Pet Culture in The United States and The United Kingdom

A research paper emphasizing the change of pet culture since the 1980s.

Introduction

            Pets have always been a fundamental part of people’s lives, whether as helpers in certain jobs, guardians or just as companions and friends. The status of pets in our families has changed throughout history as the need for service animals has declined and keeping them solely for recreational purposes has become more relevant. This, of course, does not mean that no animals are used for labour nowadays – especially in rural areas, they have retained their position as needed workers.

In this research paper I will be analysing the change in the relationship between owners and their beloved pets throughout the last few decades. The main emphasis is on the change in the treatment of the animals. Also, although this was not the initial idea, the research concentrates mainly on pet dogs as they are the most widespread of all, making it easier to gather and process the information. As the sources on this topic are very limited (especially in Estonia), some facts are presented as common knowledge.

The topic was chosen with two main criteria in mind:

1)      The topic has to be interesting to both the author and the reader(s),

2)      The topic should not have been researched before.

Read more in Pets

Hopefully reading this work will be as interesting as it was to write it!

 

 

Comparison of pet care of the 80s and 90s with today

Grooming

The eighties saw a boom in the number of pets worldwide. A tradition that had long been considered intrinsic only to the upper classes had gradually broken into the middle classes and had become part of their everyday life. It was like a status symbol to have your own pet. This occurrence brought about a large demand for pet grooming as a dirty-looking pet would not be best suited to show status.

            “Doggie barbershops”, originating from the late 1930s, were still the most dominant forms of grooming parlour in the 80s. Their small capacity and comparatively high cost, however, made them rather redundant in the situation of that time because the market was overflowing with potential customers who were not willing to pay the high price. Thus, people resorted to minimal grooming done at home. Soon, professional salons for pets started sprouting up and quickly became a favourite among pet owners. They offered a quick and easy service for just a fraction of the cost of a barbershop visit. Although these salons were nowhere near as advanced as today’s facilities, they were a huge step forward in the development of the business.

At the same time, with the advent of home grooming, companies started focusing on the everyday user and releasing grooming supplies for the masses. At first these were a hassle to get hold of due to both their initial scarcity and uncompetitive pricing. But as time passed, more and more similarly oriented companies started emerging, allowing for competition and gradually lowering the prices.

Before the change of the millennium, there had been numerous speculations on what the future would hold in the grooming industry.

The ideal salon has stainless steel tubs with special drain traps designed specifically to catch the pet’s hairs. It has an automatic lift to set the larger pets in the bathing tub and a washer and dryer for towels. It includes ceiling-mounted blow dryers. No more hairballs in the dryer’s wheels and enough blowing power on medium heat to dry pets efficiently.” (Ogle, “The Heritage of Pet Grooming”)

One can see that this prediction has been fulfilled quite closely. In essence, pet salons have become technologically as advanced as human beauty salons, if not even more so. A modern pet salon features an automatically adjustable table, two customizable (nozzle width, air flow and temperature) blow-dryers, fully automated washing system, electronic trimmer and many more upgrades that were considered utopian in the 80s. (“Grooming room”). An average grooming task today takes no more than an hour – a feat that had been long thought of as impossible.

            Another positive occurrence, especially prevalent in the USA, is mobile grooming. It involves the use of a van equipped with state of the art technology which responds to house calls and completes the task on the spot. Although this might be viewed as a gimmick to fuel the laziness plaguing the Americans, it is actually widely used by older people with impaired mobility who would otherwise not be able to care for their pet. (“Mobile Grooming Georgia”)

            Nowadays the home groomer would also be pleasantly surprised – literally dozens of product lines are designed specifically for pets. These include shampoos, balsams, trimmers, brushes and even fur dyes and nail polishes which are all easy to acquire and use. They are regarded as the most economical way to keep the family pet looking good. (“Dog supplies”) However, this situation inevitably begs the question: which is more important – a sparkling-clean coat or a healthy coat? It is no secret that the excessive grooming washes off the coat’s natural oils, ruining its water resistance and rendering it virtually useless.

In conclusion, it is evident that the technological advancements and new products have made pet grooming less of a hassle. Compared to the eighties, it has become more affordable and available – maybe even too available.

Pet shows

Another controversial phenomenon that became more relevant with the pet boom are pet shows, also called conformation shows. Owners and pets alike compete against each other in various events, for example beauty, agility, obedience and even dancing. Pet owners with competitive spirits have formed communities around this hobby and they organise regular meetings and training sessions. Aside from the obvious benefit of tending to the pets, it is an excellent way for both owners and pets to socialise with others who share the same interests.

The controversy of the subject lies within the fact that although an overwhelming majority constantly takes good care of their pets, there have been some instances of people only tending to the animals when attending a show. The rest of the time, the animals are shut away in a cage or a separate room. Although this may be considered a precaution against accidents happening to the animals, it is still cruel and frowned upon. (“Animal Cops”)

Another recent downside associated with conformation shows is selective breeding based solely on the pets’ appearance and aesthetic value. Due to this, animals with better working qualities are left behind and only externally beautiful specimens are used for breeding. This may ultimately lead to the degradation of pedigree standards and an overflow of generally less healthy animals that are not suitable for work. As a countermeasure, more and more reputable companies that have sponsored conformation shows are now backing out in hopes of raising awareness of the problem. (“Conformation show”)

Special institutions and facilities

            The 21st century brought about the emergence of various service providers that are oriented towards the pet. Examples of these include the aforementioned grooming parlours as well as pet hotels, restaurants and even spas and resorts.

            The hotels and resorts are mostly used by people travelling with pets or by those who need to travel without the pet and cannot find a relative to leave the animal to. Although the first facilities offering pet boarding can be traced back to the early nineties, real certified hotels as we know them started appearing in the last decade. Oftentimes they incorporate a variety of facilities (restaurants, groomers) under one roof. Similarly to normal hotels, pet hotels are graded in the star system, with five stars being the best and one star the worst. In early 2008, the first true five-star pet hotel was opened, offering more luxuries than most hotels for humans, including massages and acupuncture. (Chateau Poochie)

            The spas usually offer a wide variety of services for the owners to choose from. The most reputable of them offer such services as pet sitting and obedience training in addition to the spa services (grooming, massages, coat treatments and teeth cleaning). As the services are comparatively expensive, they are targeted towards the more well-off people. (Spa for Pets)

            Dog restaurants are a very recent occurrence – aside from the occasional “Dogs allowed!” sign on some restaurants (originating from the late 90s), diners with special menus for pets have been around since the turn of the millennium. Some go even as far as to have a separate menu for strictly vegetarian pets – something completely unheard-of in the 80s. (Roe, “Animal friendly restaurants”)

            Overall, the emergence of special facilities has catered for the natural laziness of the modern person. Although it is obvious that the pets could do without this excessive pampering, this is not necessarily a bad thing as it is a good way off reassuring the pet that it is being cared for.

 

 

 

Problems concerning pets

During the last few decades there has been an emergence of various problems concerning the pet culture. Most of them can be attributed directly to the popularisation of pets, while others have existed since the start but are amplified by the hobby going into the masses. Some of these issues are described in the following chapter.

Milling

            Milling is the term most commonly used to describe an action where pets are “produced” with only monetary profit in mind, without any licensing. No attention is paid to the genetic quality of the animals whatsoever. This has lead to many hereditary conditions becoming rampant throughout the United States. The most notable instances include heart dysfunction, joint dysplasia and epileptic seizures. In addition, they are more susceptible to various illnesses like heartworm and pneumonia due to a weakened immune system. Milled pets also develop behaviour issues because they have not been socialised and accommodated with other pets and people outside the milling farm.

            Investigations have found that mills often work alongside local, uncertified pet stores, supplying them with relatively cheap pets. The stores, in turn, offer them to unknowing buyers for only a fraction of the cost of a quality pet from reputable breeders. Often this can turn into an even bigger problem because when the neglected animal turns out not to be fit as a pet, it might end up in a pound or shelter for the rest of its life.

            Milling can be directly linked to cruelty as all of the animals are kept in highly unsanitary conditions. On top of that, many of the facilities do not meet the minimum requirement of space per each animal, not to mention the nutritional requirements. (“Animal Care Resource Guide”). Also, after the animal used for milling has reached its productivity limit, it is usually slaughtered and another animal is used.

Mills can only continue to exist because of the uninformed people who still keep purchasing pets from pet stores instead of licensed and certified kennels or breeders. This gives the millers a reason to keep running their business. The only way to prevent the problem is to raise public awareness about the origin of the pets sold in pet shops. Recently, there has been a lot of media coverage about the issue in the United States as the frequency of occurrences has escalated during the last few years. Police raids have also become more frequent in hopes of improving the situation. (“What is a Puppy Mill”). In San Francisco, similarly to many other areas in the US, has proposed a ban on all pet sales to fight against milling. (Nieves, “San Francisco proposes controversial pet sale ban”) (“Animal Cops”)

Breaking laws

            The 21st century was a definite turning point for pet culture in general. It became a topical matter, with various laws concerning it being passed every now and then. Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of these laws or they are just reluctant to abide them.

            The most fitting example is the restriction of walking dogs in public areas without a leash. This law is especially enforced in the United Kingdom. A quite a hefty fine of £80 could be charged to the offender. The law also concerns the premises of schools and kindergartens, besides the vicinity of playgrounds. (Fines for dogs off leads in parks”)

            Luckily there has also been a steady increase in the number and accessibility of special parks meant for dog walking. The owners can let their pets run loose in the periphery of these parks without the fear of them getting into trouble, as the area is usually encompassed by a fence. A rather recent outcome of this law is a unified database of public dog-walking parks from which one can look up the closest in a matter of seconds. This site helps dog owners abide the restricting laws by offering them an alternative place to spend their time. (Public dog parks database)

Pets as status symbols

            Many prominent figures in society are of the opinion that adopting and keeping fierce animals as pets boosts their imago or makes them more respected. It is, however, a rather simple-minded assumption and the action itself is highly unethical and in some extreme cases, even illegal.

            Probably one of the best known and talked about instances of this is the controversy surrounding the former boxing champion Mike Tyson’s collection of Siberian tigers. He is allegedly also a trader of the animals. The problem lies within the fact that the tigers Tyson owned were kept in small cramped cages all year round. In addition, the tigers he sold to clients were neglected and not fed well enough. After Tyson’s bankruptcy, most of his tigers were confiscated and given to local wildlife sanctuaries. (Bartosik, “Mike Tyson’s Tiger Taken from Tattoo Parlor”)

            Quite a common hobby today is keeping exotic reptiles. Usually they live in aquarium-like boxes made of glass and barely ever get out throughout their whole lives. This is often considered cruelty as people are taking away the animals’ right to move about freely.

            Another controversial pet is the pit bull terrier. It is widely regarded as the most dangerous breed as it has been developed solely for the purpose of fighting in pits. Many fatalities have been recorded connected to the pit bull and because of that, restrictions have been placed on the breed in both the United States and the United Kingdom. (Balko, “Pit Bull Ban Punishes Dogs for Bad Owners”)

            Rather closely connected to the question are presidential pets. Since the very beginning, United States presidents have kept pets at their work posts. It can be regarded as a manipulative move because it is meant to show the public how caring and hospitable they are. The whole matter has been over-emphasized by the media, especially during the last “presidential dog election”. (Goudreau, “The Pet Culture”)

 

 

 

Research

            I have conducted a survey on www.surveymonkey.com among American and English forum users. This chapter will give an overview of the results and also a short analysis of the statistics. A total of 43 people have answered the questionnaire which consisted of 10 questions. (Link, Martin. “Appendix A”)

1)      A growing trend in today’s society is to own more than one pet. Although the survey shows the majority having only one pet, a remarkable amount of people admit to having five or more pets. This shows the changing stance towards pets as in the 80s, it would have been considered outrageous and an unnecessary waste of money. Over 9% of the respondents own more than ten animals – an indication that they are either counting in their aquarium inhabitants, fostering a number of pets at the given time or developing a case of hoarding, closely connected to obsessive-compulsive disorder.

2)      It is a known fact that pets do not come cheap. Even if the animal itself can be acquired relatively inexpensively, the ongoing expenses are what make the hobby costly. One should note that if the pets have been insured, the costs can go well over $2000 per year due to the fact that depending on the insurance plan, annual costs can reach $500 per pet. A majority of owners, however, tend to spend around $1000-$1300 on their animals. The people who spend under $250 probably do not own a dog as that is the bare minimum for only the cost of dog food per year.

3)      Although it is a good thing that over half of the people have rescued or adopted their pets from animal shelters, it is also a sign that there is a continually deepening problem with stray animals. It is nice to see that none of the owners have knowingly acquired their pets from mills; instead, most of the purchased pets are from certified kennels. Rather strangely, despite very popular websites such as Petfinder becoming more and more known, only one of the respondents found their pet online. Unfortunately, accidental litters have been mentioned as the source of some pets. This indicates that some owners are not aware of how to keep their pets from producing unwanted offspring and thus, more emphasis should be put on raising awareness of this issue. Luckily, the respondents of this survey helped ease the problem by adopting at least a few of these unwanted animals as their pets.

4)      All of the people who have taken up the hobby have managed to keep at it, spending at least one hour each day solely with their pets. One third of the people spend five to six hours each day dealing solely with the animals. A lot of answers came from unemployed people or students so some of their days are spent at home with the animals. Some answers suggest that for the sake of being with their pets, owners take them to work so they would not have to stay home alone.

5)      Quite unexpected results came from this question. Only about one third of the questioned owners have ever used any form of services for their pets. None of them has been to pet restaurants and only one has visited a hotel for pets, although the popularity of these two services has been on the rise recently. 23,3% have used professional grooming services, probably for showing purposes. The rest either use the wide range of products to groom their pets at home or use the help of friends or relatives. Dog walkers have also been brought out – a necessary service when the owner is unable to go out with the pet because of a health condition or being preoccupied with work.

6)      Rather predictable results – Almost all of the owners have trained their pets personally or have had them schooled professionally. The two that have not done so probably do not own trainable animals, e.g. dogs. Instead they own cats and rodents that cannot be trained that easily.  People still mostly prefer training the pets themselves, although puppy schools are gaining popularity. Professional trainers have been used by only 14% of the owners. This might indicate that people are trying to be more sparing during the current economic depression or they are satisfied with the results of home training.

7)      Buying presents for the pets is a rather new development. It is directly connected to pets turning into our four-legged children over the last decade. (Goudreau, “The Pet Culture”). Although there have been various videos spreading around the internet with dogs dressed in Halloween attire, the owners do not buy their pets presents for that specific holiday.  Christmas and the pet’s birthday are, however, celebrated with presents by more than half of the owners. The presents may be either toys or food. About 21% of the owners do not buy their pets anything for the celebrations, probably because they do not think it is necessary.

8)      Almost none of the respondents take their pets to the vet more seldom than once a year. Some go even as far as to visit the vet every week, probably due to an ongoing condition of the pet or just because they care for it that much. The majority prefers yearly visits or only when something seems to be wrong. Again, this seems to be the most economical way to look after the pets’ health as each visit to the vet can cost upwards of $30. The nine owners who visit the vet once a month or more have probably insured their pets so they do not have to pay the whole cost of the regular check-ups.

9)      The results show that almost half of the owners let their pets sleep in the same bed with them. This would have been considered unethical and immoral a few decades ago, but now it is completely accepted. Most still have a separate mattress or bed for the pet. A few of the owners give their pets the freedom to choose the best place to

sleep, not confining them to any certain location. One fifth of the people like to keep at least some of their pets in a cage, probably so they would not roam around and wake up the owners. One respondent has even separated a whole room for the four-legged friends to guarantee a good night’s sleep.

10)   Pets have been almost universally accepted as members of the family – about 84% think of them so. One fifth even considers them as children or on the same level with them. This is also exemplified by the fact that the pets receive presents on holidays.  Almost none think of the pet as just an animal living with them.

 

 

 

References

Ogle, Madeline Bright.  “The Heritage of Pet Grooming”. Web. February 2011. <http://www.petgroomer.com/history/history_2.htm>

 “Mobile Grooming Georgia”. Photograph. Web. February 2011. <http://www.twopawsupgrooming.com/mobile_grooming_georgia.jpg>

Link, Martin. “Appendix A: A Survey on Various Aspects of Pet Care”. Survey. November 2010 – February 2011.

“Animal Cops Houston / Philadelphia / Phoenix”. Discovery Communications. Animal Planet,  Silver Spring, Maryland.  2009 – 2011.

“Conformation show”. Web. Wikipedia, The Wikimedia Foundation. January 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conformation_show>

“Grooming room”. Photograph. Web. February 2011. <http://www.canineproducts.co.uk/ekmps/shops/rjlpetsupplies/resources/image/grooming%20room.jpg>

“Dog supplies”. Web. February 2011. <http://www.petsupplies.com/dog/551/>

Chateau Poochie. “Hotel for Dogs”. Video. Web. February 2008.  <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrvTR24Hna0>

Spa for Pets. Web. Los Gatos, California. February 2011. <http://www.spa4pets.com/>

Roe, Nicholas. “Animal friendly restaurants: a dog’s dinner”. The Telegraph. Web. July 2008. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/features/3637281/Animal-friendly-restaurants-a-dogs-dinner.html>

“What is a Puppy Mill”. Web. ASPCA. February 2011. <http://www.aspca.org/fight-animal-cruelty/puppy-mills/what-is-a-puppy-mill.aspx>

“Animal Care Resource Guide”. Web. United States Department of Agriculture. February 2011. <http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/downloads/manuals/eig/11.4_eig.pdf>

Public dog parks database. Web. February 2011.  <http://www.publicdogparks.com/>

“Fines for dogs off leads in parks”. Web. BBC News. February 2007. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/manchester/6366293.stm>

Nieves, Evelyn. “San Francisco proposes controversial pet sale ban”. Salon. Web. July 2010. <http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2010/07/10/us_san_francisco_pet_sales_1>

Bartosik, Matt. “Mike Tyson’s Tiger Taken from Tattoo Parlor”. NBC Chicago. Web. May 2010.  <http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local-beat/No-More-Tigers-at-Gary-Tattoo-Parlor-95116419.html>

Balko, Radley. “Pit Bull Ban Punishes Dogs for Bad Owners”. Fox News. Web. September 2006.  <http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,215637,00.html>

Goudreau, Jenna. “The Pet Culture”. Forbes. Web. October 2009.  <http://www.forbes.com/2009/10/15/pets-dogs-cats-forbes-woman-time-children.html>

 

 

 

 

Appendix A: A Survey on Various Aspects of Pet Care

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