Pet Individuality

by Kris Phillips

With the crowded culture we live in it’s no wonder people will go to great lengths to try to differentiate themselves. And, given that our pets are a natural extension of our own personalities, is it really all that surprising that we would also modify them? Designer pet products have become a multi-million dollar corner of the industry. Everyone from Brett Michaels to Martha Stewart has their own line of pet products. Do we really think our pets care who they wear? Nope, pretty sure it is all about reflecting the owner’s style. But some people take it even a step further, and some people maybe take it a step too far. Accessorizing is one thing but what about body modification?

A few years back I was inspired by the Blue Dog Paintings and Yukon became a living portrait for Halloween. Before you get too fired up let me tell you how we did it. Liquid Bluing is a product which is frequently used as a whitener, not only for clothes but also in many pet whitening products. The little bit of blue tint makes the white really pop. Never heard of it? Just ask your grandmother, this product was quite common a few decades ago, ever hear the term “blue hair” in referring to elderly women? Used in moderation you get a vibrant white pop, go a little overboard and well…the blue is more pronounced. In combination with Robbie’s blue mohawk it also made for a fun series of photos. And great conversation at the dog park. Now, given that we used a safe form of dye Yukon suffered no ill-effects short of looking an awful lot like cotton candy for a few months. If you think we were extreme check out these crazy doggy styles. Keep in mind these dyes are generally chemical free and somewhat temporary.

But some people make more permanent modifications. Recently Brooklyn tattoo artist Mistah Metro made headlines by tattooing his pooch. This move brought on a firestorm of outrage from individuals as well as animal rights groups, and may have even cost him his job. Now at first glance this seems beyond wrong, but there are some details that need to be brought up. First, the dog was under anesthesia for a medically necessary surgery. Second, the dog was also given pain control following the procedure (I’m sure more for the surgery than the tattoo). Third, the entire process was done in a veterinary hospital with a doctor present. So, was the tattoo unorthodox? Sure. Was it cruelty? I’d have to say no. I’ll be the first to admit I can appreciate good body art, sporting several of my own tats but would I ever tattoo my own pets? I’m going to have to say no. Of course my dogs have such thick coats it would be completely lost anyway.  And let’s not forget tattoos are forever. Maybe in a society of throw-away pets the fact that someone is willing to make a permanent statement should be slightly more embraced.

Body modification of pets for human vanity is really not as new as Mistah Metro’s critics would have us believe. Ear-cropping and tail-docking are nothing new to many breeds. And in some cases these modifications are required to conform to “breed standards”. Some people, whose motives we’ll question later, even resort to implanting “neuticles” in their neutered dogs scrotum so that they can appear un-neutered. Really?! I truly can not think of a more absurd concept. And since we’re on the subject of vanity I would be remiss to not discuss the ultimate act of vanity modification, declawing of cats. I will concede that there are some instances where declawing is used as a last resort. A friend of mine had an older cat and a younger one, and the younger one had taken to beating up the older. It had gone so far as the older cat having a scratched cornea. After exhausting every other option she had her little trouble maker declawed. However, this is a rare case. Having worked in a few vet offices over the years the reason I usually hear for declawing is, “She keeps tearing up the couch.” Ok, as someone who doesn’t own a piece of furniture without claw marks I can definitely sympathize with the frustration. Every time the dog chews up the remote control, or the cat shreds the armchair I grumble, “This is why we can’t have nice things.” But truly that’s all they are—things. When we agree to have pets they come with the understanding that life will get messy. Cats have a natural instinct to claw, it is part of their mental well-being. Not to mention what is actually involved in the procedure. Working as a vet tech I was grudgingly party to a few declaw procedures. I’ll be honest, it was by far the worst part of my job. Far worse than any other procedure I was part of, including euthanasia. In fact, I could honestly say it’s a large part of why I am no longer a vet tech. Now we can come back to tattooing. This guy is not the first to tattoo his dog, just the most creative. Dogs, cats, and horses are all tattooed frequently for identification purposes. Feral spay & release programs often tattoo cats in case they are brought in again. Horses and cattle are even branded generally without any form of pain control.

So I suppose the question we have to ask ourselves is where is the line? What is creativity and self expression and what is cruelty? This is a question we, as a community, must find an answer to. Or maybe, just like modifying our own bodies, it will always be a matter of personal judgement. For me I suppose the question I have to ask is, “Is this detrimental to the animal’s health and well-being?” A funny hair cut or color will grow out. A dog with a tattoo can still play fetch. What do you think? Where do we draw the line?

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