums up her mood: "No, Your Dog Is Not Your 'Baby' - Saying That Is An Insult To Moms."

(Sorry about all the initial capital letters, but that's the way things are written, nowadays, on the angry internet where nothing is said quietly.)

  They're not like babies. Not at all.
Fur babies, fur kids. I often hear from people saying things like "here are photos of my fur kids" or "meet my fur babies" - a search of my inbox found at least 40 saved emails that contained the words. I've always taken these endearments to have a bit of amiable irony, a touch of self-knowing humour. Never have I thought that "fur baby" is an actual, literal statement of a pet's status in someone's life.

But I've never used fur kid or fur baby to talk about my own pets, and never put it in a headline on this blog. Why? I'll come back to that.

Let's spend a minute going through Elizabeth Broadbent's sense of offence. At bottom, she presents the insight that "dogs ain't people". Expanding on this discovery, she reveals that getting a dog is easier than getting a baby. Also, she informs readers that caring for a baby is tougher and with much higher stakes - you can mostly ignore your dog, but with a baby, your attention is constantly on it. She touches on the greater rewards in raising a child than in keeping a pet.

"Say you love your dogs," she thunders. "But don't call your dog a baby. Don't call him your 'furkid' or 'furbaby'. Because baby, it's not even close."

What do you think about this? Because I think she's missed what people mean when they say things like "my fur kids". They're not saying what she thinks they're saying. To me, it's a harmless in-joke among pet lovers. It's a self-aware way of saying that pets are a little like children - they learn and blunder, spew and poo, panic and rejoice - but they're also very different from children. It's a way people say they're committed to their pets and integrate them in their human lives.

Pet owners really, really do understand that pets are not babies. So why should anyone take offence when someone calls a pet a fur baby? Why think it's an "Insult To Moms"? (And why is it an insult to moms and not dads?)

The truth is, there's no good reason for taking offence. Alas, that's no guarantee that people won't take offence anyway. Affrontedness makes up a big part of what's said on social media; it gets up-ticked and argued over until thousands of people are having a worse day than they were having before.

So why even engage with this topic? Why spend time rebutting an argument that should probably have been left alone? Because I want to stand up for pet owners, and their commitment to their pets, and even the sometimes sugary language they use to talk about their love of animals. They get sneered at sometimes, but people who lavish love on their pets are among the good guys. They should feel good about themselves.

Which brings me to my own habits of language. I don't say "fur babies" or "fur kids", out loud or in writing. The words just aren't in my lexicon. I've never written them in any blog post since starting Four Legs Good in 2009, though Stuff's headline writers occasionally have. I also steer clear of "furry friend" and "pooch" and "doggone" and "purr-fect" - overused words that I felt raised the cliche content too high. These were just boundaries I drew to prevent the blog from sounding as though someone else had written it.

But now I might let "fur baby" and "fur kid" in. Just sometimes. Just to take sides with those good pet owners who see nothing wrong with the words, and against the offence-takers.

Join Four Legs Good on Facebook.

Head to our Facebook page for more from Stuff Life & Style