Today it’s a Dog’s World
“Freddie, put the gum down. Frehhhh-deeeee!,” admonished a young woman walking her dog outside our apartment on East 55th street. Shocked, I asked her, “Does your dog normally eat chewing gum?” She replied in total frustration, “It’s his favorite thing to hoover up on the sidewalks. He is particularly partial to spearmint and winter green. Every time I bring Freddie back to my apartment, I have to take something out of his mouth, usually chewing gum. Then I wash my hands thoroughly.”
Thank heavens for that, I chuckled to myself, then started to ponder the city’s ever-expanding canine fecundity—not to mention all those cats living in sky scrapers and brown stone buildings around town. And, what about the 66-billion-dollar business behind these fur babies? Actually, dogs and cats have everything we have. Their parallel universe includes: doctors; groomers; chefs; nutritionists; lawyers; teachers; walkers; massage therapists; psychiatrists; photographers; clothing designers; and even veterinarian orthodontists.
Remember “The Queen of Mean,” Leona Helmsley, who left $12 million to care for her Maltese, Trouble? Well, a woman I know, Rachel Hirschfeld, makes her living—and a good one at that! —writing up pet trusts. This is a legally enforceable document which provides care for animals via a pet guardian when their owners are indisposed, temporarily or permanently.
So, who owns all these pets and where do they live? Answer: Urban Millennials. According to a survey conducted by Mintel for a 2006 Washington Post article, “71 percent of men between the ages of 18 and 35 had dogs and 48 percent had cats. In comparison, 62 percent of women in the same age range had dogs and 35 percent had cats.” The rational for this unusually high rate was that younger people were delaying parenthood (child replacements, anyone?) and had more flexible work arrangements making pet ownership relatively easy.
Throughout America 50 percent of the population own dogs and 35 percent cats. Here in Manhattan, the ratio is one pet in every three households (taking into account that some households own multiple pets.) As might be expected, people living in more affluent neighborhoods, particularly those close to green spaces, have the highest ratio of pet ownership. The tiny zip 10006 around One World Trade Center has the highest overall density of dogs probably in the whole wide world.
Not being a passionate pet person, per se, I wanted to better understand what made dogs and cats so irresistible to my friends. I queried them and found there were two reoccurring reasons: unconditional love and companionship, particularly important factors for singles, empty-nesters and seniors. Mary Ewing-Mulligan, MW, (America’s first female Master of Wine) also mentioned another therapeutic benefit, laughter, a particularly powerful stress-buster.
Mary and her husband Ed (co-authors of the Wine for Dummies series) have owned a string of cats over the years, all carrying wine-related names. Mary hastened to explain that each name was chosen based on the personality of each cat: Margaux, Mouton, Sherry, La Tache (Tasha), Léoville, Brunello, Dolcetto, and PiGi (short for Pinot Grigio.)
Dogs are also great for their owner’s exercise regime with all that fresh air three times a day, but only if you don’t use a dog walker at $20 an hour! Another side benefit, as one of my running pals reminded me was “having a cute, little dog on a leash facilitates picking up chicks. Works every time.” (Is this a possible explanation for why male Millennials have more dogs than their female counterpart?)
When I asked about the expense of owning a pet, no one baulked. Everyone answered that their pets were part of the family so the question was totally irrelevant. As Mary put it, “The expenses come when your pet is old or ill, but by that time, they own your heart and you willingly spend time or money to help them.”
No surprise then that few friends mentioned any downside with pet ownership. The only exception was when they traveled and had to leave their animals behind. Luckily, spas and sitters abound in the city offering an easy solution to the feeling of guilt. Pet clothing designer, Joan DeCollibus, suggests a more practical answer: setting up a dog-care-share system with other pet owners.
Interestingly enough, the same Joan is an example of a professional who enjoys pets so much that she gave up her corporate career as a digital marketer and brand builder to start designing fleece clothing for dogs (www.ruffina.nyc). What was your craziest assignment, I asked her? She explained one of her clients had a serious illness and uses yoga as part of her therapy. As her client was getting tired of dragging a heavy dog bed to class for her service dog, she requested that Joan design a dog yoga mat for him. Something else I would never had imagined are Joan’s tailored “onesies” with long sleeves for dogs who have skin allergies so that “dogs don’t scratch themselves to bits.”
Another friend, Dee McMeekan, traded in her job as a lawyer to start a dog photography business, www.deeisfordogs.com. In addition to having private clients, Dee also covers dog shows for various magazines. In fact, she and her daughter Stephanie Apstein, a writer for Sports Illustrated, have covered the Best in Show at Westminster for the last four years. Here's their current article https://www.si.com/extra-mustard/2018/02/14/westminster-dog-show-results-best-show-flynn-bichon-frise-winner-champion.
Recently, Dee also covered "Dog Fashion Week" in a series of charity fashion shows where human and canine designers strutted their stuff. Dee’s photo used for this post is from the 2018 NY Pet Fashion Show. She selected it to illustrate the extreme attention to detail employed by those who want their costumes to attract attention for animal welfare, the raison d’être of the event.” If you look closely,” Dee instructs, “you will see the model is holding a chihuahua in a matching Phoenix costume!”
Extreme or not, no one contests the most important feature about dogs (and maybe cats as well). As Deborah Mintcheff, life coach and cookbook editor, puts it “No matter how you show up, how your day is, how you are feeling, your dog loves you and shows it.” Now, who could possibly argue with this explanation? A non-judgmental friend who is always there for you. Now I get it!