Our obsession with pets is out of control

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Our civilization may be nearing its end. I offer proof: bottled water for dogs.

According to a Sun of Baltimore blog, Century Foods, a maker of nutritional supplements, has introduced three types of bottled water for dogs: one to promote healthy hips and joints, one to ensure healthy aging and a third to replace electrolytes after exercise.

According to the company’s director of sales, dogs need special water — water that undergoes a triple-filtered, reverse-osmosis purification process before it is fortified with essential doggy nutrients.

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And why not bottled water for dogs?

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, two-thirds of American households have at least one pet — up from 56 percent of households only a decade ago.

Americans are spending billions on them, too. The pet products people say we spent about $42 billion in 2007 and will spend nearly $44 billion in 2008.

Dogs these days dine on expensive gourmet foods. They’re pampered during the day at upscale doggy day-care centers and pampered more at night at high-end doggy spas.

Dogs have personal walkers and personal trainers, dentists, custom-made furniture, custom clothing.

And when the best doctors and surgeons can no longer keep them alive, there are dog obituaries, dog funerals, and dog graveyards and headstones

Why the obsession with our pets? In part, it’s because we can afford the obsession. According to LiveScience.com, only the wealthy kept pets as companions throughout much of human history. Most folks who had dogs or cats needed them to herd cattle or keep mice out of the barn.

That began to change after World War II. As Americans became more affluent and moved to the suburbs, they had the dough and the space to have pets as companions. A lot of families had dogs when I was a kid in the 1970s.

Though at least we were sane about it. There was a clear pecking order between humans and dogs back then. My childhood dog Jingles replenished most of her fluids by drinking out of the toilet bowl. She dined daily on a can of Ken-L Ration — a bowl of stinky hamburger-looking stuff that she devoured.

To be sure, the only time she ate “people” food was when my father made one hamburger too many. When nobody at the table would eat it, he’d grumble, “I hate like hell to give this to the dog,” and he loved her more than any of us.

Dogs used to be like Lassie and Old Yeller. Not only were they not pampered by humans, they were forever risking their lives to get humans out of scrapes. Lassie dragged people out of burning houses. Old Yeller got rabies from fighting a rabid wolf to protect his family.

But nowadays we’ve turned our dogs into sissies — particularly in the large metro regions that are populated with lots of single folks and childless couples. Our pampered pets are filling the void that a spouse or child used to fill. Our pets are often preferable over spouses and children, too, as they lack the ability to talk back.

And so we go weak in the knees when somebody mentions their name. We fall to pieces if we have to go away for a few days and are unable to see them. And we lavish them with every amenity, making them as soft, self-absorbed and overly emotional as we’ve let ourselves become.

I love dogs as much as the next fellow, but we have to get hold of ourselves.

I fear our obsession with pets is a reflection of our softening state of mind — our national trend toward giving in to our emotions and abandoning any ability to think and reason. Like it or not, the world is a hard, tough, competitive place. We need to keep a stiff upper lip.

Who knows, maybe Osama bin Laden is a dog lover, but I assure you he isn’t hydrating his pup with bottled water for dogs.

Tom Purcell is a humor columnist nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons.