Good-natured, anecdote-crammed account of how we coddle our pets.
Journalist Schaffer adopted a flea-ridden St. Bernard and soon found himself turning into one of “those people” who spoil their dogs and cats with a mind-boggling array of products and services, from play dates and pool parties to pet spas and geriatric care. For several years the author traveled through “the new world of American petdom,” visiting trade shows, dog parks and “petrepreneurs” to learn how the United States’ 70-million pet-owning households were treating their charges. Now more than ever, he writes, Americans, especially baby boomers with empty nests, view pets as “fur babies,” members of the family. No longer consigned to the dog house, pets have come into the main house and spurred the rise of a $41-billion industry catering to their apparent tastes and needs. In recent years, big-box national chains like PETCO and PetSmart have grown to nearly 1,000 stores each, while high-end boutiques have flourished with the sale of dog chews made of bull penis and other delicacies. Schaffer’s bright prose describes the worlds of dog walkers, chauffeurs and groomers; recounts intense leash-law battles in San Francisco, where dogs outnumber children; explores the burgeoning canine social scene at dogster.com and other social-networking websites; and shows how interventional radiology and other new approaches in human medicine are being used in veterinary surgery. His story about Ada Nieves, a 40-ish woman on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, reveals the tremendous growth of the pet madness. From organizing small events for Chihuahua owners several years ago, Nieves has emerged as an energetic planner of elaborate pet parties and has appeared on Martha Stewart’s TV show. “I bought her a dog because I was going to Iraq,” says her incredulous Army-sergeant husband. “I came back to this.” While $1,500 puppy showers may attract only the rich and childless, millions of ordinary Americans are also caught up in pet mania. It’s a search for community at a time when many lead isolated lives, suggests Schaffer.