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How to 'Reconcile' the Mini-Me Pet Trend

Cures: puppy Prozac, psychics or leashes.

By Shannon Rupp 15 May 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Shannon Rupp is a contributing editor on The Tyee.

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Animal as alter ego.

On a trek through Yaletown's furniture shops I saw a discerning city dog who clearly felt much the way I do about mid-century modern furniture. At least, the way he lifted his leg to a chair suggested he shared my views.

"I think your puppy wants to go for a walk," I said to a rather vacant looking woman decked out in a baseball cap, down vest, skinny jeans and some trendy incarnation of a running shoe, which seems to be the uniform of Yaletown's female denizens.

"Oh, he loves to shop," she told me, oblivious to his contempt for her favourite sport. Apparently, she and her Mini-Me spend their Saturdays trolling the stroll for cute little ensembles for him as well as herself, doggie bakery treats, and a host of decorative gee-gaws, in a one-for-her, one-for-him pattern.

“Seriously?” I asked. This, I would submit, is the reason satire is dead: people have become far more ridiculous than anything most of us could imagine.

Animal-as-accessory

The animal-as-accessory trend, which has been disturbing me ever since Paris Hilton made purse puppies de rigueur, has clearly taken a new and more disgusting turn: animal as alter ego.

Were I a better person, I'd have snatched that dog. Or called the SPCA on the spot. At the very least, I'd have ratted her out to the retailer. But I suspect that all those approaches would have had unfortunate consequences for the dog, not least because I'm allergic to pet hair.

Let's be practical. In a society that has turned children into fashion accessories for expressing their parents' own cool, what hope do dogs have? Or cats. Or any other pet.

Ooops. I’ve been informed by an acquaintance, Elaine, that “pet” is a politically incorrect word.

“It’s like referring to black person as a “slave” and someone else as his “owner.” The proper term is companion animal,” she said, with that self-righteousness tone that I’ve often noticed accompanies the pronouncements of those who, admittedly, don’t know much, but they know what they know.

Pet Narcissism

I used to think this woman was an isolated case of what I’ve dubbed Pet Narcissism. She has turned the normal compassion sane people feel for animals into an obsession that is part of her arsenal for denying a disappointing life. A talented writer, she abandoned her own education and career for a series of clerical jobs that paid the bills while her self-centred husband, roughly a generation older, bounced from one grad school to another.

Somewhere along the line, the cats became an extension of herself. It began innocently enough. She was known to quip that “Cats are people too,” or “Children are for people who can’t have cats,” which was all very amusing until it became obvious that those pampered cats were (for her) evidence that her life had value. That’s an unfair burden for children, let alone companion animals.

Elaine reinvented herself as the morally superior woman who expressed the animal point of view. Her evenings and weekends were spent cooking a whole foods diet of real meat, like rabbit, and vegetables for her furry charges. She designed and commissioned several custom “cat condos” -- those carpet covered stands -- which were tailored to her refined understanding of her cats’ needs. It was a convenient obsession in some ways. It gave her a satisfying area of study and expertise, much the way a career does, but without any expectations. And she blew-off family gatherings with a virtuous excuse: her absence distressed the cats.

Pet psychics

While sad to witness, her displaced egotism had worked out well for the cats. Well, mostly. The nutritious diet probably accounted for their luxurious fur and long life. Last I heard, they were in the neighbourhood of 20 and still looked and acted about 10. But her genuine efforts on the animals’ behalf were continuously undermined by her real motivation.

I watched one evening, as she chased the finicky eater around the townhouse with his made-from-scratch dinner. She put the elegant pottery dish under his nose everywhere he rested in a great display of her concern for his welfare. Although the cat obviously felt harassed -- who wouldn’t? -- she didn’t let up.

The same cat has a neurotic habit of tearing out his fur. (Are we surprised?) This she treated with homeopathic remedies -- or expensive urine, as a researcher I once interviewed had dubbed all those useless “health” food supplements and concoctions. Invariably, the tincture made the cat upchuck, so she moved on to a phone-in pet psychic. Seriously.

It works this way. You phone the California-based clairvoyant and describe your pe…,er, animal companion, giving her insight into the speechless one’s psyche, from which she gleans the cause of the condition. I think it cost $300 an hour, plus long distance fees, but apparently worked a treat for her sister-in-law’s beagle, who was afraid to venture into the backyard. (The psychic uncovered a tale of puppyhood trauma: a pile of wood had fallen on said beagle, and given him a lifelong fear of backyards.)

Puppy Prozac

The cat still plucks out his fur, by the way, but there’s new hope on the horizon: Prozac for pets. Seriously.

Eli Lilly the company that produces the SSRI for humans has come out with doggie version, Reconcile in a chewable, beef-flavoured tablet. The U.S. Drug Administration approved Prozac for dogs in April and it is due in Canada in 2008. But given the Internet, if it's available somewhere it's available everywhere. I expect it to show up in the supper dishes of cats, ferrets and every other domesticated animal with a lazy owner.

According to the April 26 news release, the drug is aimed at dogs who feel "separation anxiety" from their owners. This is the cause of "inappropriate behaviour, such as destruction, excess vocalization, and inappropriate elimination."

In other words, gnawing shoes, barking and peeing on trendy furniture? Hmmm, I see these pills in the future of that four-legged design critic too.

Hey -- aren't these the same "inappropriate behaviours" that occur when a canine's natural doggie needs are neglected and he is left alone too much, not given enough exercise, or denied proper training?

Barking numb

Critics of anti-depressants -- or as the PR people now style them, "mood stabilizers" --have long said that people-Prozac is just a social tool for making sensitive personalities submit to a society that isn't really fit for humans. And it's not hard to see why some critics of puppy-Prozac are already making the same claim.

While it may not be possible to make the canine alter egos appreciate cutsie birthday parties more than a walk on the beach, or develop a taste for designer duds that surpasses the urge to role in the grass, at least drugs will make dogs endure the ordeals with good grace, right? Even if the pills just leave them numb and unaware of what's happening, it's an escape from the embarrassment of wearing those little hats, yes?

I'm not so sure. I don't worry so much about cats, who often seem selfish enough to be human and look like more than a match for many a loony owner. But is this sort of thing fair to pups who may be as intelligent as toddlers, but unlike the kids, will never have the chance to get even by writing memoirs about their dodgy upbringing?

Egomania and species confusion

I'm inclined to think it's our democratic obligation to defend animal rights, not least because thwarting narcissists is in the best interest of society. Egomania is a huge community problem, and not just because egotists are so self-involved that they don't notice when their dogs are taking the piss out of -- or would that be putting the piss on? -- consumerism. Think about obnoxious cellphone users. Or movie-theatre chatterers. And let's not forget Conrad Black and corporate corruption. It's all part of the same social decline.

A good place to start addressing the scourge of narcissism is with pet owners, who have the virtue of being easy to spot (see that doggie with barrettes?).

So here's the plan. We snatch'em from the nearest pet deli, slap'em in leashes, and give them the very discipline training they've denied their dogs. Then we march them around Stanley Park, repeatedly, until they understand that people and dogs are different.

And don't stint on the rolled up newspaper. Seriously.

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