Do We Pamper Our Pets Too Much?

Do We Pamper Our Pets Too Much?

Do you have any pets? If so, do you pamper them? How?

Do you think, in general, people spend too much time, money and attention on their animals these days? Even if you don’t have a pet yourself, what have you observed about those around you?

In “My Goldendoodle Spent a Week at Some Luxury Dog ‘Hotels.’ I Tagged Along,” Sam Apple asks: “How did humans start catering to the whims of canines rather than the other way around? And what if, somewhere along the way, we all became a little too obsessed with our dogs?”

The article begins this way:

By the time my goldendoodle, Steve, and I pulled up to our resting place, I was tired from the long drive and already second-guessing my plan. I felt a little better when we stepped inside the Dogwood Acres Pet Retreat. The lobby, with its elegant tiled entrance, might have passed for the lobby of any small countryside hotel, at least one that strongly favored dog-themed décor. But this illusion was broken when the receptionist reviewed our reservation — which, in addition to our luxury suite, included cuddle time, group play, a nature walk and a “belly rub tuck-in.”

Venues like this one, located on Kent Island in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, didn’t exist when I was growing up in the 1980s. If you needed a place to board your dog back then, you went to a kennel, where your dog spent virtually the entire day in a small — and probably not very clean — cage. There were no tuck-ins, no bedtime stories, no dog-bone-shaped swimming pools. There were certainly nothing like today’s most upscale canine resorts, where the dogs sleep on queen-size beds and the spa offerings include mud baths and blueberry facials; one pet-hotel franchise on the West Coast will even pick up your dog in a Lamborghini. I knew Dogwood Acres wouldn’t be quite as luxurious as that, but the accommodations still sounded pretty nice. The website mentioned “distinctive décor,” “cable television” and “a large picture window overlooking an extra-large private outdoor patio.”

The piece continues:

It’s not just the hotels. There are now dog bakeries and ice cream parlors and social clubs. One dog-only San Francisco cafe serves canines a $75 tasting menu; more and more restaurants (for people) also now offer dog menus. A lot of these things probably started as jokes, but such gestures have a way of outliving their origins. At some point, throwing birthday parties for our dogs and buying them Valentine’s Day gifts went from being something we did to be funny to something we just did. Total spending on pets in the United States — and dogs are by far the most popular pet — rose more than 50 percent between 2018 and 2022, when it reached $137 billion, according to a pet-products trade association. Americans now spend more than half a billion dollars each year on pet Halloween costumes alone, per the National Retail Federation.

This sharp spending increase overlaps with Americans’ spending approximately twice as much time with pets today as they did two decades ago. A 2023 survey found that around half of American owners believe their pet knows them better than anyone else does, including significant others and best friends. These statistics sit uncomfortably alongside the fact that the U.S. surgeon general recently declared human loneliness an “epidemic.” It’s hard not to wonder whether our growing obsession with dogs is somehow related to our declining interest in one another. Maybe, even as we’re humanizing our dogs, the deeper appeal is not that they’re like people but that they’re not like people. Maybe, if you dig far enough beneath the surface of our dog love, you eventually arrive at a thin layer of misanthropy.

Students, read the entire article and then tell us:

  • What pets do you own? What role do they play in your life?

  • How have you pampered your pets? (Or, if you don’t have any, how have you seen friends and family members pamper their pets?)

  • If you had all the money and time you needed, how far would you go in spoiling your pet? For instance, would you throw him or her a birthday party? Shell out for a $75 tasting menu? Read him or her a special bedtime story? Install a bone-shaped pool in your backyard? Pay for your pet to spend time at a spa? Call the spa each day to play your pet the kazoo, as one of the “pet parents” described in this article does?

  • To what extent do you think pampering is healthy for animals? And how healthy is it for the humans who own them? Why?

  • What do you think of the 2023 survey that reports that around half of American owners believe their pet knows them better than anyone else? Do you think your pet knows you better than your parents, siblings or closest friends? Why or why not — and how can you tell?

  • Do you sometimes feel that you might like animals better than people? Among the questions this article poses is whether our obsession with our pets might be related to loneliness, and whether it is both caused by and contributing to our declining interest in other humans. For you, does having a pet alleviate loneliness or make it worse? Or, perhaps, both?

  • In your view, what should be the place of animals in our lives? What would be most healthy for us? What would be most healthy for them? Why?

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.

Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.