Petsmart premiered a new ad campaign during the Oscars. It’s tagline: “Partners in Pethood” “explores how having a pet can be similar to having a child” according to AdAge.com. “The spots showcase different types of Pet Parents, including new owners, overprotective parents,” etc as they throw birthday parties and engage in other over-the-top behavior commonplace in today’s pet world. Christopher Guest wrote and directed the spots that star several of his Best in Show castmates.
Petsmart spent $105 million on media aimed at Pet Parents in 2013. That’s a drop in the litter box compared to the $56 billion the pet industry took in that same year. That’s billion with a “B.” For $56 billion, marketers will say anything, push any button they feel gets fanatical Pet Parents to shell out cash for doggie FitBits and gourmet cat food.
What’s in a name?
Pet Parent is a relatively new term people with pets, mostly dogs and cats, call themselves. They didn’t like “owner,” that was too oppressive; it set the wrong tone for their relationship with their animal companions. They tried guardian on for size, custodian, keeper… before they landed on Pet Parent. Now 54% of dog owners consider themselves to be in that role.
But can you really be a parent to a dog? Can you really be a cat’s mommy or daddy? By the loosest definition, I guess. Although if you check with Webster, both parent and child have to be human and there’s some begetting involved. Pet Parents will argue they adopted their dog or cat and plenty of people adopt children, they’ll say. They probably purchased their Fur Kid, like an owner would, but okay…
I guess it comes down to what it means to be a parent. Is it simply feeding this other being, caring for it, taking it for a checkup once in a while? Loving it? I don’t doubt Pet Parents love their little Sparky or Snowball. They care for them, feed them, play with them at the park. Maybe they feel like they couldn’t live without them.
So by those criteria, if I feed my Ford F-150 gas and oil, wash it, take it out for joyrides, protect it from scratches and dents… If I can’t live without it, am I a Truck Parent? I really love my Häagen-Dazs chocolate chip cookie dough. We have a special relationship, the two of us. I care for it, like any Dessert Parent would, make sure to keep it nice and cold. And, in return, it comforts me and snuggles with me when I’m sad.
Can you be a Merlot Parent? A High-Heeled Pump Parent?
I don’t hate animals. We always had some kind of critter in our house when I was growing up. Turtles, newts, tropical fish, a couple chameleons my dad bought for us at the Ringling Bros. Circus, two tadpoles that turned into frogs, 15 or 20 hamsters, and an alligator. We had dogs, too, three of them at various times as well as four or five cats. But I had a clear sense of our relationship. I purchased them or they were born from animals I already owned.
When I got older and got married, I had children, four of them. I’ve raised both and I can tell you, raising children is much, much harder. Sure, they’ll both stick their head in the toilet if you give them half a chance. But you raise children. You care for pets.
You can leave your Schnauzer alone in your apartment all day while you’re at the office. Just try that with children and the DCFS will be knocking at your door. “But officer… I left a bowl of water and some Cheerios in a dish for little Jason on the floor!”
When pet owners claim the title of Parent it really belittles what I do, what millions of women and men do. It’s like the guy shooting hoops at the “Y” calling himself an athlete. Sorry if this ruffles some feathers or fur or whatever, but every time I hear some dog food commercial calling someone a Pet Parent, I get a little steamed.
I don’t doubt Pet Parents love their Fur Kids. But, sorry, you’re only parents up to a point. Pets are like the fun part of children before they get opinions and pimples and pissy attitudes and a drivers’ license.
Dogs and cats are perpetual toddlers, like one-and-a-half-year-olds--- that cute age when they can feed themselves if you put food in front of them. They’re pretty much potty trained. A minimal amount of effort and, in return, perpetual hugs. All play and no work.
My kids, my actual human children, are in their 20s, the older ones. They’re planning their future. It’ll be time, really soon, to let them go out into the world to start a life of their own. As a parent, I just hope to hell my wife and I gave them what they need to have a fighting chance at success and happiness. That’s what I call responsibility.
A Fur Kid will never be at that age. Sorry, but your pooch will never go out on his own, find some nice bitch, settle down, and make you a grandparent. They won’t grow up to be president or any productive member of society. Like a millennial living in the basement, your dog will always be dependent on you. And maybe that’s the attraction of Pet Parenthood.
It seemed harmless at first. Aw, Pet Parents, isn’t that cute? But I think it’s kind of gone too far. Owning a dog isn’t anywhere near the same level of commitment as having children. We need to stop pretending it is.
Do it for the kids…
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