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What Caused The Humanization of Pets?

Updated on July 10, 2014
One Happy Family
One Happy Family | Source

As a rep for a high-end holistic pet food company, I spend 30 hours a week in various pet supplies stores talking to pet owners about diets, feeding protocols and behavior…and of course, trying to get them to buy our food.

A refrain I often hear is, “Oh, I’ve tried a lot of expensive foods and the dog got…” followed by a litany of ills.

Especially from fellow baby boomers, who follow up with; “When I was a kid, we never had any of this stuff. We fed our dogs canned horsemeat and table scraps and they were as healthy as can be…shiny coat, white teeth, blah, blah blah.” And for good measure, they throw in, “…and they lived to be 20 years old.”

Before the humanization of pets, dogs being tied up outside was a more common practice.
Before the humanization of pets, dogs being tied up outside was a more common practice. | Source

Nonsense. I was there. Growing up in the suburbs in the 50’s, our dogs stank, their breath stank, their teeth were horribly discolored, they scratched incessantly and they mostly lived outside.

They slept on or under the back porch and if it rained and we had no dog house, they got to come inside, but down in the cellar. “Bring him to the vet? What for? He didn’t get hit by a car.” They only saw a vet once a year…at the annual rabies clinic at the fire station. And they seldom made it into their teens.

Fast forward to today. Many dog owners are feeding food that costs well over $50 a bag. They’re pampering pooches with toys, treats, hugs and cuddles. They bring them to see the vet at least once a year for a check-up; bring them to doggy day care, the dog park, and with them on vacation. Money is no object…almost, anyway, in most cases...as we lavish fashion and luxury items on our pets.

The author believes that leash laws were largely responsible for the humanization of pets.
The author believes that leash laws were largely responsible for the humanization of pets. | Source

They don’t stink, their breath is largely “kissing sweet,” they’re in better health from their coat to their teeth, and they sleep in our beds with us.

So what brought about this change…what the pet supply industry has termed “the humanization of pets?”

An Internet search on the subject turns up plenty about the economics of the phenomenon; how love-struck pet parents have bottomless purses and wallets when it comes to the fur kids, and how savvy business owners can board that gravy train (no pun intended). Trade publications are rife with ways to exploit the phenomenon.

But you'll have a hard time finding anything about how it all of a sudden happened.

I have a simple theory. Leash laws.

Prior to the advent of leash laws, free-roaming dogs were a nuisance. They fowled the landscape with their waste, trespassed onto our private property and terrorized our children, barked at and fought with each other, scattered our trash all over the neighborhood on curb-side pickup day, and generally were considered to be problematic.

As housing developments flourished and tightly packed neighborhoods sprung up, magnifying the scourge of the roaming dogs, zoning ordinances changed and a few communities enacted “leash laws.” These laws required owners to be in complete control of their dogs at all times and also prohibited the free-roaming of dogs.

Animal control officials, known then as dog catchers, would imprison roaming dogs in shelters, known then as dog pounds, and owners would pay the ransom to get them released from the big house. But it essentially worked. There was peace across the land.

So then, leash law fever spread all across America so that, now, only some rural communities still don’t have leash laws on the books.

Thus being forced into a more up-close-and-personal relationship with their dogs, owners were quick to address the body odor, bad breath, and manners issues. And we fell in love.

Do you want fries with that?  Hopefully there's a dog biscuit in that bag .
Do you want fries with that? Hopefully there's a dog biscuit in that bag . | Source

We openly mourned the loss of a pet, where previously we’d suppress such emotions for fear of having societal eyes rolled at us. We love being with our pets so much that we take them everywhere with us. The drive-up window usually produces a treat for the dog.

At some restaurants in Europe, dogs are welcome to join their owners, though America hasn’t arrived there yet. But, through legislation, we’ve held airlines to a higher standard when transporting our pets, written humane laws that protect animals, and created harsher penalties for animal cruelty convictions.

The modern day pet supplies store is a wonderland of product offerings.
The modern day pet supplies store is a wonderland of product offerings. | Source

With pet owners demonstrating a willingness to pay more for higher quality, we’ve seen improvements in everything from pet food to veterinary care. The more affluent communities don’t have pet supplies stores; they have pet boutiques where you can pay over $2,000 for a Gucci soft sided pet carrier.

Last year, Americans spent $55.72 billion dollars on pets, and this year the American Pet Products Association estimates that we’ll spend $58.51 billion. Is it any wonder then that manufacturers are emboldened to greater heights in pet product offerings?

In my opinion, the long arm of the law, the leash law, that is, ushered in a cultural revolution that continues to evolve, much to the approval of just about everyone.

An Opportunity For You To Weigh In On The Topic

Do you agree that leash laws are largely responsible for the humanization of pets?

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    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 2 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Bob - I agree that the issues you described probably played roles in the 'humanization' of our pets. However, I also think dogs especially evolved over centuries spent living with humans to make themselves more a part of our families.

      When I read the book, THE GENIUS OF DOGS: How Dogs are Smarter than you Think, by (scientist) Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, my unscientific theories were confirmed. I heartily recommend this book, which is joyous in content and written in a non-academic manner so that it's a pleasure to read. Hare's hypothesis(which he proved through long research) was the domestication of dogs led to evolutionary changes in them which, in turn, made them more likely to share a special place in human families.

      Voted Up++

      Jaye

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Jaye, thanks for stopping by. I agree to a point, but the dog's ascension to full family member status, where families pay thousands of dollars to treat a sick or injured dog, etc. happened pretty rapidly.

      Dogs have been companion animals and valuable workers for thousands of years, but not at the level they've achieved in just the last generation. I'm still convinced that there was a trigger, and probably leash laws were the single most influencing factor. Great to have you stop by and contribute.

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 2 years ago

      I never gave it much thought, but after reading your article I have to agree with you. Now that humans have to live more closely to their pets, they want them to smell nice and that's just the beginning of the pampering. Even more now, I think that's all increasing because a lot of people are opting to have pets instead of children, but they treat the pets as if they were the children. Don't get me wrong, I talk about my cats as if they were my kids, but they don't wear cute little outfits, go to the groomers for "spa day", and so on. I think animals make wonderful companions for those of us who are single, but I think a lot of people go overboard.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Well said, Sheila and I agree with you. I see a lot of middle aged couples who fill the "empty nest" with pets and say, "They're our kids now."

      A lot of people do go overboard by the standards of many...but just about everyone goes overboard on something. Just check out casinos, bingo halls, pubs, or just about anyplace or anything that most consider non-essential. I may be reluctant to spend a certain amount of money for something a pet needs, but I don't fault someone who would.

      Much has been documented about the health benefits to humans that pets provide, so there's another consideration. They enrich our lives in many ways, so we're willing to pay. I remember a survey I read a few years ago that concluded seniors spend more on their pets than on their grandchildren! Nice to have you stop by; thanks for commenting.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Growing up I just tolerated our dogs; which as you say rarely were allowed in the house but as an adult had a Peek-a-Poo I bathed and slept with every night and she had to be right down in the blankets with me. It is hard to believe even yet; lol.

      The hug I did for you is and has been number one at spreading hub love (here at HP) for days and days now. Just in case you might be interested. (:

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      Very interesting. It is probably a supply and demand issue, although we still have far too many homeless pets that are sadly euthanized each year. I enjoyed reading your thoughts here! We have more pets than people in my household, always have. Only one human child but she has had quite a few cat siblings over the years. They always get fed the good stuff, probably what your company manufactures. Meow, meow.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Jackie, nice to see you. I haven't been too active here in recent months, but still get hub and profile views, which I attribute to your hub hug. Thanks, again, for the boost!

      Your experience, growing up and present day, is a common one. I'll bet there are a lot of middle aged people wondering what the hell just happened here. They went from arm's length to arms around! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Hello, FlourishAnyway, nice to see you as well. It's tough to think of pets being euthanized. Around here, all of our municipal and private shelters are no-kill shelters. Hopefully, that's the wave of the future. Glad you feed the good stuff...there are a number of good foods out there. We're just one of many. Thanks for stopping by.

    • profile image

      retief2000 2 years ago

      Very interesting, I suspect our prosperous society has something to do with treating pets as people. When we were hungry pets were tools, hunting partners and dispatchers of vermin that threatened our harvest or stored food. It was only royalty that could afford decorative pets. Peasantry needed work animals with stamina, courage and intelligence. This is born out by the physical appearance of the working and hunting breeds and the more decorative breeds. I prefer my dogs to have a job.

      Think about pets as people can lead to problems. Border collies seem so smart and they are, they also get very bored and destructive if they do not have daily work. Their behavior dates from a time when a dog was a helper not an ersatz infant.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I am a member of the baby boomer generation and grew up with pets in my parents home and my hubby and I have had pets for most of our lives. They were babied then and ours are today. You may be right about leash laws having some effect but I also think that the fact of pets being loving, non-judgemental and happy to see us gives us solace in this fast paced world we live in today. Pets have not changed...they were always that way...but society has changed since the 1950s.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Bob! I never really considered leash laws as a probable cause for the creation of the fur kids phenomenon. But it makes sense. Though I also think there are some additional big trends helping to fuel the frenzy including:

      * More people being comfortable with being single, but wanting some companionship. Pets fill that void.

      * The environmental and humane movements that consider animals less as things and more as beings.

      I also tend to agree with Peggy W that pets are probably as they always have been, but society has definitely changed over the past 50 years or so.

      Very insightful look at the topic. Voted up and sharing! Have a great weekend!

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 2 years ago

      Bob: I couldn't agree more. Pets do enrich our lives. Honestly, I don't think I could live in a house very long without at least one cat running around. I did that for about a month after my last cat died and it was too quiet and I missed the companionship. As for the money being spent, I don't buy all of the fancy stuff for my cats, but I will spend almost anything it takes for the vet bill if one gets sick. That just goes along with being a good, responsible pet owner.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 years ago

      I believe you it may be a reason people care more for their pets. If you have to follow so many laws, it makes you think twice about how you care for a pet. Great theory and well argued!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hello, retief2000, I replied the day you left the comment, but for some reason it didn't post...and I didn't realize it til now. I agree fully. Sometimes, giving a dog a job...even if it's simply wearing an empty backpack...can minimize certain behavioral problems.

      I also believe that much of the humanization of animals is rooted in anthropomorphism, which can sometimes be problematic for the pet. I like to point out that sometimes creature comforts aren't good for the creatures. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      I also replied to you, Peggy W and it didn't post. I also just noticed that some of the pictures are missing from the hub, so something is going on here. Anyway, I knew some people who treated their dogs like one of the family back then...a next door neighbor and my favorite aunt. But I think you'll have to agree that that was the exception rather than the rule.

      Back then, since dogs were mostly left outside and essentially excluded from family activities, folks didn't realize that they were so "loving, non-judgemental and happy to see us." When leash laws were enacted, they forced people to see that, and that, I believe, is when we fell in love. The leash laws were part of the changing society you refer to. Great comment, thanks for stopping by.

      Hi, Heidi, nice to see you. You make some excellent points as well. I hadn't considered the "being single" angle; and it so happens that the stigma of divorce sort of evaporated around the same time leash laws started popping up.

      I think your "humane angle" could support a "chicken or the egg" discussion. Did the humane angle lead the way to the humanization of pets, or did the humanization of pets lead the way to the humane angle?

      Thanks for stopping by and adding much to the discussion.

      Hello, Sheila, nice to see you again. In my observations of pet owners, it seems that there are two camps regarding the passing of a pet. In one camp are those who, like you, need the presence of a pet and will acquire another fairly quickly. The other camp is those who claim they'll never get another cat or dog because they couldn't stand the hurt when that other pet dies. But, they usually do, eventually. It's a very strong bond, indeed. Thanks for commenting.

      Thanks for commenting, teaches12345. I agree that complying with the law makes people think twice about pet ownership, but, unfortunately, there are still those who buy pets on impulse, without regard for the law, and proceed to manage the pet neglectfully. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

      I never thought about this. I think you're right, though. Leash laws are probably what changed things. I remember growing up and having to put my dog on a leash. Otherwise, she was let out in the backyard and then back in the house.

      Now, I still see people letting their dog run loose and I don't condone it. They get run over and they are, as you say, a nuisance because they leave stuff in everyone else's yard.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi, Ann1Az2, thanks for commenting. It's a rare sight to see a dog running loose in my community, but it's common for the shelters and rescue groups to post notices seeking help in finding escaped dogs.

      It seems strange, but when dogs were running loose years ago they never seemed to go missing. They'd always hang around the neighborhood.

      Nowadays, when they escape, they are truly escapees...evading capture and running away from rescuers. We hear of sightings and see postings of "last seen in the vicinity of..."

      We seem to regard them as happy being part of the family, but maybe we're wrong. When they were free to roam, they had the best of both worlds. But now, maybe they don't think of themselves as our fur kids, but as prisoners of love. Thanks for stopping by.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 2 years ago from USA

      There are still several places in Italy where dogs run loose, live outdoors roaming the roads in small towns and are treated less like human beings on legs. Interestingly, these dogs are highly social, used to meeting people all the time, they also seem quite resilient to noises and abrupt movements and very" street-savvy". I know a trainer who visited India and was surprised how dozens of dogs were able to stay in close quarters near people without giving any signs of fear or aggression. Perhaps the fact they are roaming and out and about by people all the time prevented them from missing out social interactions compared to dogs left alone at home for a good part of the day and walked at night when no one is around? Your article is interesting and thought provoking. Voted up!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Thanks for commenting Adrienne. Your observation of current day Italy and India are similar to what I remember around here before leash laws. The dogs worked things out among themselves and people had a more distant relationship with their dogs.

      After the leash laws, people got all mushy and goofy about the dogs, and all of a sudden the dogs needed training. I still like it better today, though, where dogs enjoy that elevated status and people benefit from the closer relationship with their dogs. Great to have you stop by.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very interesting story about humanization of pets. We had pet birds for some years. But then released them as one of that bird seemed to want to fly away. So, we felt they also want freedom and we should not hold them in cages, even though it was a large cage.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      All animals are naturally adapted to seek freedom, Venkatachari M, even our pet dogs and cats, which is why we have containment products from collars to crates. Given the opportunity, almost all of them will seek freedom. Thank you for stopping by.

    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 2 years ago

      I think our standards for animal care have improved but so have our standards for the care of our children. By today's standards, for example, the most excellent principal of my old elementary school would be considered a serial child abuser.

      Maybe we are just becoming more caring as a society. It is nice to think so, anyway! Great hub, Bob Bamberg!

    • word55 profile image

      Word 2 years ago from Chicago

      The closeness a human has with their pet and the attention that it pays to the human in return. Of course, unconditional love is shared between them.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Well said, Besarien! If today we used the parenting standards when my kids were small, in the 1970s, we'd have Child Protective Services on our backs. Cars didn't have seat belts, so the babies sat in Mom's lap, kids rode on the backs of bikes in flimsy seats, and no helmets. We've come a long way, haven't we? Thanks for stopping by.

      I agree with you, too, word55. We can learn a lot from our dogs. Thanks for stopping by.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 18 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      If I ever spend $2,000 for a dog collar with so many people suffering in this country they can lock me up. I love my dogs and they are spoiled. I wish people would get their priorities straight.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 18 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Hi Bob, If you get 2 comments from me it is just old age. The day I spend $2,000 dollars for a dog collar lock me up. Our local pantry was out of food, that tells it good enough. I love my spoiled dogs, but their collar came from Walmart. HAVE A GREAT DAY!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 18 months ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hello ladyguitarpicker, nice to see you. I'm with you on the age thing. My short term memory isn't that great. And my short term memory isn't that great. I don't know how many of those $2K collars they sell, but they're available...just in case you change your mind. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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