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Esther J. Cepeda Headshot

Halloween Pet Pimp Costumes: Not a Good Gauge of the Economy's Strength

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You're thinking things are going to the dogs?

Nah, things went to the dogs well before the Great Recession, and -- as if to prove that Americans have no capacity to learn from their own hubris -- we're already on our way back.

The first sign I saw was the elaborate display in the window of a particularly non-luxurious women's clothing store: a bright display of fall sweaters with matching teeny-tiny dog sweaters to accompany them.

The second sign slapped me in the face when I opened my Chicago Tribune Wednesday morning. There, gloriously, was this headline: "Sexy Halloween get-ups also available for pets" and what looks like some sort of chocolate Labrador dressed like a pimp. (I couldn't make this stuff up if I wanted to, folks.)

2009-10-29-sexychihuahua.jpg

While telling us about the multitudes of sexy Halloween pet costumes at various retailers I won't promote here, Tribune reporter William Hageman had the good sense to put it into snarky perspective for us: "Because nothing says Halloween like dressing poor little Bobo as a trollop and sending her out into the streets, does it?"

Okay, never mind that the whole idea is, well, sick, far be it from me to make light of anyone's, ummm, special relationship with their pet. But let's just all get a hold of ourselves for just a minute because I fear the fallout of this year's Great Recession has been forgotten and is now as dusty a memory as that of Black Tuesday, which occurred exactly 80 years ago -- October 29, 1929.

No one -- not even the people on the phone to the unemployment benefits hotline to see how many more weeks of checks President Obama's new appropriation would bring them -- has been sitting around reallllllly thinking about what a cultural revolution the Great Depression wrought in comparison to our recent travails.

There's not much to compare, sadly.

I will not attempt to lecture you on a topic better scholars than I have plumbed, but I do want you to ponder whether the "new normal" economists are talking about looks too damned much like the "old normal," the one where people where so awash in carefree affluence that their pets were treated to gourmet meals, designer couches and beds, and ritzy psychotherapy, even as middle and lower-income populations struggled just to get by.

Don't misunderstand: I don't hate rich people -- I'd love to be one someday. And I don't undervalue pet's roles in our human lives. At my home I have two Chihuahuas, two guinea pigs I like so much I've vowed not to roast for a family meal, two gerbils, and a rescued crawdad. Sometimes I even dress them up (though not to resemble Playboy bunnies or sexy pirates) for Halloween.

No, I'm not here to guilt trip, but to put things into context. Last year I wrote a story "Trickle-down economics: Housing crunch hits man's best friend" about the level of animals dumped at shelters, and when I checked in a few weeks ago with Animal Care League's Tom Van Winkle, things were holding steady.

The economy is inching upward. Nationally and in Chicago home sales are increasing, job slashing seems to be waning ever-so-slightly. The Chicago Community Trust's most recent "Vital Signs" report, which tracks food pantry usage, food stamp utilization by household, homelessness prevention center calls, unemployment claims, mass layoffs and foreclosure rates in the Chicago metro region looks better. Early summer appears to have been the peak for all these services with downward -- though still, unfortunately, robust -- trends starting in August.

"While there is welcome news that the unrelenting climb of these statistics has abated, one quarter does not make a trend," Terry Mazany, the President and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust told me. "And we still have to confront continued cuts at the state level, and the disappearance of the stimulus funds in another year or so."

And yes, there really are people living in their cars, campers, and storage spaces. And kids feeling the autumnal chill in too-thin hoodies.

Again, I'm not trying to bum you out, but like mom warning you not to eat too many mini Snickers bars, I have to nag to remind you that it's not all wine, roses, and sexy teddies for your Calico cat.

So trick and/or treat your pets this year but don't go overboard if you can bear it. Maybe you can split the difference and donate some canned food to your local food depository or something. Something. At the very least, just stop and think about all those who aren't doing as well as you.

And to answer your burning question about how I will be costuming my menagerie of pets this year? All hobos, of course.

Esther J. Cepeda writes about chihuahuas, poverty, and much, much more on www.600words.com