Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Going to the dogs

It's going to the dogs, decreed NYC heiress Leona Hemsley.

More precisely, according to a statement that Helmsley signed on March 1, 2004, a trust whose estimated worth is US$8B is all to be spent on “purposes related to the provision of care for dogs.”

Read on, at the New Yorker.

Outrageous, you might say, especially given that an earlier draft made provision for indigent children. A modern-day malady.

(And yet, in NYC and elsewhere, animal abuse received legal recognition and became a philanthropic cause decades before child abuse.)

When interviewed on the impact of income disparities on quality of life across Alberta, where I live, social worker Jake Kuiken said,

"I did a little check a while ago just out of idle curiosity. If I had a German Shepherd dog and I needed to put him or her in a kennel for a month, it would cost me somewhere around $700 or $800. If you are a single person in this province, you get $402 a month for food, clothing and shelter and transportation. There is a sense of values that are, in my mind, not particularly well-aligned. There is no decency."

But to the extent that the CAD$4B pet care business provides people with a livelihood, and to the extent that pets may contribute directly and indirectly to people's health, perhaps we need to put a fresh spin on the disparity question.

It's one thing to say that social assistance rates should be higher; it's another to say that people spend too much on their dogs, because that money circulates rather than evaporating. How dog owners treat the people who care for their pets, on a paid basis, is the real question. "Treating someone like a dog" has come to mean "like a person," and so one should expect that people in the pet care industry can make ends meet.

Shouldn't everyone be able to afford to keep a dog, if they want one and are prepared to make that commitment?

And what should we make of a growing body of research suggests that dogs promote physical activity and social interaction among their owners, keeping in mind that dogs are more likely than not to reside in households with higher incomes?

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