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Animal Attraction

My dog Bailey

Anyone who knows my family knows we love dogs. By any measure--and then some--our dog, Bailey, is king of the house. We are his humble servants, particularly my husband who, by T-shirt count alone, is by far the Number One dog lover in our house. I don't think he has a single T-shirt without a dog's picture on it!

So, it's no surprise that a friend gave him a subscription to Bark, "the modern dog culture magazine" whose slogan is "Dog is my co-pilot." It's a great magazine, that's been called the "The New Yorker of dog magazines." What started as a Berkeley newsletter advocating a leash-free area is now a bimonthly magazine. Its latest issue is 112 pages, so full of ads that it's got to make other magazine publishers drool.

And the ads are amazing. While there are many for such mundane items as dog food, treats, beds, collars, leashes, pills and shampoos, there are tons more for such sublime (or would people say ridiculous?) products: all-natural calming formulas to reduce pet stress, special orthopedic beds for aging dogs, all kinds of pet portraits and photos, a sterling silver dog collar--or better yet a silver necklace you can wear with your own dog's pawprint. And let's not forget the plastic dog pool to keep your hot dog cool--maybe that's where the dog is supposed to wear one of the two advertised inflatable vests for water safety.

Clearly, there's a big market for these goods and the more ads I read, the more I had to wonder: Is this the same country where consumers are wringing their hands over gasoline prices and inflation? Maybe the country is truly split--or maybe it's just gone to the dogs!

By  |  May 31, 2006; 5:31 AM ET Consumer News
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It amazes me that most dogs in wealthy countries consume more resources than people in poor countries, and I would guess the disparity is growing. It is time to re-examine our priorities.

Posted by: Lisa | May 31, 2006 9:40 AM

In this land of conspicuous consumption, nothing surprises me anymore. Barbie doll collections for kids, assortments of colored cell phone covers to match your outfit, Beanie babies, tacky yard ornaments, sunglasses for pets, McMansions and SUVs for people just entering the job market. Jeez. It's embarrassing what we spend/waste our money on. Do people actually buy those paw-print necklaces? BTW, how much does a gallon milk cost? Yes, we do need to reassess our priorities.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | May 31, 2006 9:51 AM

someone recently wrote a book that admonished dog lovers for imposing "jobs" on the dog that were clearly beyond a dog's capability; i.e., grief counselor, replacement partner, child etc.

The problem seems to be not so much that we love dogs, but more that we have created a culture that isolates people from each other, so we look to the next best thing - our ever loving, happy-go-lucky canine pets. Then, we feel the need to pay them for doing their jobs so well, hence -- water safety vests for dogs (who by their nature - swim.)

Maybe if we said hello to our neighbors more often, and let sleeping dogs lie, perhaps we can readjust our priorities?

OK, so I'm asking too much........."Com'ere Muffy."

Posted by: from Columbia MO | May 31, 2006 10:59 AM

Many people LOVE their pets.This market is growing as the Baby Boomers age and have more disposable income. Another big part of this market are people who defer parenthood; they may consider their pets to be their "children" and spend accordingly.

Posted by: June | May 31, 2006 11:04 AM

I don't consider that my love for my dogs requires that I "reassess my priorities." It's my money, I earned it, I pay taxes on it, and I can spend it any way I choose. Are "Lisa" and "Southern Md" saying everything they purchase is based on priorities? I doubt that, but I can guarantee you that dogs appreciate love given to them a lot more than many children do. And I consider it a blessing that I can afford to take care of two of God's little creatures.

Posted by: Jane | May 31, 2006 11:26 AM

Are you really amazed? Have you seen how much women will spend on shoes and handbags? At least a lot of this stuff is making other living beings happier. Dogs are like members of the family, and just as people will spoil their kids, they will spoil their dogs. With so many people wasting money on big SUVs, buying a plstic swimming pool for the pooch is really nothing to write home aboutl

Posted by: Noam | May 31, 2006 11:30 AM

I have no complaint with anyone who buying toys, etc. for their pet if it gives them a degree of peace of mind and satisfaction. That said, I believe a lot of the spending is frivilous and wasteful.

But, if you're in the group that buys more than the basic transportation needed, the "fancy" tires and wheels, the upgraded stereo, the daily cup of Starbucks with the requisite pastry, designer or branded bottled water (when you already have a filter at home or work and could easily refill a one-time purchased bottle), the group that buys designer sweaters for pets and believe the pets are as deserving of gifts the same way people are, don't complain that the price of gas went up a couple cents, a dime, or a half a buck a gallon. If you drive 20,000 miles and get about 20 mpg to the gallon, a buck a gallon increase amounts to an additional $1,000 a year for gas - a necessity. If you're spending that on your gifts for your pet, someone needs to review priorities.

Posted by: JR | May 31, 2006 11:45 AM

Yes, I do ponder very carefully before I buy anything since Ilive on one income and don't has an indulgent husband to pay the bills. I drive an 8-year-old Hyundai, which I'll drive until it dies. I buy my clothes (very infrequently) at Wal-Mart, K-Mart or thrift stores and wear them until they fall in shreds from my body. Food and clothes are the last things I buy IF anything is left after paying mortgage, utilities, commuter bus fare to work as opposed to driving 96 miles a day. I recently had to have an entire heating/AC system replaced so I'm pinching pennies everywhere else. I do not patronize Starbucks. An 89 cent refill at 7-11 works for me. My bi-weekly grocery bill is never more than $75 and I'm not starving. My parents grew up during the Depression and WWII. They taught me very strictly: Use it up, Wear it out, Make it Do, or Do Without.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | May 31, 2006 11:55 AM

Jane wrote "I can guarantee you that dogs appreciate love given to them a lot more than many children do."

How can you guarantee that? Did your dog tell you? You wouldn't be projecting your attitude toward children into your perception here would you?

I love animals too, but they're animals. I find it disturbing the way people (usually without children, but not always) increasingly humanize their pets. They talk to them like humans and treat them like humans in all other respects. I agree with what another poster opined, that this is a result of detatchment from interpersonal (human) relations.

Posted by: Father to 4 Humans | May 31, 2006 12:22 PM

The dog may appreciate human interaction, but does it really care whether its collar is plain instead of diamond-studded? There's care and affection, then there's....something else.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 31, 2006 12:44 PM

"Have you seen how much women will spend on shoes and handbags? At least a lot of this stuff is making other living beings happier."

I like my bags. I like my shoes. They make me happy. Why are my purchased morally inferior to a diamond studded dog collar?

Posted by: Bag Lady | May 31, 2006 12:48 PM

the worst part of the all the demand for cutesy pet stuff is the demand for cutesy pet dogs - people are turning dogs into tiny little fashion accessories. Try a google search on "puppy mills" - any dog lover will be shocked.

Why do people people love dogs so much? Just look at the nastiness in these posts! People are mean to each other..and judgemental.
Now, how about a piece on the cost to kids in sweatshops for all our inexpensive clothes and such?

Posted by: Steph | May 31, 2006 12:54 PM

Father to 4 Humans wrote "How can you guarantee that? Did your dog tell you? You wouldn't be projecting your attitude toward children into your perception here would you?" I agree, it's perhaps slightly illogical to purchase a studded dog collar for your pet because "Fido simply adores pink!" but have you looked at the things parents stuff their babies into? When was the last time a baby turned to you and said "Hey pops, my onesie could use a little sparkle" and yet people spend millions of dollars on baby clothes each year. How is this any less ridiculous than people buying accessories for their pets?

Posted by: law | May 31, 2006 2:06 PM

Dogs eat their own crap and drink out of the toilet, I don't think they exactly appreciate the finer things in life!

Posted by: fido | May 31, 2006 2:12 PM

"How is this any less ridiculous than people buying accessories for their pets?"

No, you're right, it's pretty much the same thing. I agree that a person is free to spend the money they earned on whatever they want and that a baby has no more appreciation for its "things" than does a dog. However, I still find it odd the way people increasingly relate to their pets in an anthropormorphic fashion. Is that a word? Well it looks good anyway!

Posted by: Father to 4 Humans | May 31, 2006 2:23 PM

My husband & I have a dog and 2 cats. I do buy toys & treats, but I feel within reason. I do draw the line on ridiculously expensive stuff, and I am able to donate a fair amount of money to animal charities instead. My pets don't care, they are very well taken care of, and I am helping other animals too. Those are where my priorities are too.

I have to admit my dog has boots for when we go on snowshoeing vacations in the winter--it gets way to cold for an old city dog--it was 15 degrees below zero this winter! I do not think that is indulgent, I think that is common sense.

Posted by: Janel | May 31, 2006 2:58 PM

I think the real sign of our distance from other people isn't our love of pets, but our love of materialism. People feel lonely and isolated so they buy things to make them feel better. Most of us do it, and I think that only we can be the judge of what's Too Much for our own lives.

Yes, I have dogs, and the one who likes to ride along in my kayak has a pfd--not because he can't swim, but because it's easier to haul him out of the river if he's floating higher.

Is his pfd a luxury? Probably, but to a lot of people, so is my kayak.

I've been reading these posts for several weeks--happy, secure people don't bicker and find fault with one another.

Enjoy life, it's short. That's my opinion.

Posted by: jsnapp | May 31, 2006 3:07 PM

For me, my dog does a job that I couldn't pay a human to do. It's hard lifting or anything, but he supplements my sensory loss and signals me to impending health problems.

I live alone and he might be the only one around to dial 911 unless I crawl outside and pass out in public and even then, I'd rather he be around to be sure I don't get hurt.

I can actually lie down in the grass without worrying about being stepped on, runover, or otherwise attacked by people I can't hear or see, because I have a dog that I absolutely trust will alert me or block off the person.

I don't understand expensive bling-bling in general. I think materialism is an issue. Like southern Maryland, I'm very frugal in my expenditures, but I consider the health and functioning of my dog very important because I depend on him.

Dogs historically evolved by scavenging garbage that people wouldn't eat. The expensive dog food right now is still basically garbage that people won't eat.

For instance, few people eat organ meat anymore, and so on-- yet they have valuable nutrients for carnivores/omnivores.

Okay. But it's absurd how overpriced those "dog treats" are. Pig ears, for instance. Steak's cheaper per lb.

Those treats are for the owner's wallet, not the dog.

I no longer buy any dog treats that are not reasonably nutritionally balanced and that I couldn't feed him 20 of in a day without killing him or making him fat.

Suitable leftovers (some human food are toxic to dogs) are safer and more tasty.

Otherwise, he gets joint supplements and vitamins as treats.

Frankly, people know they can slap any kind of "dog" label on junk and move it.

I've found lacrosse balls to be more durable and safer for the size of my dog's mouth than dog-type tennis balls.

Even an empty milk jug makes a great toy for him, and it costs me nothing extra. There's a lot of things people could do to enrich their dogs lives without spending a ton of money if only they understood how.

Posted by: Service dog user | May 31, 2006 3:26 PM

"There's a lot of things people could do to enrich their dogs lives without spending a ton of money if only they understood how"

Unfortunately, as you yourself allude to, people buy many things for their pets soley for the bling factor and not to enrich the pets' lives. Most owners who would purchase a "custom-designed replica of the Queen's crown JUST FOR DOGS" most likely wouldn't stop such purchases if they found out their dog would actually prefer a milk jug lined with peanut butter. It's for their own status, not for the pets' enjoyment.

That said, extravagant purchases for pets don't bother me. Neither do extravagant purchases for babies...or for plants...or for the extensive collection of life-like dolls I may or may not keep in my basement. Even if I occasionally find it bemusing, people are free to spend their money as they choose. I only am bothered when people seem to target pet owners as being the most ridiculous of the bunch. Whether you're purchasing a $1000, designer sweater for your pug or for your toddler, you're spending money on an extravagance. One is not inherently more laughable or "wrong" than the other.

Posted by: law | May 31, 2006 3:44 PM

Even if I had an unlimited budget, I see no reason to spend it on something that makes no difference to the pet. My cats would find a fancy bed baffling. Why should they use it when there is a nice large comfortable bed in a room dedicated to sleeping. There is even a pet human to warm it at night. Twist-ties and milk jug rings are much more fun than store-bought toys and the frustration keeps the pet human on her toes. Diamond collars are uncomfortable and attact undesirable humans. (Items that do make a difference, like a lifevest for a dog that is frequently on boats, are another thing, assuming one isn't raiding the grocery money to buy it.)

Having said that, some animals may pick up on their owners' pride in a diamond collar and appear to appreciate the collar. What really makes them happy is that the owner is happy. Fifi doesn't love pink, Fifi loves that her owner loves her in pink.

Posted by: furball | May 31, 2006 4:01 PM

While I agree that some of the stuff out there is over the top (sterling silver collars?!?!?!?), there is the issue that pets are your responsibility. It's just that some pet owners are more enthusiastic about that responsibility than others.

In the first year of her still young life, we found out our dog had a medical condition that required a bit of moderately expensive surgery.

Some people would just say put her down because she's just an animal. But she's *my* animal, and I knew when I bought her that I might have to deal with some of these issues. So she had her surgery and the one-time problem is fixed, so I have healthy dog who can do the job we bought her for - protection.

I suppose we could have chosen to not buy her and saved our moeny, but both my husband and I enjoy the fact that I have in-house protection during his various and frequent business trips.

She's rewarded for this job (an appropriate one for her species) by being well-cared for by us. This includes exercise, regular vet visits, a good quality food, a handful of toys, and obedience training.

I consider all this an even trade.

Oh yeah - I'm not sure how some folks can consider a dog subsitution for human society. If you're a responsible dog owner and take it for walks, people will come up to you and ask to pet the dog or ask you questions about it. I get more attention walking her at the park than I ever did taking my morning runs on my own!

Posted by: Chasmosaur | May 31, 2006 4:02 PM

It's my disposable income and that's how I choose to spend it.
I am not a shoe hound or a designer purse lover. Where I'd prefer to spend my extra pocket change is dog stuff. Where's the problem? It makes me happy and hurts no one.
I'm just a dog person and I know my dogs DO appreciate it when I bring home some horrid sheep organ for them as a treat. Or when I can replace that special stuffed ducky one is obsessed with and the other tore up because I have 5 of them stashed in a closet (she whines and howls and I'm a sucker).
Yeah, they have fancy sweaters and collars and a bandanna for every holiday. But I know those are really for me...that's why I bought them.

Posted by: so I have pampered pooches... | May 31, 2006 4:11 PM

After not having a dog for many years, we bought a nice one, a show-quality greyhound, while the boys were still fairly young.

Boy, what an education I got!!!

Vet expenses are through the freakin' roof, and vets are the LAST ones to advise you that the old guy needs to be put down. Dog food isn't cheap either, and we brought Gabriel up on reasonably priced bags of dry dog food. Finding someone to watch after him when we go travel is ALWAYS a problem.

Otherwise, where's the quality of life? The kids quickly came to care less about the dog than about their human friends, so it became their parents' dog. And all I do is spend my precious time walking the dog and cleaning up after him, especially now in his old age, when he frequently goes inside the house.

My reward for all this? Sometimes he drops by for a bit of petting, which I think he likes more than I do.

There was a recent article in the Atlantic that showed that dogs aren't really those lovable creatures we all seem to think they are. I feel that's right: They're just reacting to stimuli, same as any dumb creature. The heck with them. This is my last one.

Posted by: Gene | June 1, 2006 9:50 AM

Wow...Gene...I feel bad for your dog. You clearly don't seem to like them...why on earth did you get one? Dogs are like babies, if you aren't ready for the responsibilities of raising them like food, vet fees, walking them and giving them love...DON'T GET ONE. So glad that you won't be getting another. Shame on any person who fails to realize that dogs come with responsibilities that we, as the dog owner, owe to them.

Posted by: Dog Lover | June 1, 2006 3:16 PM

"vets are the LAST ones to advise you that the old guy needs to be put down"

Curse those vets for not demanding a dog be euthanized the second it becomes inconvenient!

Posted by: lindor | June 1, 2006 3:32 PM

Funny thing is, it's precisely because I love my dog so much that I won't get another one. Watching him be ignored all day and all night by the rest of the family, I just can't stand it, so I give him all the attention I can. Congratulations to those of you who truly value and love and spend lots of time with your dog, for you are truly blessed. I suspect, however, that there are far more families out there like mine for whom the dog is just a bother and someone to feel guilty about.

My dog got out and was hit by a car and was attacked viciously by two neighborhood dogs (in two separate attacks). Each time the cost to bring him out of it was ENORMOUS. People need to know that owning a dog can cost thousands of dollars over the years. Mine certainly has.

I think the emotional ties many have to their dogs (I'm looking at "Dog Lover's" testimony above here) color the way they think. I just wanted a simple dog around, like I had when I was a kid, not the tool of the pet industry that I have. I feel exploited by that industry, and it has ruined my feeling about animal ownership.

Posted by: Gene | June 1, 2006 3:59 PM

If you bought a show quality greyhound, wasn't that at least a grand alone? If money is an issue to people, I don't think they're purchasing champion-bred pups...more likely going to a shelter or an adoption fair.
I'm not too familiar with the greyhound breed, but I do know that some of the sitehounds can be more aloof than your average dog...maybe coloring your families interaction with him/her?
Besides all that, pretty much all dogs end up costing a fortune...particularly once they get on in years. That's why vet insurance is a good buy and several rescues suggest it. Mine reimburses me for my mutt's very expensive allergy medications. The amount I am reimbursed is far, far more than the premium.

Posted by: so I have pampered pooches... | June 8, 2006 2:14 PM

I completely disagree with the Columbia MO poster. I am a subscriber to Bark magazine and love it - but I have plenty of friends too (some dog people, some not). In fact, even with strangers on the street or in parks, we find that people are always coming up to us to ask about the dog so he offers opportunities for social interaction that didn't exist previously. We adopted our dog from a rescue organization so, without being overdramatic, we felt that we were helping a life that someone else had abandoned (and he, in turn, has contributed immensely to ours). And give me a break with the holier-than-thou attitude - we all know people who suck and we'd rather not hang out with. In addition, numerous studies have shown that people with animals tend to be much more social than those without. I'd never been a dog's guardian before last year when we adopted him, but now, we can't imagine life pre-dog. All of our friends and family are happy to see our little family so happy.

Posted by: Audrey | June 13, 2006 11:43 AM

Just read the post by Gene - Gene, you don't deserve your dog and your dog definitely doesn't deserve your cavalier attitude and whatever repercussions that attitude may manifest into. Our dog IS our child - but at least, you're talking about another life here! That said, because he is our child, we take care of him (sure, we buy him things) but also make sure he understands (as Cesar Millan would say), rules, boundaries and limitations. Although money isn't an issue with us, we opted to rescue our dog because there are just way too many dogs (and cats and other mistreated or abandoned animals) in shelters that are euthanized every year. If you weren't prepared to deal with all the responsibilites of being a guardian to your dog, why take it on? This isn't some toy that you buy your kids on a whim.

Posted by: Audrey | June 13, 2006 11:50 AM

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