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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Fifty Years of Changes!!

My, oh, my! This morning I was listening to pet programs on satellite radio. Nationally recognized holistic vets were touting the importance of proper winter clothing for dogs. Another expert talked about the importance of microchipping, in addition to ID tags on a collar that was embroidered with ID information. An hour later, a famous pet psychic was helping callers find their lost dogs. After that, a canine nutritionist promoted feeding dogs the same food we cook for ourselves.

It got me thinking how dog ownership has changed during my lifetime....

1952: All dogs retain their balls. Testicles, that is. Spaying and neutering are nasty words you don't speak in public. Most dogs live outside and roam the neighborhoods, unless they're "foofoo dogs." Dogs die of "old age."

1962: Our family gets a beagle. No one even suggests neutering him. He spends his outdoor time on a chain...after he runs the neighborhood on his morning rounds. He eats cheap canned dog food mixed with Purina Dog Chow. He died at age 8, euthanized because of some bad illness...probably cancer, although it was never mentioned in those words by the vet.

1970: People scoffed at the sight of little old ladies carrying tiny doggies wearing sweaters. Thirty-five years later, high -tech dog clothing is a multi-million-dollar industry, and you'd BETTER get some boots and a parka on that poor dog, mister!

1975: Boarding kennels were cell blocks, dirt pens, or cages devoid of pet beds and other comforting touches. Thirty years later, boarding kennels more closely resemble vacation spas, offering trail hikes, games, lots of playtime, individualized feeding, and personalized decorations like pillows, fancy beds, and fancy dishes adorning squeaky-clean "suites." Rates are nearly as high as Motel 6, and people feel LUCKY to get reservations at these always-full facilities.

1976: "Alpo" canned food is considered a really PREMIUM dog food, thanks to Madison Avenue!! Ed McMahon sells it on The Tonight Show! Meanwhile, Paul Harvey is pushing "Wayne," a dry kibble, and everyone knows Paul Harvey is trustworthy, so "Wayne" must be great food too. So many choices! Meanwhile, all the vets have started carrying "Science Diet," leading their clients to infer that it's the best. (Far from it!)

1992: My sister and I have a conversation about the concept of DOGGY DAYCARE. Wouldn't that be cool?? People do it with kids. Why not do it for dogs too? Within two years, there were doggy daycares springing up around the country. Now they're nearly as prolific as latte stands, and it's an ACCEPTED (not silly) concept that is here to stay.

1993: A bunch of holistic, all natural pet foods have hit the market. It's a small industry, and people scoff at paying twice as much for foods like Fromm or Flint River, but some folks do it anyway. Today, 15 years later, there's a proliferation of truly "premium" brands like these, and mainstream dog owners are switching to these, noticing the difference in their dogs' health.

1995: Pet medical insurance becomes available. The bugs aren't worked out, and many clientele get stung. Others benefit from it, and the industry is perpetuated. The disreputable companies fall by the wayside, and the industry becomes more refined and stable. In 2008, three or four companies have cornered the market, and their service is of great value to many pet owners.

1995: Dog nutrition gets more refined by returning to basics, as proponents of Dr. Ian Billinghurst's "Bones and Raw Food" (BARF) diet spread their gospel. Raw turkey necks get more respect!

2000: Our dogs each have their own weekly pill containers, loaded with fish oil, vitamin C, extra glucosamine, pills for thyroid and incontinence. Like us, our dogs have the most expensive pee in modern civilization. Used to be, dogs would only get pills from a vet if they were deathly ill.

2007: The Drs. Foster & Smith catalog features 16 pages of just DOG BEDS. Following that are 22 pages of vitamin and health supplements. And then you've got 12 pages of shampoos and conditioners, plus another 80 or so devoted to dog toys, leashes and whatnot. (Remember when a "dog bed" was a scatter rug??)

2008: Do you have a "living will" for your dogs? Better get one. This new industry specializes in making legal arrangements on what will happen to your pets if something happens to you. They are, after all, members of the family...

Ah yes, our dog friends have come a long way. Or is it we who have come a long way?

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