Modern Family: My Kids Have Four Legs

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3 black dogs


Meet the Highland Family!  There’s Shawn, Estelle, Boo Boo, Scout and Big Duke – -wait, what?  Yes, my husband and I are the proud parents of three kids – who all have four legs.  Forty years ago, it may have seemed strange to consider our pets members of the family, but not anymore.  Our breed of modern family is on the rise.Your child my child

According to The Humane Society of the United States, pet ownership has more than tripled since the 1970s, resulting in 62% of American households in 2012 containing at least one pet.  Meanwhile, the average age at which young women get married continues to go up, and the number of babies born to women ages 15 to 29 continues to go down.  Add to that fact the number of small dogs in American households has increased every year since 1999, and the numbers seem to indicate that for many young adults, pets are replacing children.

This trend of pet “humanization” has retailers howling all the way to the bank.  The pet industry enjoyed revenue of nearly $60 billion dollars in the US in 2014 and was one sector that proved impervious to the economic downturn.  To the contrary, it continued to grow throughout, and consistently outpaces GDP growth.

But what are we pet parents buying our furry charges?  A better question would be, what aren’t we buying?

There are the basics, like food. But pet food is not as basic as it used to be. Pet parents these days are more aware of how nutrition affects people, so they want nutritious food for their pets, too. They are willing to spend more on better quality food, and they check labels.  They’re picky about where it comes from, what’s in it and who makes it.  Some people even opt to skip commercial food altogether and instead order custom-made food from specialty companies or make it themselves from scratch.  Even standard treats like dog biscuits are just not exclusive enough.  Why make your poor pooch suffer through a run-of-the-Milk Bones when you could give him a Nootie No Grainers slathered with Dogsbutter?

Since we go to the trouble to make sure our dogs and cats are well fed, we obviously want them to look good and feel good, too!  Services such as grooming, training, daycare, and boarding are most popular among pet parents, but new options for activities (flyball, anyone?) continue to spring up. So, too, do products and opportunities to primp and pamper your pet.

Birthdays are a great time for pet parents to throw away money – -  I mean — throw a pet party, and there are companies that specialize in just that. Fifi will be camera-ready with a dental cleanse and a “Pawticure,” and with a spritz of dog cologne for good measure, she’ll feel like the cat’s meow or the bark of the ball!

Photo courtesty of

Photo courtesty of

Halloween and Christmas are the two holidays that are prime time for gifting pets, though. The American Pet Product Association projected last year that 20 million Americans would spend more than 210 million dollars on pet-related presents in the winter of 2014. Costumes, toys, and treats lead this spending, but there is also a dizzying array of pet-focused subscriptions, gadgets and apps to please the most persnickety pet!

Some of this may seem a little silly, but when it comes to protecting their investment, pet parents are serious.  Some parents (*raises hand*) buckle their dog into a safety belt while traveling by car. More people are purchasing pet insurance, too, which can cover everything from Reiki to emergency services. Veterinarians, medical supply companies, and drug makers are aware of this development and are expanding their specialties and products to meet growing demand. And when all options are exhausted and the inevitable approaches, pet parents can choose to say goodbye to their beloved pet in private with in-home euthanasia; then memorialize him with cremation services, headstones, paw print plaques and other end-of-life products and services.

Aside from the financial implications of treating pets as family, there are social implications as well. Disagreements among couples about how far into the intimacies of a relationship a pet is allowed can result in one partner in the doghouse while the dog gets the bed. Considering a pet part of the family also results in added strife when that family breaks up, as divorce lawyers who increasingly negotiate pet custody settlements can tell you.

But pet parents still believe that what we get out of our relationship with our pets makes up for these drawbacks – we wouldn’t change a thing. Pets are the family members we get to choose, and we are fully committed. In our most modern of families, we’re glad this trend has legs — four of them.

Do you have a “modern family”?  Tell us about your pet’s role in your household.


3 Responses

  1. Pattie says:

    Our family always had pets of some kind but after the kids grew up and left home my cats became ‘my babies’ more than ever. I go to great lengths to give them a species appropriate diet and as a result they are both very healthy. We also enlarged our fenced back yard so they have a nice place to roam outside safely although they spend the better part of the winter in front of the fireplace. I began training my younger cat to sit and sit/stay and he got the hang of it really fast. He’s so active and smart I needed to channel some of that energy in a constructive way so he wouldn’t keep trouncing on my old boy! Training efforts on him (he’s 13 years) were wasted as he thought I was persecuting him. So he gets to enjoy life on his terms which is lots of sleep, lots of lap time and lots of food!

  2. Lexie says:

    I’m 34 years old, and this article fits me Perfect! I’ve had the same 3 fur babies for the past 13 years. They are absolutely wonderful! We’ve taken pictures with Santa Claus many times, travel to Yosemite, Santa Barbara, finding all the nicest dog places and hotels along the way. Having these babies has chased away several men and opened my eyes therefore, I am a better person because of my dogs.

  3. Sylvia says:

    We have two pets in our family, a cat and a dog. Both have their own personality, we’re a slave to the cat who doesn’t do what we want at any given time. Our dog however is obedient and loving. We love them both and they return the love we give them 100 fold. Since our 5 children left and started families of their own, our pets have more than filled that emptiness. A bonus is we can leave them home occasionaly with out a babysitter and know they will welcome us back with a greeting of total joy.