I’ve been lit up all day over this article which I read over my first cup of coffee.  It began:  Pope Francis told married couples that dogs and cats are no substitutes for children—and marriages without children end with “the bitterness of loneliness.”

Do we need the Pope, or anyone, to tell us that dogs and cats are not “substitutes” for children?

I’m no longer a practicing Catholic, but I’m a fan of The Church’s new leader, the down-to-earth Pope Francis — the pope who calls himself Francis after Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Animals?  Maybe I’m touchy because I haven’t given birth, but I’m a mother and maybe it’s primarily because of this that I found his comments especially disturbing.  And out of touch.  And hurtful.  Does someone need to explain to the pope the many definitions of “family”?

My kids are grown and gone, and now I have 3 dogs.  And yet I have never, never in my whole life, seen my dogs as children, nor as children-replacements.  I just love animals.  I would like to tell the pope that I am not “bitter,” nor am I “lonely.”  I love animals and I’m doing what I can to care for them.  That care brings me joy.  Since when is that “sinful”?

“He emphasized three qualities that are important in Christian marriages—faithfulness, perseverance, and fruitfulness.  Pope Francis said Jesus does not like marriages that are sterile by choice and such marriages end in solitude.”

Excuse me, but is he kidding?

What about the couple who adore each other but can’t have children, or choose not to, for whatever their reasons, but have a dog?  Or a cat?

What about my friend Deb who dedicates every single day of the week to helping families place pets they can no longer care for?  Her life’s work is finding homes.

What about the man who has children — he’s “fruitful” — but isn’t raising them … at all?  What does the Pope think of him?

What about the woman who is running a business, or just loves animals, or is the primary caregiver for her extended family?

When I was in Florida last week, we went to dinner the first night and found Animal Control in the parking lot.  Someone had left their dog in their car.  It was 97 fucking degrees.  Thank god for the man from Animal Control.  And for the person who called them.

My stepbrother is a teacher and coach and all-around incredible guy.  He and his wife chose not to have children.  Not an easy choice.  They have dogs, and — in his words — “a few hundred children a year” to coach and teach.  Their home, and their life, is open to all.  What would Pope Francis think of them?

A family man I grew up with had a dog. He’s had many many dogs.  The man has abandoned his children.  Plural.  His dog was hit by a car, but clung to life.  He took the dog to a remote farm, dumped him from his truck bed, and drove away.  The farmer found the dog suffering and helped him to die.  Bless the farmer.

Yesterday I was walking my dog with a friend and we passed by a family’s house.  The family were in their driveway, loading up, on their way to the vet to put their 14 yr old golden retriever to sleep.  He was just diagnosed with cancer 3 weeks ago, and just that morning had not been able to stand.  It was time.  They loved him.  I have thought about them since.

It’s a big world out there, Pope Francis.  Maybe we need to redefine “fruitfulness.”  And kindness.