The End of Family Pets?

Dogs and cats joined us as symbiotes a long time back; we made most of them dependent pets and now that they can't survive on their own.  Now we're throwing them under the bus.  The termination is the -- probably -- unintended result of SPCA, PETA, innumerable tender-hearted or at least vote-hungry elected city and county officials and decades of anthropomorphized Disney creatures but it's no less terminal for that.  We're eliminating these critters in order to save them.  It isn't that we love our pets less; rather that we love Gaia more.  And she doesn't poop inconveniently.

This ending has been sneaking up on us for a while.  On the farm, dogs and cats had only to please -- or at least, not annoy -- the farmer.  Once they started turning up in cities, that changed.  Dog bites, rabies, barking, and poop annoyed besides mail carriers, increasing numbers of voters; politicians took notice.  How cats were unlucky enough to be sucked in is less obvious but they were; possibly another case of the wrong place at the wrong time.  Or maybe it was the songbirds.

First, licenses were required, with fees to pay for city animal services.  A bureaucracy appeared in local governments and various volunteer groups were formed, all increasing the available money and political interest in pets.  As city dwellers grew wealthier, veterinary practitioners added pets to their formerly mostly farm practices and joined the growing cadre of lobbyists.

The licenses were the first sign that pets were no longer private business.  Euthanasia of strays came too.  Government regulation of dog and cat fertility clarified who was in charge for any doubters; spay and neuter laws proliferated.  Declining numbers of farms didn't care anymore; increasing numbers of city folk did.  To please them, places like New York City mandated the famous Pooper Scoopers along with leash laws.  Computer technology brought the embedded chip to replace the metal license tag that once jingled on dog collars.

That covers a lot that's happened to pets fairly quickly.  At one time, a schoolboy might have been accompanied by his dog anywhere but school; it was expected.  No one expected a leash; the dog ran free, always keeping his boy as the center of his explorations.  He wasn't neutered, though females, less common, were often spayed after a litter or two.  That, please note, was in residential neighborhoods, not only farms.  Today, things have changed.  Those changes affect more than dogs; young boys' unsupervised wanderings for hours at a time, usual then, are pretty scarce among today's kids, let alone the dogs.

In recent years, those paying attention can see a trend: Society's room for pets has been shrinking, with government enforcing the shrinkage.  After licensing, with the dogcatcher, euthanasia and sterilization in place, laws were added forbidding tying a dog in a yard.  In Albuquerque, an annual $150 permit is required for that and a trolley must be provided.  A litter requires a permit too, for another $150 and there's a cap.  Public parks now provide fenced exercise yards for dogs, the only places they are allowed to be unleashed in public.

The future is coming clear in two new laws: In Albuquerque, it's now unlawful to leave a dog alone for very long.  The cost of maintaining a dog is moving toward parity with that of maintaining a kid; not only with needing dog-sitters but with health care; health insurance for dogs and cats is a growing market.  A recent vet's bill for diagnosing and euthanizing an elderly pooch, a two-hour office visit mostly spent waiting, was $300.

The second and most unmistakable signal is laws popping up around the country simply banning the retail sale of dogs and cats.  Examples are Austin, Texas, and West Hollywood, California.  The San Francisco city fathers have been considering a similar ban, so has the state of New Jersey and the City of El Paso.  Some of these include small animals and birds in the ban.

Most of this has been a response to lobbying from animal welfare folk whose stated concerns center on the miseries of abused, abandoned and inadequately cared-for pets plus protection of the earth from feral cat fecundity; the irony of saving the pets by legislating them out of their habitat doesn't seem to be recognized.

Our pets won't go extinct; cats will take care of themselves and dogs will continue as pets for those who can afford them and as workers where their work is economically justified.  But it seems clear that middle-class family pets are following the stay-at-home mom to the museum and if you think about it, for similar reasons.  From a quick look at things, kids might be next...

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