I sat outside on my patio this weekend enjoying a momentary reprieve from the recent cold weather. Timba joined me at the sliding glass doors and together we watched a lady exit her apartment to take her two Pomeranians for a bathroom break. The entire experience reminded me of some chiding comments, all in good humor and fun, that were made by a roommate of mine several years back. At the time I lived with a longtime friend from Zambia and a Zambian friend of hers. Although I had no pets then, we had entered a discussion on my parent’s pugs and how spoiled and loved they were. Amidst peals of laughter, I received a cross-cultural perspective on Americans and how ridiculous they seem to other countries with regards to pet pampering.
Until this weekend, watching and listening to, and even talking with the Pom Pom divas’ mama, I hadn’t fully absorbed my Zambian friends’ offering of international observation and opinion.
You see, this lady and her dogs were very different in appearance. Perhaps it took the contrast in apparel to let me see the lengths to which we Americans will go to express our animal love and affection. To get the best out of this description, you need to have seen the 1980’s classic and beloved film The Goonies. If you haven’t, hop over to YouTube before reading on. I say this because the Pom Pom Mom Mom was a dead ringer for the mean old lady who spearheads the chase for a gang of teens in search of a hidden treasure.
Her hair was gray and unkempt and she was dressed in black sweats and an over-sized hooded sweatshirt, both of which had seen much better years. Her voice was gravely and bore great resemblance to the crotchety Goonies woman as well. Were it not for the tender demeanor towards her dogs, she would’ve aired on the side of creepy. The darling prima donnas, by contrast, could’ve just stepped off of an AKC/Eukanuba Championship runway or hopped out of some Hilton or Kardashian purse. Their fur was meticulously groomed and they had on matching pink sweaters with cute fashionable designs down the chest. They were leashed on matching pink leashes and pranced about like teacup princesses to the frequent encouragements to go “poo poo”.
The woman stooped at one point to brush off Bella or Princess, who would not be allowed on the counters if she continued to roll around in the grass and get stinky. In conversation with her, prompted by a comment on the cute sweaters, I learned that Bella and Princess had “lots of clothes”, an odd contrast to her own meager attire. I also learned that she used to own cats. She had at one point raised Siamese and gave them away for free rather than selling them. Where was this alter Ma Fratelli when I became interested in Siamese!
The obvious point is that she very much loves animals in general, whether cats or dogs. She is, in fact, part of the 72.9 million homes in America with at least one pet and one of the many who have contributed to the staggering 52 billion dollars spent on pets in 2012. It’s not just the rich these days who spoil their pets with the once unthinkable. Researchers attribute this to the growing perspective that American pets are increasingly considered part of the family. Because they are family, the pet industry has exploded with every imaginable product or service you would expect a person to lavish on someone they love.
I admit that I am part of the statistics listed above. My “cat mom” identity strangely seems to be growing. My cats are my babies, and while not literally my children, the emotional attachment is on many levels reminiscent of a parent/child bond. I can’t contribute much to that 52 billion for Toby and Timba, but I think given the funds I’d throw some pretty pennies into the industry bucket. They wouldn’t have a lot of clothes like Bella and Princess, but they would have cat trees and wall perches galore, along with a special vet fund for the latter years or emergencies. However, no matter how many pennies I make throughout the years, I am going to pamper my pets with ridiculous amounts of love, affection, and attention. That way they will know every day, on whatever level they can experience and perceive, that they are so incredibly loved.
(For an interesting read on the trends of American pet expenditures click on this link: http://www.americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp)