Adoration for pets has been around since Greek and Roman times. The Greeks embalmed beloved cats, and Romans wild about their monkeys and Maltese dogs would dress them in expensive clothes and gold jewelry when they died. During the Manchurian Dynasty, some women breast fed Pekinese puppies along with their children.
So, maybe it's only fitting that today's boomers also give their pets, particularly their dogs, the royal treatment. Or not.
We (naturally, the royal "we") indulge our hounds with Gucci leashes, diamond-studded (yes, real) collars, and matching master and doggie outfits. We dye their hair, and wheel them around in baby carriages. Ever been to Boca Raton, FL? There seem to be more itsy-bitsy canines in strollers than babies, with empty nesters behind the "wheel."
We treat our dogs to pawdicures (pedicures with colored nail polish) and pet spas with treadmills, and sign them up for door-to-door daycare. We enroll in "Ruff Yoga" classes, where masters and dogs practice side by side, and send them surfing. Want more action? How about summer camp for dogs and owners?
Homo sapiens, we have gone off the deep end!
Lest you write me off as one of those who sniffs disapprovingly when a dog approaches, I happen to adore them -- and have owned two long-lived beauties. I was devastated nine months ago when Isabella, my beloved Springer Spaniel, died. With my three adult children settled in disparate parts of the country, Isabella was my constant companion and best buddy. I am as gaga over this species as the next boomer gal.
I just can't grasp this pets-as-humans concept. The other day, I was waiting in line at the airport. The woman behind me turned to her dog and said, "Come on, Chloe, Mommy has to go potty." They trotted off to the restroom.
I know someone from Chicago who flew to Boston with his dogs to get them blessed at a special church ceremony. An entrepreneur in the same city bought 10 ice cream trucks so he could travel to dog parks and hawk doggie ice cream. Wouldn't you know the most popular flavors: Puppernutt and Puppermint.
When my hair stylist lived in Florida, he attended several Bark Mitzvahs (parties a la Bar Mitzvahs for when a dog turns 13). And, in Brazil, veterinarians perform cosmetic surgery on pets. You can buy a French chateau ($6,000-$11,000) with flower boxes, air conditioning, a Versailles bed, wooden floors and track lighting.
In an abysmal economy, the dog business is thriving. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent $48.35 billion on their pets last year, and that figure is expected to jump to $50.84 billion this year. (In 1996, pet owners parted with a mere $21 billion.)
Pets have always been special to people. They're loyal, nonjudgmental, and terrific company. We also know they can help those with emotional problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, loneliness, anxiety, and high blood pressure and some dogs can detect cancer in human.
It makes sense that we can use the same sophisticated surgery to extend their lives that we have for our own. And, that a caring vet can help a judge decide in contested cases which divorced "parent" the family dog should live with (or suggest joint custody).
But not this: I once wrote a story about a record producer who collaborated with an "animal communicator." They produced a CD designed to ease a dog's separation anxiety when its owner went out. The songs on the tape were chosen by the animal communicator, who ran the tunes and words by the dogs, picked the ones they reacted to best, then had the producer create the recording.
No doubt it will go platinum.