Pet Nation

Growing up it was not uncommon to see a dog on a rope or chain in a yard, whether it was the front or back, fenced or not. Most dogs lived outside and when it got cold hay was stuffed inside the doghouse. Super cold and the dog got to spend time in the garage.

This was of course during the dark ages of no internet or maybe some free hours on AOL if you were lucky. The concept of snapping photos of your dog and sharing them online for everyone to see would have been considered science fiction. 

According to author Mark L. Cushing, the rise of the Internet and social media fueled the rise of “Pet Nation,” which serves as the title of his book that examines the growth of the pet industry in America during the last two decades and how it’s changed us. 

Now in paperback and updated to include information learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, “Pet Nation: The Inside Story of How Companion Animals are Transforming Our Homes, Culture and Economy” ($17 from Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House) is a fascinating read about the pet industry revolution and how it’s turned into a major economic driver for our country, while changing the way we live. 

Did you know in 2019 Americans spent $95.7 billion on pets? That’s up from $23 billion in 1998. On average pet owners spend $1,125 per year.

According to Cushing’s research in 2015 there were 185 million cats and dogs in America. This year that number is approaching 200 million. Two out of three dog owners believe their K9 is their best friend (this writer included). He argues as we move forward research indicates there may not be enough dogs to meet demand. 

We’ve all seen those commercials with the dogs in crates as a Sarah McLachlan song plays and a narrator asks you to give money to the ASPCA to help those that are abused and beaten every hour. The ad has made the nonprofit tens of millions of dollars since it debuted 15 years ago. 

Since that commercial first aired, Cushing states that due to widespread spay-and-neuter programs, today shelters euthanize “only 770,000 dogs each year, a 95 percent decrease.” There are dog freedom trains, no-kill shelters and responsible ownership (tagging, chipping, social media posts).

He also wonders if Bob Barker maybe did too good a job asking folks to get their pets spayed and neutered?

Cushing is the founding partner and CEO of the Animal Policy Group. He is a policy adviser to the Pet Leadership Council, which is a group of senior executives across the pet industry from medical to animal-welfare organizations to pet-food suppliers. He shares the results of his work with his team in determining how many dogs are in America and how many will be needed to meet the needs of future pet owners. According to their work there needs to be 8.3 million dogs to replenish the dog population each year.

While the topic of commercial dog breeding is a divisive one among pet enthusiasts, Cushing goes all-in on the topic and examines commercial breeding and puppy mills. One idea he posits is land grant universities getting involved. Can you imagine a puppy center at Oklahoma State University? I’d probably go back to school. 

In “Pet Nation” Cushing examines the legal and political fights that come from society adapting to the pet revolution. He also devotes some pages to the other pets often found in homes and how the birds, snakes, fish, lizards and more are also growing in popularity, which means more vets needed, as well as supplies.

I found Cushing’s writing style very easy to read and understand. I enjoyed learning about how dogs went from sleeping in the backyard to snoozing on the bed and how in that time the pet industry has become a major driver in our economy and there’s no turning back. Cushing projects there will be 135 million dogs in America by 2039. That’s a lot of dog biscuits.

“Pet Nation” is a good read for those interested in being a part of the pet world, whether as an owner, commercial retailer, lobbyist, activist or veterinarian. This book covers all the angles. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go order a couple of new dog collars and some expensive treats for my best friends who are currently napping on my bed.

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