Brian opened the back door and invited Alfie into their cozy kitchen. He trotted over to his padded bed near the stove and settled down with a contented sigh and a small belch. Emma shot her husband an annoyed look.
“What? It’s cold out there,” Brian said.
“You’ll spoil him.”
“If we’re cited again, we could lose him. You should never have left him in the car with the windows up last summer.” When Emma frowned, Brian turned to Alfie instead. “It’s not like you’ll run away, will you? Where would you go?” He placed a cup of fresh water next to his bed. “She thinks you can’t understand a word we say, but you know lots of words, don’t you boy.” He patted Alfie who looked at him with large brown eyes.
“Can you understand what he says?” Emma asked, smirking.
It was a strange question, almost as strange as their interview before they brought him home. As well as answering the usual financial questions, they filled in a form that was used to match owners with their perfect companions. They indicated that they preferred a quiet companion, not too energetic but affectionate, and they were willing to do some training.
“The great thing about Alfie is that he can’t talk so he can’t criticize,” Brian said, pleased to see Emma’s raised eyebrows at his less than subtle complaint.
Alfie had turned out to be a much better companion than any pet they’d ever owned. The program had started ten years earlier when a severe world food shortage led to the outlawing of household pets. As a result of the public outcry, a viable alternative presented itself. Pet owners from affluent countries, who had previously spent billions of dollars a year on pet food and medicines, could now adopt starving climate refugees as companions. In return, they agreed to provide modest living quarters, nutritious meals, a video player (deemed environmental enrichment), and a signed contract not to mistreat in any way.
“So he’s learning your language but you don’t understand his? You might be interested to know that I found him using my iPhone today,” Emma said. “He was texting.”
“What?” Brian couldn’t hide his shock. He stared hard at Alfie, and for the first time, the adoring gaze looked more like scrutiny. His face felt warm. “He knows how to text?”
“There are no rules against it, apparently. I checked.”
Brian nodded absently. He wondered why he felt so upset by this news. Eventually he said, “I don’t feel good about him using an iPhone.”
“Aha. I thought that might bother you. I think it’s a question of loyalty, don’t you?”
“What you mean?”
“If he has internet friends, where does that leave us?”
Brian was quiet as he mulled over this statement. Emma was right. What was the point of having a pet if it wasn’t loyal? “I see what you mean. So we shouldn’t let him use an iPhone?”
“I would say not,” Emma said, pursing her lips. “That would definitely spoil him.”
The American Pet Products Association says that sixty billion dollars will be spent on pets in the US alone in 2015.