Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Way past time to retire the phrase "it's a dog's life"

Many years ago, when my parents were visiting with us here in America, my father joked, tongue-in-cheek, that if one does do good things in life, then they will be reborn in the US as dogs.  From what he noticed at our home and elsewhere, he was convinced that a dog's life here was infinitely better than the human condition in almost every place on the planet, especially in India.

Speedy (left) and Congo (right)

If only he had known how much better it would get for my dog, Congo.  Speedy died, and it was all Congo's after that.  He had his own small little bed. Actually, three small little beds in different parts of the home.  On top of that, he always had the option to sleep on the bed that we humans slept on.  Dog food. Vet bills. Riding shotgun. And, during walks, if he his small legs got tired, well, I carried him!

We spend quite a bit on dogs and other pets.  Insane amounts.  A few weeks ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported:
  • In 2011, households spent more on their pets annually than they spent on alcohol ($456), residential landline phone bills ($381), or men and boys clothing ($404).
  • Average household spending on pet food alone was $183 in 2011. This was more than the amount spent on candy ($87), bread ($107), chicken ($124), cereal ($175), or reading materials ($115).
  • Even when spending at restaurants dropped during the recent recession (December 2007–June 2009), spending on pet food stayed constant. (See chart 1.)
  • In 2011, one-sixth of U.S. households purchased pet food each week, based on entries in the CE Diary.5
  • Married couples without children living at home spent the most on their pets.
  • Homeowners spent almost three times as much on pets as renters did.
An average of about $500 a year per household.  

One doesn't need an economics doctorate to think about how much $500 will mean to humans in any number of countries around the world.  Consider this, for instance: even adjusting for purchasing power parity, per capita income in Afghanistan is only about a thousand dollars, and about 400 in Zimbabwe.

One could offer a philosophical argument that life is life and that human life should not be ranked higher than a dog's life or a cat's life.  However, that logic might work only if it is also the same logic used in every other facet of life.  This $500 household spending on pets is in a culture where animals of various sorts are consumed in vast quantities.  Lobsters are boiled alive!  So, this is not any ultra-commitment to life.  

“He requires twice daily insulin injections, but he’s responded so well,” Brooks said. “He’s a ball of energy now.”
The dog was adopted, even though the owner parent knew it would add to the expenditures:
She had purchased a glucose-testing meter specifically designed for canines, although the human version can work, and after talking to Young and hearing about the diabetic pug, she graciously offered to donate it to whomever adopted the dog.
“I now call it Chester’s Tester,” Childers-McDaniel said with a giggle. “I hoped it would be compatible with new test strips, which it is, so I’m happy it’s going to help this little dog.”
Brooks estimated that Wood will spend between $50 to $60 per month on the diabetic supplies Chester will need, which includes Novolin insulin injections — yes, he uses human insulin.
We humans are a strange species!


Ramesh said...

But this is what makes us "human". That we care. We can't solve all the problems on the world, but we can, and do, solve some. So every kind act - to humans and pets, is worthy of applause.

Almost no other species , without human intervention, "cares" for other species in the way we do. Sure we inflict all sorts of tortures, but we also are kind. That is enough to be celebrated.

And yes, a dog's life ought to be retired as phrase, at least in pet owning households in the US :)

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, to be "human" means quite a bit of contradictions as well, I suppose.

A few weeks ago, the New Yorker had a great cartoon on cattle being raised "humanely" only to be slaughtered ... I am killing that joke by describing it here--will email it to you.

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