Ex­tra­or­di­nary friend­ships

Los Angeles Times - - THE PETS ISSUE - Adam.tschorn@latimes.com BY ADAM TSCHORN

What with Grumpy Cat and ther­apy goats, $150 gran­ite cat food bowls and $2,600 Gucci dog car­ri­ers, it’s easy to think that a so­ci­ety that has ded­i­cated pet bak­eries, ca­nine-only ca­ble chan­nels and a cat with more Twit­ter fol­low­ers than the Dalai Lama has (for­give us) se­ri­ously gone to the dogs in re­cent years. ¶ Even a cur­sory look at the sta­tis­tics would in­di­cate that some­thing is afoot: Ac­cord­ing to an an­nual sur­vey con­ducted by the Amer­i­can Pet Prod­ucts Assn., 65% of Amer­i­can house­holds (79.9 mil­lion) are cur­rently home to a pet (up from 56% in 1988) and an­nual spend­ing on care and feed­ing is es­ti­mated to hit $60.59 bil­lion in 2015. ¶ Has our re­la­tion­ship with do­mes­tic an­i­mals fun­da­men­tally changed in the last few years?

“The an­swer is yes and no,” says Stan­ley Coren, psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia and au­thor of sev­eral books about dogs, in­clud­ing “The Paw­prints of History: Dogs and the Course of Hu­man Events.” “They’ve found a grave from the Natu­fian era — about 11,000 years ago — on the bor­der be­tween Is­rael and Syria in which an el­derly man was buried with his hand rest­ing on what ap­pears to be the skele­ton of a 9-week-old puppy. Ob­vi­ously that dog was pre­cious.”

Fred­er­ick the Great of Prus­sia had a wing of his Sanssouci palace de­signed for his Ital­ian grey­hounds. “When the dogs de­stroyed the fur­ni­ture or the drapes,” says Coren, “he sim­ply had it all re­placed. This was for his dogs, yet he never let his wife come and visit the palace. She had to stay in Vi­enna.”

“Nowa­days we do have more dis­pos­able in­come — or are will­ing to take on more debt — to pam­per our [pets],” Coren says, adding that the will­ing­ness to spend dove­tails with a need to nur­ture in a chang­ing fam­ily de­mo­graphic. “Nowa­days, we no longer have the ex­tended fam­ily all liv­ing within a half hour’s drive from us ... and fur­ther­more, we’re liv­ing a hell of a lot longer. So there’s a whole lot of peo­ple who live well into an era of life where the kids have gone away and they have empty-nest syn­drome.”

Me­gan Mueller, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of the newly formed Tufts In­sti­tute for Hu­man-An­i­mal In­ter­ac­tion, which fo­cuses on hu­man-pet re­la­tion­ships, says, “If you look at the sta­tis­tics, yes, peo­ple have more an­i­mals that they con­sider pets than they used to.

“And, yes, a lot of peo­ple talk about their an­i­mals as be­ing mem­bers of their fam­ily, but we sim­ply don’t have a lot of re­search about what peo­ple’s re­la­tion­ships were like with their com­pan­ion an­i­mals 50 years ago.” On the other hand, she adds, “The in­crease in this area of re­search is cer­tainly in­dica­tive of these re­la­tion­ships be­com­ing im­por­tant.”

What you’ll find on the fol­low­ing pages is a snap­shot of the state of pet­dom in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia (and be­yond): ad­vanced med­i­cal treat­ments, most pop­u­lar names, feed­ing, ser­vices (yes, the list in­cludes pet birth­day par­ties) and an at­tempt to ex­plain our de­vo­tion to all those crea­tures that can’t talk back.

Here’s one thing about the re­la­tion­ship that’s crys­tal clear: We’ll do just about any­thing to make our an­i­mal com­pan­ions happy.

‘We do have more dis­pos­able in­come — or are will­ing to take on more debt — to pam­per our [pets].’


au­thor of “Paw­prints of History”

Fred Levy As­so­ci­ated Press

CURLY Mercedes Ann, pho­tographed by Fred Levy, whose pro­ject on black dogs is based on a the­ory that they are hard to get adopted.

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