Pets are the new...kids?
Recently while shopping for a new truck I had a specific list of requirements: Tundra, dark color, decent price, solid engine, within my budget…and absolutely positively 4 door! Why 4 door? Not because I have children or because I am prone to shuttling large groups of friends around. Nope. I need a back seat to accommodate a combined 140 lbs of rambunctious canine. But just having a back seat wasn’t sufficient since Yukon’s special needs require an easy path in and out. So I searched for weeks and finally found what I thought looked like a good prospect. So I went, negotiated, and inspected. I circled the truck checking out all its features and details weighing the pros & cons of the higher mileage truck that was in good shape but pushing my planned budget. Then when I opened the back door I caught sight of a little plastic tab poking out from under the seat, just begging to be pulled. I found myself ridiculously excited as I pulled the little tag and watched the whole back seat fold and tumble forward leaving a huge expanse of open space. And conveniently the folded seat doubled as a barricade between the front and back seat. SOLD! A few days later I was shopping for a new harness and noticed a lot of them come with seat belt attachments. For a moment I dismissed the idea thinking to myself “Right?! Like I’m gonna wrestle them into one spot long enough to snap them in. And then listen to them whine the whole drive” And suddenly realized this is exactly how parents felt when child seats became mandatory. These days I can’t imagine anyone putting a baby in a car without one.
With more people going to college and hitting the workforce immediately after they are waiting longer to marry and ultimately to have children. But the pet owning population is growing by leaps and bounds. According to HSUS approximately 62% of households have at least 1 pet, and the average household spends at least $500 a year on that pet. That added up to a whopping $61 Billion in 2011! Those of us in the pet industry couldn’t be happier. Don’t get me wrong- no one walking, vetting, training, or photographing dogs is rolling in the dough. But it is a line of work with a world of emotional reward and its great to see so many pet professionals supported. Once upon a time people took the children to day care when both parents had to work, and Fido was left in the back yard to entertain himself. Now doggie daycares can be found in every neighborhood. It used to be that when the family took a vacation Fido was left at a kennel-in a small, sterile cage with the necessities of food and water. These days more and more folks are taking pet friendly vacations and even if their pets can’t come they are no longer banished to a cold sterile box. Pet resorts offer all the comforts of home, or a luxury spa! Spacious rooms, pedicures, massage, salon, pool, activities, and even pet friendly television. Plus, the worrisome traveler can often check in on their furry one via webcam. To my delight more and more families are including their pets in the family portraits. Contrary to popular belief the majority of my work includes the whole family, not just the furry members. WC Fields once said “never work with children or animals.” No doubt photographing pets and kids offers unique challenges but they are absolutely the most fun! Most pet professionals from groomers to veterinary offices have adopted the terms “mom” or “dad” when referring to pet owners. In fact the latest census figures show more pets living at home (78 million) than kids under the age of 18 (~72 million). And apparently when it comes to divorce people are just fighting like cats and dogs- they are fighting over them. Legal eagles are reporting a steep rise in pet custody cases.
Saying goodbye is no doubt one of the hardest parts of loving a pet and even the way we do that has changed in recent years. The days of Ol’ Yeller are gone. When I lost my precious Shadow to cancer years ago my boss was kind enough to offer me time off work to mourn. I was recently caught off guard when an unexpected question about her brought me to tears. When a close friend of mine had to say goodbye to her old friend Roxy she had a going away party. There were invitations, good food, and a rally of close friends. They gathered together to celebrate a long and loving friendship. They shared memories, hugged, cried, and fed Roxy all her favorite treats. Friends from far and wide sent love and compassion over social media. When my Dad lost his old Labrador he held a viking funeral, floating his ashes on a small boat to be sunk in his favorite pond by his favorite tennis balls. Every pet parent handles the loss differently but with no less heartbreak. Most veterinarians consider this part of the job a sacred duty. It is always hard but professionals are comforted by the knowledge that they can give pets a peaceful and quiet exit in the loving arms of their owners. Our pets don’t just leave our lives any more. They are mourned and their absence is felt deeply.
Still don’t believe pets are the new kids? Take a walk down the aisle of your local pet store and marvel at the abundance of pet fashions. Check out everything from designer leashes, to crazy toys, to fashions by Martha Stewart and Brett Michaels. A quick peruse of any social media and you’ll probably see just as many pics of people pets as you will of their kids (maybe more). We support each other in loss. We don’t have pet owners, we have pet parents. We don’t buy anymore, we adopt. We chronicle their lives in photos. We take them to fun places. We love them, nurture them, teach them, raise them to be good members of society. We drop ’em off at daycare, negotiate custody, mourn their loss, and celebrate their milestones! For a growing number of us, pets ARE the new kids!
* thank you Jeracha for sharing Dillon’s celebration.