I am in a very privileged profession. What other professionals are you primarily motivated to visit because of love? Family doctor? No. Lawyer? Ha. Accountant? Double ha. Dentist? Triple ha. The list goes on. In fact, the only other similar profession I can think of is pediatrics. I have often joked with my kid's pediatrician that I practice furry four-legged pediatrics, or he practices hairless two-legged veterinary medicine. For sure many veterinary clients (and parents of children?) are also motivated by a sense of duty, a desire to do the right thing or even feelings of guilt, but the basic driver is usually love.
This is where the conversation can become awkward around people who don't have pets. Love? Really? Isn't that a bit overblown? Too sentimental? A sign that they are lacking human love? No, no and no. Forgive me if I am, as the saying goes, preaching to the choir, but the following is for the benefit of the occasional non pet owner (can I call them muggles?) who stumbles on this blog and thinks, "wtf?"
Part of the problem is language. English is a wonderful, rich and expressive language, but it has some gaps. We have an exhaustive list of words to chose from when it comes to describing and naming objects, but rather less when it comes to relationships and emotions. Think for example about the word "uncle". In English this can describe your parent's brother, or it can describe the random dude your parent's sister was briefly married to. It can even sometimes describe an older male family friend. There are many languages that have distinct titles for each of these, but may not have separate words for all the different kinds of car shapes or shoes styles or couch configurations. I'll let you draw your own conclusions regarding what this says about our culture.
In any case, so it is with the word love. There should be more words to describe all the kinds of love. Does your love for your parents feel the same as the love you feel for your spouse? Or your children? Or your siblings or best friends? They are all closely related emotions, but they are not the exact same. So it is with the love many people feel for their pets. If we're stuck with this one word, "love", then it has to be big and it has to be inclusive. Comparisons between the different flavours of love are not useful. Sure, in a "Sophie's Choice" nightmare scenario all of you would chose to save your child at the price of losing your dog or cat (or almost all of you... most of the time...), but that is never a real life choice.
With respect to it being sentimental, yeah, I suppose it can be. So what? Isn't the appreciation of much of what makes life worth living often somewhat sentimental? Good music, movies, art and literature all make use of emotional response to draw you in and involve you. Loving and appreciating the company of a pet is broadly similar. Can you imagine a world where sentiment was banished and everything had to be cold and practical?
And as to the love people feel for their animals indicating the need to fill a void, this has been amply proven false for the majority of cases. There certainly are many lonely people who find solace in the company of their pets, but pet owners represent the widest cross-section of society, including many of the most gregarious and outgoing "people people". In fact, my experience has been that the more capacity a person has to love an animal, the more capacity they often have to love people too.
Both Edwin and Parsnip did ok. I won't say that it was the power of love that made them better, but it certainly didn't hurt either.
"We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals."