Columnist: Do Americans love their pets too much?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 19, 2016

By Glenn Dowell

Contributing columnist

Americans love their pets. Whether it is a dog, cat, bird, snake, Americans tend to treat them as a member of the family.

It is said that two-thirds of American households — about 71.1 million — have at least one pet in the home. This is according to a survey of pet owners conducted by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.

That number is an increase from the 56 percent of households that were surveyed back in 1988, the first year the survey was conducted.

Americans also spend a lot of money on their pets. In 2007, pet owners spent over $41 billion to maintain their health, to feed them and even to clothe them. About 45 percent of pet owners, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, have more than one pet. This is not a surprise to us.

Each year the media reports of pet owners who hoard so many animals that it presents a health hazard to them due to the filthy conditions that they are found. The hoarders in defending themselves believe that because many of the animals in their care were strays, they were actually preventing them from being euthanized. Some media accounts have exposed such hoarders living under the same roof with as many as 50 or more dogs or cats.

Remember Leona Helmsley, the billionaire? Many in America were shocked when her will was made public. It was discovered that the Helmsley trust had net assets of more than $5 billion.

Leona Helmsley bequeathed all her estate to the trust, except for the $12 million that went to Trouble, her now deceased dog. A court later reduced the sum to $2 million.

Ms. Helmsley actually seemed to love her dog, Trouble, more than she did members of her own family. In fact, the canine with a track record of biting members of her staff came out significantly better than nearly all of Mrs. Helmsley’s family in the will. Two of the grandchildren received absolutely nothing.

Remember NFL star Michael Vick?

Well, his name — along with being synonymous with great quarterbacks in the National Football League — is now synonymous with being an abuser of animals. The famous football star, along with a number of others, was arrested for being involved in the enterprise of illegal dog-fighting.

For his part in the dog-fighting ring, Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison and fined $5,000. Vick was also ordered to pay $928,073 as restitution for the 53 fighting dogs seized from his property.

I personally love dogs, but not cats. I think my dislike of cats stems from a bad experience with one as a child.

While playing baseball one afternoon, my friend told me that his mother had cooked a caramel cake — my favorite. Since his parents were not at home, I persuaded him to let us go to his home so that I may get a slice.

You know what? When we arrived we discovered that the family’s cat had the same idea. The darn cat had eaten most of the cake and was sleeping on the table.

We decided to teach this feline a lesson. We closed off the exits to the kitchen with the intent of beating the cat for eating the cake. When the cat discovered what we were doing he immediately cornered both of us.

He then started making these horrible noises and all of a sudden he attacked me and my friend, teaching us a lesson that cornering a cat can have horrible consequences. I never had the appetite for caramel cake again.

I was raised in a family that only had dogs as pets. Each dog had their own wonderful personality that caused them to become an integral part of our family.

As a single parent I introduced my three children to Lady, a Labrador retriever. Lady was even-tempered and was loved by neighbors in our community. She also seemed to love burglars.

Returning home one day, I discovered that my house had been burglarized. Neighbors told me that they saw people going in and out of my home but it did not arouse their suspicion. My dog, Lady, you see, was seen going back and forth with the burglars, even appearing to help them by carrying small packages to their getaway vehicle.

After Lady died I purchased another dog, a miniature schnauzer. I named him Homeless.

I gave him this name because we had an agreement. If he ever pooped in the house, he would find himself homeless. The neighbors also loved him and would chastise me for having given him such a ridiculous name.

He is now gone, but during life he knew that he was loved by many. Some nights, my sleep is interrupted by what seems to be his barking; in death, letting me know that he is on duty for the person he loved during his wonderful life on earth.

Do we truly love our pets too much? What do you think?

Glenn Dowell is an author and LaGrange native who currently lives in Jonesboro. He may be reached at