Are We Spoiling Our Dogs?

Written by: Dina Fantegrossi

November 1, 2015

Last week, Boston Globe reporter, Jeff Harder released a piece entitled “How Did We Become Such Shameless Dog Spoilers”. Harder is a self professed dog lover who definitely spoils his own two pooches (at the time of the article he was planning Biff the Bulldog’s birthday party), but some of his suggestions about American dog owners come off pretty harsh. The reactions of Reddit users in the Boston area and around the country have been all but unanimous.


Dog parents seem to feel that so long as one has the means with which to “spoil” their pet, then what is the harm? The Reddit feed is full of users asking what spoiled really means when it comes to a dog. Does providing products that promote better health like orthopedic bedding and high end foods really count as “spoiling”?


How about services like doggy day care, massage therapy, and professional grooming? One can make the argument that all of these luxuries also benefit the dog’s health- exercise and mental stimulation at day care, pain relief from massage, and healthy skin and coat from grooming.


Providing these extras to our pets is a rapidly growing phenomenon. Harder focuses on the statistic that American pet owners are in line to spend over $60.6 billion this year as opposed to $17 billion in 1994.

One savvy Redditer pointed out that the article fails to elaborate on these totals. First of all, the $60 billion encompasses what we spend on our “pets”, not just dogs. Does this include horses who are notoriously costly to care for? How about expensive home aquarium systems? Also, this sum definitely includes veterinary expenses, food and other essentials that hardly constitute overindulgence.


Some products that the article used as examples of “spoiling” included pet strollers and sweaters. A few folks on the Reddit feed pointed out examples of how purchasing these products for their dogs were anything but examples of coddling.


One user described pushing her elderly dog around in a baby stroller after he became too arthritic to go for his walks. In this way she was still able to give him the experience of enjoying the outdoors in his final days. Without the stroller this would not have been possible due to the dog’s weight.

Another wrote about the very practical use of strollers in the city where most residents must walk along several blocks of asphault to reach any green space for their pup to enjoy. Asphault that is extremely hot in the summer, and icy in the winter.


On the issue of sweaters a Reddit user discussed visiting his veterinarian with his senior Beagle. The dog was shaking constantly, and the owner was concerned it was arthritis pain. The vet suggested that he may just be cold. The Beagle now gallops to his dad joyfully at the sight of his sweater, and no longer trembles in chilly weather.


Another hot button issue for readers was the quote from Raymond Coppinger, Professor of Biology at Hampshire College and author of the upcoming book, How Dogs Work. Coppinger said, in part, “The average dog in America certainly has a whole better life, because of the money, than the average child in Syria these days.”


While no one argues that the suffering of people in less fortunate socio-economic circumstances than Americans is tragic, they ask what does that have to do with our dogs? Is Coppinger suggesting that if we were less obsessed with our pups we would be more inclined to donate that disposable income to world relief efforts?


Reddit users balk at this seemingly irrelevant correlation and point out that dog owners tend to be quite charitable. Firstly, they have opened their homes to a less fortunate creature, and offered up their hard earned money to care for it. Secondly, those who have adopted or rescued their dogs have already contributed to a charitable organization, and are more likely to support that group and others in the future.


Readers on the Reddit thread also point out that just about any non-essential passion could be targeted in the same way. reports that Americans spent 10.7 trillion on shopping last year which they further broke down into subcategories.


For example, we spent $96 billion on beer in 2014. Beer is a nonessential item that, let’s face it, has not done much to advance the human race. Yet Americans spent $30 billion more on beer than they are on par to dish out on all pet care and pet products combined this year. As a dog lover and an American, I am more concerned about that statistic!


Coppinger went on to share the rather radical opinion that the American obsession with dogs is a passing fad, much like a previous generation’s coddling of their horses. He suggests that our canine craze is not only superfluous, but also detrimental to our dogs. He uses the soaring obesity rates and increasing mental health problems to illustrate his point.


Erik Assadourian of the environmental research group, Worldwatch Institute agrees with Coppinger, and takes his opinion a step further. He believes that if America were to face a catastrophic economic crash we would eventually toss our dogs out to fend for themselves. He suggests our domestic dogs could soon become the next wolves- roving in packs and foraging for survival. He uses the number of pets abandoned during the last recession as his basis for this scenario.


Pet lovers on Reddit deny that this could ever be the case. With the vast majority of us considering dogs family, we may cut back on the luxuries, but throw them out to save ourselves? Never.

The article mentions the recent Harris Poll Survey in which 96% of dog owners currently consider them to be members of the family. We enjoy doing kind things for our family, and revel in the ability to give them everything and more than they could ever want or need.


If you think about it, even the items and services we procure for our dogs that cannot be explained away as beneficial to their health like Halloween costumes, diamond studded collars and pet psychics, still serve an important purpose. They make dog lovers happy.


In a world where we work longer hours for fewer benefits, enjoying the spoils of our labor is essential to our physical and mental wellbeing. Some reward themselves with a few beers with the guys, others play golf every weekend to unwind, dog devotees “spoil” their pups. Let’s not forget that studies have shown that pets reduce our blood pressure and help to extend our lifespan.


So if throwing your dog a birthday party makes you happy, who’s to say it’s inappropriate? If paying for a luxury day care service to pick your pooch up each morning while you work gives you peace of mind, that’s nobody’s business but your own. Being passionate and devoted dog owners is one American indulgence that seems to do much more good than harm to all involved.

H/T to The Boston Globe

Featured image via @Lynzilu77

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Written by: Dina Fantegrossi

November 1, 2015

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