Last week, Boston Globe reporter Jeff Harder released a piece titled “How We Got to Be Such Shameful Dog Vandals.” Harder is a dog lover who certainly explains his two special pooches (at the time of the article Biff was planning a Bulldog birthday party), but some of his suggestions about American dog owners come across as pretty harsh. The feedback from Reddit users in the Boston area and around the country has been all unanimous.
Dog parents seem to feel that as long as one has the means to “spoil” their pet, what’s the harm? The Reddit feed is full of users asking what they really mean when it comes to a dog. Is offering products that promote better health such as orthopedic mattresses and gourmet foods “spoiling”?
How about services like doggy day care, massage therapy, and professional grooming? One could make the argument that all of these luxuries also benefit the dog’s healthy exercise and mental stimulation at daycare, pain relief from massage, and healthy skin and coat from grooming.
Providing these extras to our pets is a rapidly growing phenomenon. Harder focuses on stats that show American pet owners are spending more than $60.6 billion this year, compared to $17 billion in 1994.
One Redditer pointed out that the article fails to explain these totals. First, the $60 billion includes what we spend on “pets,” not just dogs. Does this include horses that are notoriously expensive to care for? How about expensive home aquarium systems? Also, this amount definitely includes veterinary expenses, food and other necessities that hardly constitute an excess.
Some of the products this article used as examples of “spoiling” included strollers and sweaters. A few people on the Reddit feed pointed out examples of how buying these products for their dogs were anything but examples of petting.
One user described shoving her elderly dog around in a stroller after he became too sore to go for his walk. In this way, she was still able to give him the experience of enjoying the outdoors in his last days. Without the pram, this would not have been possible due to the weight of the dog.
Another wrote about the very practical use of strollers in a city where most residents must walk along several blocks of asphalt to get to any green space for their pup to enjoy. Asphalt is extremely warm in the summer, and icy in the winter.
In the matter of sweaters, a Reddit user discussed visiting the vet with a beagle. The dog was constantly shaking, and the author was worried about arthritis pain. The vet suggested it might just be a cold. Beagle now turns to his father with joy at the sight of his jacket, no longer shivering in the cold weather.
Another hot button issue for readers was a quote from Raymond Coppinger, Professor of Biology at Hampshire College and author of the forthcoming book, How do dogs work?. Coppinger said, in part, “The average dog in America certainly has a better life, because of the money, than the average child in Syria these days.”
While no one would argue that the suffering of people in less fortunate socioeconomic conditions than Americans is tragic, they ask what does that have to do with our dogs? Is Coppinger suggesting that if we were less obsessed with our young, we would be more inclined to donate this disposable income to global relief efforts?
Reddit users dismiss this seemingly unrelated relationship and point out that dog owners tend to be charitable. First, they opened their homes to a less fortunate creature, offering their hard-earned money to take care of it. Secondly, those who have adopted or rescued their dogs have already contributed to a charitable organization and are more likely to support this group and others in the future.
Readers on Reddit also point out that any nonessential passion can be targeted in the same way. Mentalfloss.com reported that Americans spent $10.7 trillion on shopping last year, broken down further into subcategories.
For example, we spent $96 billion on beer in 2014. Beer is a non-essential item that, let’s face it, hasn’t done much for the progress of the human race. However, Americans spent $30 billion more on beer than they would on par everyone Combine pet care and pet products this year. Being a dog lover and an American, I am most concerned about that statistic!
Coppinger went on to share the somewhat radical view that the American obsession with dogs is a passing fad, much like the previous generation’s pampering of their horses. It suggests that our canine madness is not only unnecessary, but also harmful to us dogs. He uses rising obesity rates and increasing mental health problems to make his point.
Eric Asadourian of the environmental research group, Worldwatch Institute, agrees with Coppinger, and takes his opinion one step further. He believes that if America is going to experience a catastrophic economic crash, we will finally be able to distance our dogs from themselves. He suggests that our domestic dogs will soon become the next wolves in packs and types of food to survive. The number of pets abandoned during the last recession is used as the basis for this scenario.
Pet lovers on Reddit deny that this could be the case. With the vast majority of us considering family dogs, we might cut back on luxuries, but throw them away to save ourselves? never.
The article refers to a recent Harris Poll in which 96% of dog owners currently consider them to be members of the family. We enjoy good things for our family, and we enjoy being able to give them everything and more than ever before.
If you think about it, even items and services we give our dog that can’t be construed as beneficial to their health like Halloween costumes, diamond studs and wealthy mediums, still serve an important purpose. They make dog lovers happy.
In a world where we work longer hours for fewer benefits, enjoying the spoils of our labor is essential to our physical and mental well-being. Some treat themselves to a few beers with the guys, others play golf every weekend to unwind, and dog lovers “spoil” their pups. Let’s not forget that studies have shown that pets reduce our blood pressure and help extend our lifespan.
So if throwing your dog at a birthday party makes you happy, who says it’s inappropriate? If paying to have a luxury daycare service to pick your dog up every morning while you’re at work gives you peace of mind, it’s not a business but your own. Being such passionate and loyal dog owners is an American indulgence that seems to do far better than harm for everyone involved.
H/T to The Boston Globe
Featured image via @Lynzilu77