Is America really raining cats and dogs?
Columbia University’s Morris Holbrook once wrote, “Assume that animal companions are basically people. You won’t go far wrong.” When it comes to American pet lovers, he is right. For example, a recent survey of 13,000 pet owners found that 72% of dog owners and 32% of cat owners said they sometimes canceled plans to hang out with friends so they could stay home with their pets. And between 75% and 90% of pet lovers tell pollsters they consider their companion animals to be full-fledged family members. Even the names we give our pets have changed over the past three decades. You don’t run into many Fidos, Spots, or Bowsers any more. Rather, as I described in this post, today’s dogs are more likely to be named Freddie, Amos, or Susie.
What caused this shift in attitudes that the pet products industry refers to as “the humanization of pets?” And what are the implications for the future of our relationships with our furry, feathered, and finned friends?
In his new book, Pet Nation: The Love Affair That Changed America, pet industry insider Mark Cushing addresses these and other issues related to why pets have become a major “brand” on America’s cultural landscape. Cushing is well-suited to the task. He is the founder and general manager of the Animal Policy Group, a pet industry lobbying organization. He is also advisor to the Pet Leadership Council, a group of the senior executives in what Dr. Steven Zawistowski refers to as “the pet industrial complex.”
Pet Nation offers a valuable and sometimes provocative view of a major segment of the American economy. This includes a compelling discussion of the roles of movies, TV, and the internet in our changing relationships with pets. And Cushing is not afraid to take on issues such as zoonotic diseases, declawing cats, and de-sexing dogs.
But I want to examine whether, as Cushing puts it, “America is raining cats and dogs.” Clearly, there has recently been a run on animal shelter adoptions. But is this increase in the demand for pets a transient blip in response to COVID-related isolation that will subside when the pandemic runs its course? Or is it the permanent manifestation of our love for dogs and cats?