Let me first state for the record that I really like my dog, an 11-year-old cutie named Lulu. She plays a good game of fetch. She forces me to get a little more exercise with her constant need for walks. She has also mastered being house-trained (well, almost, but let’s not get into the details).
But would I purchase her a special outfit today in honor of National Dress Up Your Pet Day?
Not on your freaking life.
These days there are seemingly no limits to what we do for our four-legged friends. Some of you buy them a Louis Vuitton LVMH, -2.00% carrier. Price tag for a new one — you don’t even want to guess. Some have no qualms booking atluxury pet hotels, replete with “in-suite television entertainment tuned to Animal Planet or DogTV.” And more and more of you subscribe to a high-end dog-food service.
As it is, the basic costs for owning a dog, from food to poop bags, can easily top $2,000 a year. But add that Louis Vuitton bag — a “gently used” one runs $1,722 — to the mix and you might be paying more for your pet than your car.
It’s all part of a trend to treat our pets like people. One study, from the Nielsen NLSN, -1.76% folks, noted that 95% of American pet owners consider their animals to be family members. (Little wonder so many have us have taken to calling them our “fur babies”). But I don’t need a study to tell me that: I just have to look at all the pet owners I know who are posting more pictures of their dogs on Instagram FB, +1.09% and the like than of their family.
Speaking of which, consider this latest statistic from the folks at LendingTree: 28% of pet owners spend money with those social-media posts in mind. You know, for “important” things like pet Halloween costumes. And for younger pet owners, as in Gen Zers, that figure increases to 47%. Which makes me want to head to the nearest dog park with a megaphone and announce: “FIDO DOESN’T CARE IF YOU DRESS HIM UP LIKE BATMAN!!!”
This is not to say our canine and feline companions don’t provide us with, well, companionship, which has especially been a necessity during the bleakest days of the pandemic. To wit: In 2020, Americans spent a record $103.6 billion on pet items and care, according to the American Pet Products Association. The organization estimates that 2021 spending hit $109.6 billion — another record — when the numbers are fully tallied.
But I think it’s important to distinguish the kind of relationship you have with your dog versus with the humans in your life. When the pandemic eased over last summer and fall, I spent plenty of time with friends I hadn’t seen in months, catching up on our personal and professional lives and just laughing ourselves silly. And I look forward to similar gatherings when the omicron wave passes.
Contrast that to the kind of “conversations” I have with my dog. Me: “How’s your day going?” Lulu: “Arf.” Me: “Are you looking forward to the new season of ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel?’” Lulu: “Arf.” Me (in a deeply philosophical mode): “What is the true meaning of life?” Lulu: “Arf.”
But it’s not just that I see no point to pretending my dog is human. I also don’t think it’s good for our mental health. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need more person-to-person interaction in our lives, not less. As Martha Tousley, a registered nurse who deals in psychiatric issues, writes: “Wonderful as it is, love for a pet is not a suitable substitute for human companionship.”
Morever, we’re not necessarily doing our dogs any favors when we start pretending that they’re one of us. Most pet experts will tell you that dogs need boundaries — and they need to understand that they’re dogs. That is, they have different needs and desires. No less an authority than pet trainer Cesar Millan (aka the “dog whisperer”) has noted that dog owners “give affection, affection, and more affection, when what the dog really needs is exercise, discipline — and then affection.”
Mind you, I get the whole “fur baby” temptation, particularly now that my kids are all grown up and out of the house. On a quiet day, I’ll chat away with Lulu and feed her one treat too many. And when we go for one of our walks during the winter, I’ll take care to put on her dog coat.
That said, the coat is designed to keep her warm, not to make a fashion statement. Last I checked, Lulu hasn’t made any comments about needing something sportier for National Dress Up Your Pet Day.