From the backyard to the bedroom
By Wendy Wollenberg
From gourmet food and specialty products to insurance plans and political clout, pets wield a more powerful place in our family structures than ever before.
This shift has come about quickly, with pets literally moving from our backyards to our porches, then to our living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms (and into our hearts and minds). This process has transformed our relationships with them forever. Pet guardians have changed their ways of thinking and now use their buying and voting power to create the best lives for their pets, just as they would any family member. Ideals and items that were once thought of as human-only necessities are now commonplace for our animal companions, creating entire industries around these needs. Our pets’ lives now, more than ever, mimic our own.
Bringing Up Baby
The humanization of our companion animals begins at birth—or adoption. Witness the trends of “baby” showers and announcements for new pet parents; products like strollers and carriers for small pets that rival any must-have human version; and educational dog toys by traditionally child-focused companies like Fisher-Price, which has a dedicated line of pooch-friendly variations of its timelessly popular kids’ toys. If you’re attending one of those new pet parties, you can now choose from pet car seats, carrying slings, pack-n-play travel kits, co-sleepers, and bunk beds—items typically seen on a baby registry.
A slew of books, programs, and products have also sprung up just to help your puppy or kitty learn toilet training, whether you want your pet to use the “Bell Technique,” the litter box, or your actual toilet (blame Meet the Parents for that novel idea!).
In 1982, Dr. Jack Stephens, a veterinarian based in Boise, ID, founded the country’s first pet insurance company. In 2005, he partnered with Greg McDonald, one of the founders of General Fire and Casualty, to form Pets Best Insurance. Now, a Google search for “pet insurance” turns up countless companies offering policies for pets, and the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA) serves as a resource for pet guardians, veterinarians, and the general public on the benefits of having pet coverage. Some companies even offer pet insurance as an added perk when hiring new employees, proving that pets are truly considered part of the family (what’s one more dependent on your plan?). Pet insurance is considered an industry with huge growth potential. According to the market research firm Packaged Facts, it is now a $300 million business in the US, with sales more than doubling from 2005 to 2009. The firm further estimates that sales will increase by double-digit percentages over the next few years, reaching $881 million by 2014.
Auto insurance policies are recognizing pets, as well, with Progressive Auto offering pet injury coverage as an automatic part of your policy. Considering your pet just like any other passenger, the free coverage protects your dog or cat if they are hurt during an accident, fire, or theft. Medical bills up to $1,000 are covered by the plan.
Similarly to the nation’s human population, older pets represent a large percentage of the whole. According to research by the Quaker Pet Group (QPG), approximately 50 percent of the U.S. pet population (more than 80 million dogs and cats) is over the age of 7. With better access to healthcare and healthier lifestyles, pets, much like people, are living longer. This poses unique challenges for their guardians, who have to deal with everything from arthritis and muscle weakness to digestive issues and surgical procedures.
In fact, QPG recently unveiled Silver Tails, the first-ever line of pet care products devoted to senior dogs and cats. The product line includes hand-held massagers for improving circulation, soothing arthritic joints, and aiding in conditions like hip dysplasia; a harness for removing the weight off of the hind legs of arthritic or post-surgical dogs; and senior-friendly chew toys made with soft-yet-durable materials.
Specialized food, products, and nutritional supplements for pets have become big business, with stores such as Kriser’s in Chicago and Southern California exemplifying the trend. Brad Kriser opened his first retail location in 2006 after being introduced to all-natural pet food, then a rarity. Now, high-end (organic, and gluten-free, etc.) pet food can be found on the shelves of stores throughout the country.
The explosion of high-design pet beds, crates, bowls, and other accessories is another example of how our pets’ lives mesh with our own. Our pets’ paraphernalia can now reflect our own sense of style, be it traditional, contemporary, or anything in between. Renowned designers such as Jonathan Adler and John Bartlett have designed stylish pet accessories that are sold at select department stores and boutiques across the country. And, forward-thinking interior designers are incorporating pet-friendly spaces into their projects.
As pets earn their place on the family tree, we naturally expect our politicians to address issues that are important to us as voters. In fact, in a recent PetMD poll, 66 percent of people would reject a presidential candidate who is perceived to not like pets. Animal rights have become a weighty topic in political campaigns, with voters paying more attention to candidates’ stances on these issues. Just as we care about education, the environment, and making the world a better place for our children, we consider the welfare of our furry and four-legged companions when choosing our leaders, as well.