It's a dog's life
And it's not half bad. Even in a recession, Americans bow to the slobbering, shedding, fiercely loyal king of pets.
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This is particularly true for the slobbering, shedding king of pets – the domesticated American dog.Skip to next paragraph
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Although there are more cats than dogs in the US – 93.6 million compared with 77.5 million, according to the American Pet Products Association – about half of American households have dogs, compared with the approximately 30 percent with cats. (This is because cat owners are likely to have more than one.) And perhaps because of the dog's more public status, or because of the positive personality traits we attach to the canine (there's a reason a Gallup poll found that 26 percent of cat owners describe themselves as "dog people"), it is the dog that has nuzzled his way to the forefront of our pet revolution. Love him or hate him, Fido is changing American society – in ways municipal and medical, emotional and economic, social and scientific – as never before.
AT THIS POINT, FULL JOURNALISTIC DISCLOSURE may be necessary. I am typing this article next to my Labrador retriever, Karoo, who is lying on the monogrammed, L.L. Bean bed ($104.95) I bought for him earlier this year. Although I have never taken him to doggy day care, I have used the services of a pet travel agent ($1,600, including crate and airplane ride, with a layover at KLM Royal Dutch Airline's five-star cargo pet hotel). We have also gone together to puppy socialization classes ($100), dog-training sessions (multiple $100s), dog-friendly hotels (too embarrassed to say), and dog hydrotherapy rehab (far, far more than what I'll get paid for this story).
After the pet-food recall two years ago, I upgraded to an expensive kibble ($25 for a 15-pound bag) that promises to deliver the grain-free, protein-rich goodness of bison-filled prairies.
Karoo seems to like it. Karoo also seems to like dead frogs and various other unprintable edibles.
But I keep handing over the cash – despite a year of personal finance that the experts would describe as flat-out depressing. I do this because I believe this food is healthier, and that I owe my dog the very best. Who else has stuck by my side – snuggle-ready, tail-wagging – through a career shift, a divorce, and an intercontinental move?
All of this makes me a rather predictable member of the smiling group, says Michael Dillon, an independent consultant whose Dillon Media analyzes the pet industry. Even in the recession, pet owners – especially we childless ones – continue to spend.
"The emotional bond makes this industry unique," Mr. Dillon says.
In his recent book, "One Nation Under Dog," Michael Schaffer delves into this phenomenon.
"This," he writes in an adaptation of the book in The Boston Globe, "should also matter to those of us who don't make a living operating doggie day spas. In an atomized society, the growing amount of time and money we collectively spend on pets is an indication of how much we thirst for community, leaning on animals for support once provided by other humans. And the specifics of how we treat those pets no longer just reflects what we think is appropriate for animals … the way people interact with their pets says a great deal about two-legged society."
LET'S EXPLORE THAT SPENDING part first.