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The “Dog Privilege” Movement

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February 4, 2016

I have a dog. Casey is a 14-year old, gold and white Pekinese/Poodle mix (aka a “peek-a-poo”), and she is my second dog. She is still in good health and is a very happy dog. My first dog was my childhood, black and white border-collie Mandy. After a good life, she went to heaven in 1991, my senior year of high school. She was also a very happy dog. While I will always love them equally, there is a huge difference between the standard of “privilege” that Casey enjoys and the standard Mandy was entitled to, and it is all due to the “dog privilege” movement that has evolved over the past 30 years. Let me explain:

• Indoor/Outdoor - Mandy lived in the back yard. The only time Mandy was let inside was when the temperature dropped to a dangerous level, and then she stayed in the unfinished part of the basement. There was a scary furnace in there that we feel certain was used on the Wizard of Oz set. It could have been that Mom was afraid that my brother’s mullet would make Mandy bark too much, but I really think we just didn’t let dogs inside in the 80’s because of perceived sanitary issues. Casey has full access to our house and our parents’ homes. She also has a sweater to wear when it is cold outside, but she only spends a total of 15 minutes outside each day, and that is just to “do both.” For some reason dog owners like to use that passive phrase, or the infamous “#1 and #2.” However, we say “pee-pee and poopie” when we refer to our kids. It makes no sense. Are we really afraid our dogs might get embarrassed?

• Personal Residence - Mandy stayed in a wooden doghouse in a small fenced-in area that we called “the cage.” It was basically a square of dirt. Casey has a fluffy dog bed from LL Bean or a similar retailer that caters to families with a hankering to look preppy while relaxing with Fido in the formal room. Casey’s “cage” would be our master bedroom, and for her it involves a king-sized bed and a TV. We think she particularly enjoys that curly-haired man on PBS that paints the pictures; great for napping.

• Health and Hair - Mandy went to the vet once a year for shots; that visit also doubled as the annual “sheering of the coat,” which sounds synonymous with the annual “hanging of the greens” at the Baptist church, but it’s not. Casey goes to the vet multiple times a year and is on a monthly “care plan” which is like medical insurance. Yep y’all, we got us some “Canine Co-Pay” going on here. She also has dental cleaning visits and goes to a “groomer,” you know, to look her best when we visit Portrait Innovations at the mall.

• Diet - Casey eats natural rabbit and potato food as she has allergies. We buy it at the dermatologist’s office (aka “the specialist”). They basically have a doggie Whole Foods there. Mandy ate beef-flavored Purina because, well, she was a dog. We bought it at Food Lion, likely with a coupon Mom clipped out of the Sunday News Leader. No people food for Casey. Via the “table scraps,” Mandy likely sampled more casserole dishes than a pastor at a homecoming celebration. She had “dinner on the ground” most every night.

• Bathing - Mandy loved to take a bath, and that was pretty much a water hose, dish detergent, and an old plastic kiddie pool. She also loved to go to Staunton’s Gypsy Hill Park and play in the creeks. Casey hates water and gets the shakes when you turn the bath faucet on. She also has prescription shampoo that is “gentle to the skin.”

• Pictures - I have a small handful of 3X5’s of Mandy. Beyond the hundreds of photos stowed away in albums and boxes, there are probably 25 pictures of Casey hanging on walls in various homes, including 2 hand-painted portraits. Facebook probably has a dedicated server in their data center for Casey photos my family has sitting in the social media cloud.

In summary, the level of privilege has changed dramatically for dogs over the course of 30 years. Dogs now have their own aisle at the grocery store, their own community parks, and it seems every town has a “fancy pants” dog store downtown, which often includes a bakery. PetEducation.com estimates that the average family spends up to $2,500 on each dog annually. I see my credit card bill and all I will say is that Casey is a Roth IRA or a 529 college plan. I’m not really sure which of us is “the master.”

So does this current level of privilege really makes our dogs happier? I did some research, and the following are consistent ingredients for a happy dog – clean water and food, exercise, good hygiene, chew toys, opportunity to eliminate (“doing both”) away from their eating and sleeping spot, shelter, social interaction, self-esteem, and mental stimulation. Pretty basic, and I would say Mandy and Casey both have had all of these ingredients. I would also submit that the secret to a happy dog is probably not much different than the secret to a happy person. Maybe we don’t really need to upgrade to the new iPhone, or shop at the premium designer store, or get our hair “did” at the high-end salon. Are we really happier? Maybe all we need is good food and drink, confidence, a workout plan, some brain teasers….and to avoid eliminating at the dinner table or in bed (you know who you are – awkward?).

So I’d like to conclude with two fundamental questions:

1) Why do we pamper our dogs so much?
2) Who is to blame for this 30-year movement?

And I will propose the following answers:

1) Because we love our dogs like children.
2) The Taco Bell Chihuahua. He had major exposure and influence in the 90’s, and was a total politician. Plus, any dog with a diet that includes “the chalupa” is no doubt “high maintenance.”

Until next week,
“Sit Boo-Boo sit. Good dog. Woof!”













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