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Have a kid who won’t answer your texts? Send a picture of the family pet

With their three kids off at college or working, Lori and Bill Beizer will text photos of cats Ruby and Max to get their attention. Pet photos, parents say, often get an instant response.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

All our problems should be so easily solved. In Cambridge, longtime therapist Kyle Carney has nearly foolproof advice for clients who complain that their college-age and adult kids don’t answer texts.

Shhhh. Don’t tell the children, but here’s the trick: Text a picture of the family pet.

“Sad to say but these are the lengths one goes to get a response,” Carney said, speaking from both professional and personal experience.

Yes, it’s true. Parents have been reduced to using Fido as clickbait.

Petless families may have no idea all this pexting is going on — and even many who resort to it think they’re the only ones stooping this low — but it’s actually hard to find a parent with a pet and a far-flung kid who is not engaged in the behavior, and for good reason.


While parental texts conveying eminently reasonable messages or questions disappear into the void, pet photos typically trigger an instant “hahahaha” or a heart emoji.

Dogs and cats (and bunnies and hamsters) are shown peeking from under desks, lying on their backs with their paws in insanely cute positions, peering plaintively from a cage, leaving the groomer with comically fluffy fur.

The pet can be used as a scout, a pressure-free way to say, “Are you alive?” or to create a togetherness moment for a widely dispersed clan.

In Newton, with three kids off at college or working, Bill Beizer and his wife post photos of felines Max and Ruby to the family group chat.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

In Newton, with three kids off at college or working, Bill Beizer and his wife post photos of felines Max and Ruby to the family group chat.

No matter the pose — sleeping, cuddling, or just staring out a window — the vibe is the same.

“It’s a stress-free communication for all,” Beizer said. “There are a lot of things I don’t like about technology, but this is nice.”

A Harris Poll found that 95 percent of pet owners think of their animals as family. The poll didn’t get into it, but it is almost certainly true that the pet is the relation with the lowest negatives, a comparatively uncomplicated being everyone can love.


A Brookline therapist who treats college students said she’s been struck by the number of patients who spend the session talking about how much they miss the animals back home.

“On one hand, I feel like it is a more manageable and identifiable longing than the sort of global ‘I miss my parents, I miss my routines, I miss knowing where everything is,’ ” said the therapist, who requested anonymity to protect her patients’ privacy.

“On the other hand,” she said, “I think it really is what they miss. It’s a very uncomplicated bond.”

Many animal texts also tell a different story, one in which the longing flows in the other direction, from parent to child.

When Micaela Bennett-Smith, a religious studies major at Boston University, gets pictures of her cat from her parents — with a caption reading “Kitty misses you!” — she understands the real message.

“It means, they miss me,” she said.

As a group, pets are pretty straightforward, but the same can’t be said of all humans, many of whom see no issue in using guileless animals for their own purposes.

“The dog is currency,” said Boston-area publicist Wendy Pierce.

When her teenage daughter was at a college program in Rhode Island this past summer, and not sharing a satisfying level of detail about her daily life, Pierce withheld photos of Percy, an 8-year-old rescue dog.


When the flow of info resumed, so did the shots of Percy’s soulful hazel eyes. “I would pay her in dog photos,” Pierce said.

In Washington state, Adriann Braiker uses what might be called the Trojan Morkie Poo strategy with the family’s Maltese, Yorkie, and poodle mix when trying to reach her son, Zach Braiker, in Watertown.

For example: When she sent him a fuzzy blanket and didn’t hear back, she unleashed the golden-furred Sonny, with a caption: “I love that cuddly blanket. What do you think?”

Reached by a reporter at work in Boston, Zach, CEO of Refine + Focus, a marketing strategy firm, said he understands what his mother is up to — and appreciates her tactics.

“She knows there’s a certain amount of time when I’m not responsive and she has to find another way in,” he said.

Sonny, it’s time for your close-up.

“She’s aware of ‘mom guilt,’ ” he said, “and doesn’t want to be accused of using it.”

OK, can we talk about “mom guilt” for a moment? It’s such a common theme in the texting conversation that humorist Dan Zevin , author of “Very Modern Mantras: Daily Affirmations for Daily Aggravations,’’ came up with a mantra.

“I will not guilt my offspring for ghosting me,” he said. Then added: “Chant three times with each unanswered text.”

Meanwhile, at Tufts University, a senior whose mom sends videos of the family Portuguese water dog, Lila, made a confession to warm any parent’s heart.


Lena Novins-Montague said that although she likes watching Lila chase her tail, or lie on her parents’ bed with her head on the pillow, the dog is not the true draw. It’s that she can hear her mother’s narration.

“I miss her,” she said. “Her voice is why I watch.”

Beth Teitell can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @BethTeitell.