Being a good pet parent does require time, energy, and money. I have veterinary insurance on most of my crew, happily pay extra for natural food, have a pet-sitter, and get nickeled and dimed by landlords, airlines, hotels, etc., in a way that would be illegal to do with kids. I’m behind on work today because the puppacita has a tummy ache and wants to be held, which makes typing difficult. The goal is not to raise productive members of society or construct some sort of old-age insurance policy, but simply to make a pet happy and healthy, to care for it in a way that extends that healthy life, and to soothe any memories of past trauma for rescues.

In return, many are loyally by your side whether you’re fighting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s nuclear program or simply cleaning the casa. Many will teach you what unconditional love is, even my sweet old silly rat. But the point is not about what they give you back — a fish may be excited to see you, but isn’t going to cuddle. It’s about making a creature’s time on Earth, whatever the lifespan, happier, safer, more enjoyable.

I recently took the puppacita in for her annual checkup, and the vet tech asked if she was scared by the previous night’s thunderstorm. I noted that thunder used to scare her, but doesn’t anymore. “That’s because she knows she has a forever home,” the tech said. I never thought of it that way, but keep thinking about that hypothesis. Who doesn’t love some warmth and security?

Pets play an invaluable role in our lives. We play a valuable role in theirs. It’s about giving, not taking, and about loving and learning. It’s not about substituting them for any other type of being. It’s about loving and caring for a wonderful creature for exactly what it is — whether a rodent, a cat, a snake, a bird (St. Francis’ fave), or a tiny pound puppacita.

Also read: The Top 4 Reasons I Don’t Have Kids