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On Getting a Dog

10/13/08 5:55PM By Mary McCallum
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(HOST) When she recently adopted a rescue dog, commentator, teacher and free lance writer Mary McCallum discovered that owning a dog isn't as simple as it used to be.

(MCCALLUM) Last spring I became a new member of an old fan club - people who own and adore dogs. After rescuing a scruffy little terrier from a painful existence on the streets of Puerto Rico, I have a dog of my own for the first time in my adult life. And I discovered that a little known quote by Vincent Van Gogh is true; he said, "If you don't have a dog, there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life."

As a cat person it took some getting used to, and I began to remark on the similarities between adopting a kid and adopting a dog: less time for me, and all that concern with bowel movements, exercise, vaccinations and persnickety eating habits. And then there were those hidden costs - what, you mean dogs have to get their nails trimmed and have haircuts? And I have to pay for it?

When I was a kid we always had dogs, but they pretty much took care of themselves. Our unenlightened neighbors kept their dog chained to a sorry looking dog house, but ours went in and out the back door at will, ate table scraps, and ran around the neighborhood. They didn't know what a leash was. I suspect they filed their own nails and took care of their own haircut appointments too, because as far as I know, we never did.

But owning a dog today is a whole other ball of wax. People put their pets on Facebook and dress them in Halloween costumes and bride outfits. They feed them better food, and more of it, than people in developing countries ever dream of having. Owners enroll dogs in behavior and agility classes, and dose them on a range of pharmaceuticals second only to human consumption. And oh yeah, dogs have play dates.

How did we get here? Certainly, our culture of celebrity has boosted sales of designer dogs and the pricey accoutrements that they require. And for most who dote on their dogs, their pet is a member of the family. As such, it gets the best food and medical care money can buy. Companies that manufacture pet meds, vitamins and vittles know that this is a rich market to be mined. They expand their lines and remind us on TV about how much and how often we need to buy them.

The growing culture of pill-popping pets who wear special outfits on human holidays is a far cry from the dogs of my childhood. I am happy to report that I feed mine good dog food and am responsible about veterinary care, though I do resist the sequined outfits, Prozac and psychological counseling that some say would give her a richer life. But we do hike in the woods, get wet, and come home with muddy feet. Then I throw her a dog bone and she thinks she's died and gone to dog heaven.
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