By Arden Moore
We can agree that COVID-19 has made 2020 a year we all wish to forget. But it’s never been a better time to be a cat or dog.
It’s indisputable: Pets are steadily making direct and indirect impacts in all aspects of our lives nowadays.
“About 25 years ago, pets were not that visible, but today, they are our social glue,” says Mark Cushing, author of a new book called Pet Nation: The Love Affair That Changed America. “Pets have become this living fabric that connects people from all backgrounds.”
Cushing, who is an attorney and chief executive officer of the Animal Policy Group, shared some of his insights into pet life today versus a quarter-century ago as a recent guest on my Oh Behave show on Pet Life Radio (https://www.petliferadio.com/behave_player393.htm).
In the mid-1990s, few referred to themselves as pet parents. The pronoun it was common in mentions of dogs and cats in veterinary journals and magazine articles. Most family cats spent much of their days outside and rarely received annual medical examinations by veterinarians. Dogs napped in backyards inside wooden dog houses or attached to long chains to keep them from roaming the neighborhood.
You went to a local pound to adopt a mongrel in places now called animal shelters, and where staffers offer an array of pet education and training classes.
People relied on neighborhood kids to care for their at-home pets when they traveled because the professional pet industry was just getting started.
The beagle was the nation’s most popular dog breed, but in 2020, the most popular pick was the mixed breed, followed by the Labrador retriever, with the beagle not even in the top 10.
The Global Pet Expo in Orlando, the pet industry’s largest annual trade show, wasn’t even on the pet world radar. It began in 2005.
And, think of how the landscape has changed in Palm Beach County. Back in 1995, I was a reporter for the Sun-Sentinel, based out of its large building overlooking I-95 in Delray Beach.
People would flock to the 391st Bomb Squadron next to the Palm Beach International Airport to enjoy beer cheese soup. Every St. Patrick’s Day, people would celebrate with cans of beer in hand to cheer parades organized by Maury Power, owner of Power’s Lounge on Atlantic Avenue. Today, this newspaper office, this airport restaurant and this lounge are mere memories.
Somehow, pets seem to weather any societal or economic change or challenge, and their popularity continues to climb.
“Pets are not a fad,” Cushing says. “Pets are good medicine. They are emotionally nourishing. That’s why I wanted to write ‘Pet Nation’ to identify what happened, how it happened, where it happened and why.”
In his book, Cushion points out these examples of pet power and influence:
• Pets create new vocabulary. Case in point: furternity now exists. In some workplaces, employees are eligible for paid leave — known as furternity — so they can care for a newly adopted kitten or puppy. Millennials lead all generations in the desire to work at pet-friendly offices.
• Americans spend more than $30 billion a year on pet food — an amount tripled from 2000. The days of kibble and canned food have given way to a new generation of pet foods made with freeze-dried single proteins and frozen ready-to-eat meals. And, some companies are going a step further. Wild Earth is producing high-tech meatless dog and cat food made from fungi and lab-grown meat from mouse cells.
• More dogs are working and expanding their job duties. Dogs have been trained to assist people with visual or physical limitations and to serve on K-9 police units. Some can detect and issue alerts on everything from cancers and pending epileptic seizures in people to the presence of bedbugs in hotel bedding and the presence of peanuts in foods about to be served to people with peanut allergies.
• Pets have taken social media by storm. Jiff Pom, a small Pomeranian, is the most-followed animal on social media. Check out his ever-expanding follower stats: 10.6 million on Instagram, 21.2 million on TikTok and 1.3 million on Facebook.
Nala Cat, a crossed-eye Siamese-tabby mix, rules the feline following world with 4.2 million on Instagram.
In Chapter 1, Cushing illustrates that pets have indeed come a long way in a short time by sharing his observations of a chihuahua named Suzette that was in business class on his flight in 2019:
“Three years old, this long-haired Chihuahua was accustomed to the comforts of business class. From time to time, she took a sip of Tasmanian Rain bottled water. I learned that Suzette has a busy social calendar, a passport of her own, more Instagram followers than I will ever have and a full, pampered week ahead of her in Boca Raton.”
Although it has never been a better time for pets, Cushing says it also has never been a better time to have a pet or pets in your life.
“Why do we love pets? Because they listen to us,” he says. “They don’t argue or interrupt. They help us feel better and want to do better.”
You won’t get any arguments from me, Mark. Life during this persistent pandemic has been made far more tolerable thanks to my four-leggers, who answer to the names of Kona, Casey, Bujeau, Mikey, Rusty and Emma.
Arden Moore is an animal behavior consultant and master certified pet first aid instructor. Learn more at www.ardenmoore.com.