His name is Wilson. And I am continuously entertained by the Facebook posts that feature him. Wilson attends doggie daycare and has his photo taken with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Other posts share his treats from a secret Santa and the loot of doggie goodies from his Valentine’s Day party.
Going to the dogs? We should all be so lucky.
According to the American Pets Products Association, Americans spent about $73 billion last year on pets — and not just on basic food and vet visits. Oh no, today’s pets get holistic spa treatments, wear Halloween costumes and boots that keep paws warm and dry, are given gourmet treats and have birthday parties. (Wilson even had season tickets to a minor league baseball team last year.)
Our relationship with our pets and how we view them has changed greatly in the last few decades. We are no longer pet owners, but pet “parents.” The family’s hamster doesn’t live in a cage but a “habitat.”
I grew up on a farm in Kentucky. We had animals and even pets. But it was different. I was taught never to name a calf or piglet, because he or she wasn’t a pet but income or sustenance for our family. Even the cats were expected to earn their keep as mousers in the barn.
Not that we mistreated our animals. Far from it. My father was known to provide fans for our animals in the barn on sweltering summer days and heaters for them in the freezing winter. They were fed well. Their pens were always clean. Our little farm was a far cry from the horrors of industrial farming.
As for more traditional pets, such as cats and dogs, we never brought them inside. They made their homes in the barn. They were fed scraps from our table. They were mostly strays. We lived just outside the city limits, and when city dwellers became weary of caring for their pets, they dumped them on our farm. We did the best we could for them.
The exception to all of this was Arnold, my pet pig. This was way before pigs became trendy pets. He was one of a litter of 13 pigs born during a colder-than-usual January, when even heaters proved ineffective. He was the runt and, ironically enough, the only one to survive. We took him into our home.
Arnold became my constant companion. The clicking of his hoofs on the wooden floors of our 100-year-old farmhouse followed closely behind the pitter patter of my own bare feet. We were best buddies. Until Arnold got too big. The story told to me was that he was sent to a farm to live out his days. Of course, that wasn’t true. We made our living as farmers. Arnold was sold.
When my son was little, we had what I described as our own personal petting zoo — everything from a German Shepherd named Sasha to lizards, birds, guinea pigs, hermit crabs and cats. Lots of cats.
Our current princess-in-residence is a black long-haired rescue cat named Atia Josephine. No one-word name would do for this beauty who was named after Julius Caesar’s niece and Napoleon’s empress. And she has a saucy attitude that well reflects her namesakes.
I have been known to buy her a Christmas or Halloween outfit, which she tolerates briefly for a quick photo to post online. She has lots of toys, but she prefers to play with random strings. We talk to her, and we think she talks back. She pouts at us, especially when we run out of cheese, her favorite nighttime snack. My husband has been known to make a special trip to the grocery store for Atia Josephine’s cheese, which is, of course, a special kind and brand.
There are those who say we pamper our pets too much in today’s society. Spend too much when the money could go to other causes and needs. Humanize them. With all good things are the bad; for example, just as society is getting fatter so are our pets. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 60 percent of cats and 56 percent of dogs were considered overweight or obese in 2018.
And we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of marketing and its message of guilt. The one that tells you that you are not a good pet “parent” unless you are buying them this toy or feeding them this food or providing them this activity.
But pampering them within reason?
I don’t think we should have to offer any apologies. We exist in an angry, divisive world. Often we are overwhelmed by what we cannot control. And we are on a desperate search for a sense of humanity. As animal and pet lovers, we can’t single-handedly save all the abused, neglected animals of the world. Or even all the abused and neglected humans.
Or even our own planet necessarily. But we can care for our pets, those innocents, in our keep. And spoil them while doing so. It is a salve to our own wounds.
And while all pets deserve to be treated well, I have a special place in my heart for rescues, those animals given a second chance. Maybe somewhere inside me I still want to believe Arnold went to that happy farm and lived forever.
So, I am glad that Wilson, a rescue himself, has a “mom” who wants to make personalized Valentine’s Day cards for him that say, “Woof you be my Valentine?” for his party at doggie daycare. Seeing the posts where he actually looks like he is grinning brings joy to my day. I laugh out loud and linger over the post for a few minutes. It does my, no — our hearts, good. Party on, Wilson.