Tuesday, January 28, 2014


When I think about how to tackle today's subject, I want to hammer out on the keys, "you all are ridiculous, get a life" and leave it at that. Unfortunately, that would probably make me an equally terrible person, just of a different kind than I'm railing on today.

This post is going to require a long string of disclaimers because I'm swimming against the current on this one, people. I don't have anything particularly enlightening to say on this subject either - I doubt I will convince anyone to join my side - but in the kinda-words of the Jungle Book, "I've reached a spot, where I have to stop, and tell you what's bothering meeee!"

A lot of people I love and respect will fall under my focus of disdain today, so don't take it personally. Unless you're really being a nut about today's topic, and then do take it very personally and stop being a nut (aka, you are ridiculous, get a life).

I like animals, ok? Especially baby ones. I've even loved a few cats in my day. So let's just get that out of the way right now - I'm not an animal hater. I'm married to Mr. Snow White, for goodness sake; he doesn't even want to see me kill sugar ants in our kitchen and he captures spiders in our house to release them outside. He's genuinely upset that I would be willing to kill a gopher in our yard. If we could have pets in our current apartment, I'm sure we would have several by now. 

Oh, and I once brought a kitten home from school, lay with it on the garage floor for hours while it seizured its life away, and then had one of the most conflicted moments of my life having to be the one to decide whether or not it was time to put it down. Another time, I made a crazy U-turn into the airport on my way home from work and chased a feral kitten through parking lots and fields for half an hour, with no idea of what I might do if I caught it (which I didn't). I name stray cats in parking lots and visit them. I like cats, okay?

In addition to a vein of crazy-cat-ladyness, I don't think that animals who bite people (unless they have rabies) should be put down - aggression and self preservation are their instincts (Did you know that humans don't have instincts? We learn everything.). And, I am morally opposed to zoos. Especially with photography and videography as superb as they are nowadays, we shouldn't confine wild animals for our pleasure. 

However - and here I present my most unpopular opinion - I think America has taken love of animals way, way too far. 

I'm not just talking about vegetarian or vegan culture, because I do think that we should take good care of our future food (and all animals) for multiple reasons, not least in light of our commission in Genesis to rule over all the beasts and birds. I think we should try, within reason, to protect endangered species (I love this tiger picture immensely). However, I don't think it's wrong to eat animals, or even wear their coats, because I believe those are two of the reasons animals were made. In my own life, I have found that standing up for something takes energy, and I choose not to spend the bulk of mine worrying about where my meat comes from and how it was treated prior to it being part of my meal. As a side note, I seriously role my eyes at the vegetarian/vegan "argument" that not eating meat is "going back to how it used to be". Please, people have been eating meat since the dawn of Creation, or the Big Bang, or whatever floats your boat. It's just not accurate that our bodies weren't made to digest meat. I know that the quality of meat can be poor when it's processed and pumped full of chemicals, but that's not the same as our ancestors not having eaten meat. Just throwin' that out there.

I am more concerned with how people treat their pets and the national tone of dialogue about animals in general (at least in my neck of the woods!). A lot of people seem to think, for example, that getting a dog is like a test drive for getting a kid. [significant pause] K.... here's the thing. It's not the same. Now, I have likened Ishmael to a puppy in that he pees on the floor, chews on my shoes, cries in the night, and jumps on our faces in bed, but I will be laughing hysterically when millenialls figure out that children do not equal pets. Peers, I want to take back all the nice things I've said about you before. "62% of Americans have a pet, 83% of them refer to themselves as the mommy and daddy of their pet" (source). And yet, having a pet does not make you a parent, nor should you refer to yourself as the parent of said pet. It's simply not true. Even the animals themselves realize this.

On the same note, why are animals used to fill some void before, after, or in place of real human children, or otherwise human beings? I do understand that having a pet can be a comfort, especially to those grieving, but please, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, stop referring to your pets as your babies, your kids, your children, or above all, your "fur babies". The term "fur babies" makes me want to slit my wrists, and when I say it or hear it said, I think I feel hair growing in my mouth. "Fur babies" is a term that should be used for something more like a woman's armpits after not having shaved in three weeks. You're welcome.

Even calling your pet "the newest member of our family" and ending the list of names on your Christmas card with your pets' names is questionable behavior, in my opinion. When people announce "the newest member of our family", I expect to see a tiny wrinkly human, not a chihuahua. Nor should pets have their own websites or Facebook accounts. Those are people things. But I digress.... (not really, I'm just getting going.)

Another common thing people say about their dogs, in particular, is that their dogs are their "best friends". You know, "man's best friend" and everything, which seems like it has been around for a long time. I concede that pets can be excellent companions, but, a human's best friend? I googled the definition of friend, and it goes thusly: "a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations. synonyms: companion, soul mate, intimate, confidante, confidant, familiar, alter ego, second self, playmate, playfellow, classmate, schoolmate,workmate." 

You will notice that a friend is defined as a person, straight off the bat. Other than "second self", I think some people do think their relationship with their pet encompasses the rest of that definition, but to me, if your pet is your best friend, you have problems. You can do so much better than a dog for a friend! A four legged best friend red-flags a person as having no larger meaning to life, in my eyes. (photo)

Joking aside (though I'm not really joking), what really bothers me is that I've seen some people treat their pets better than the children they do actually have, and that is an abomination. Seriously, it makes me sick to see pets coddled while children are neglected. While on the topic of parenting humans in the context of animals, someone recently suggested to me, after Ishmael was acting out in public, that I educate myself on the ways of  "the dog whisperer" and use those tools to contain my son. Poor person, they knew not how I laughed and vomited in my soul at that suggestion.

Another deeply troubling thing is the amount of money American society spends on pets. The amount spent on pet spas, pet boutiques, pet cafes, specialty pet food, and general pet pampering is diabolically off the charts. Did you know that people go to get facials WITH their dogs? Like, the dog gets a facial too? Start paying attention to pet food commercials, and you'll see what I mean (though they strategically don't include the prices of those bags, or gold lined cans, of food). Trust me, your dog does not need to eat organic wild mushrooms and venison in order to have a healthy and filling (even pleasurable) meal. Let's look at some numbers....

As Americans, we spend $61 BILLION a year on our pets.
Let's allow that to sink in.
If you're like me, million, billion, trillion.... they all run together now and when I hear people emphasizing such and such million, I'm like.... please, that's not even a big number anymore. So, to put $61 billion dollars into perspective, one source I read said the porn industry (which is often touted as one of the biggest money makers out there) makes about $14 billion a year. Sports, which I also think of as right at the tippy top (and that's a rant for another day) makes about $70 billion a year. The US wedding industry is worth about $60 billion a year, and trust me, that is insane. 

An 8% annual interest on $60 billion makes $152 PER SECOND. $60 billion is more than 70% of the worlds' 180 economies' GDPs. $60 billion could fund the UN for 5 years. $60 billion would also pay for universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, with relatively small class sizes. $60 billion a year would buy roughly a 15 percent reduction in corporate taxes. $60 billion a year would make college free for about half of all full-time college students — at both two- and four-year colleges — in the country. $60 billion would buy roughly a $500 annual tax cut for every household in the country, because there are roughly 115 million households in the United States. (quoted from here) You're feelin' me now, huh? 

My aunt Cathy, a vet, studied at UC Davis and she told me that there was once a family who flew in - as in, on a plane - their chicken (a chicken!!) for some kind of surgery that only UC Davis was able to perform. Full disclosure, I hate live chickens, but regardless, that is ridiculous. I get that people are attached to their pets - I have cried over the suffering of my own pets. But, there is a line at which the cost to keep an animal alive is too much, and I think way too many people are willing to cross that line. Not to mention that it's not always in the best interest of the animal to prolong a difficult or painful life.

Yet another example of the degree of out-of-handness we are dealing with here, I present to you lawsuits about pets' cremated remains. There are over 700 pet cremation centers in the US now, because we're that dumb. There's also been a big stink about the fact that you may not always get back exactly what you give them (which is gross on a basic level, I admit). Some crazy people wear "urn necklaces" of their deceased pets' hair and ashes. People who do that with people they love are kind of psycho in current society, so why is this acceptable of pet owners?

In the Freakenomics podcast where I'm getting a lot of this information from, they report on a mock trial about a fictional pet owner suing over cremation fraud. The mock jury voted in the pet owner's favor, including damages over "emotional distress", to the tune of 3 million, 500 thousand dollars. Real courts have begun to see pets less as property, and "realize that pets are people too." That makes my blood boil. It's a clear and laughable contradiction in terms! Pets are NOT people!!! Again, have a real baby if you want to find out the difference between pets and people. 

I think most of my readership is already on my side on the humanity (or lack of humanity) issue, but the gravity of this idea is compounded by the state of our culture in general. I'm not an American culture basher in general, as many in the Church seem to be, but I have to concede that there are things that we, as a culture, glorify much too easily in place of things that are more important, such as our relationships with other humans, be they neighbors or those in need globally. I realize it is unpopular to tell other people that what they value most (pets, for some people) is a reflection of their priorities being out of whack, but I'm willing to be disliked over this point because I think it is of the utmost importance. 

Sorry for all the caps-lock and exclamation points. Congratulations on surviving my version of "sinners in the hands of an angry God", or as I like to call it, "idiots in the focus of a wrathful blogger" (sorry, you scholarly friends, for just comparing myself to Jonathan Edwards).  What are your thoughts on how Americans treat their pets? What points did you agree with, where did you think I was too harsh or have a blind spot? 

And to all you cats out there, I still love you, just scratch your owner for me. (painting by Mimi Vang Olsen)


  1. I LOVE THIS! Zach has to remind me not to be so mean when I talk about pet owners and their emotional issues. Living with animals in the house absolutely disgusts me. I just want to shake people and say, "You know there's an ANIMAL crapping in your house, right? I can smell it as soon as I enter the door!"

    And will you PLEASE write about how ridiculous professional sports are? I can just feel that we agree on that one. (That's another one Zach has to gently remind me to shut up about.)

    1. Oh husbands, your wisdom is so irritating at times. ;)

      I'm totally cackling imaging you saying that to a pet owner.
      I don't know if I know enough about sports to be properly venomous, I try and stay faaaar away from sports people. Although I will be attending a super bowl party solely for the spicey wings my dad makes. ;) I'd love to read anything YOU had to say on about crazy sports people.


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