A dog used to be just a dog. You could toss him a chicken bone beneath the supper table, chase him out the back door, and be done with it. We never worried about feeding a dog chocolate when I was a kid. I remember a cocker spaniel we owned who ate a whole bag of M&Ms and still survived. (don’t try this at home) There were no leash laws in our little town back then. Occasionally, a loose dog would get hit by a car but only because he was dumb enough to chase it, but that was about it. Most mutts I knew had enough sense to stay out of the street on their own if a car was headed their way. There was a rabies vaccination law that everyone pretty much obeyed but that was about it. It was never a big deal for our neighbor’s dog to wander over to our porch for a little rub on the head. No one freaked out and called 911 or animal control.
But times have changed, even dogs have a new norm. Nowadays, people consider their pets to be their children, calling themselves daddy and mommy to 4-legged animals who probably think we are all nuts and I would have to agree.
My dog, Muchacho, bears no resemblance neither to me nor to anyone else in my family. He has never once celebrated Father’s Day by giving me a cheap tie, a homemade card, or even serving me breakfast in bed. To Muchacho, it’s just yet another day of me keeping him out of trouble and the cat food. I’m not his daddy and he doesn’t think of me like that. I am what we used to call his “master”. My job is to tell him what to do and what not to do. His job is to do it or not do it. I’m not trying to be politically incorrect, but y’all please don’t say I’m the parent of a pooch. I am the proud father of 5 humans, and I’m satisfied enough with that.
Of course, like everyone else, I spoil my dog. Muchacho has an impressive wardrobe that includes Georgia Dawg jackets and overcoats, a snowsuit and even an ugly Christmas sweater with a matching Santa Claus hat he likes to wear to holiday parties. He has more toys than I ever dreamed of having as a boy. There are 3 different types of dog treats in his special place in my cabinets. I won’t get into medical and grooming expenses. All this isn’t cheap. I should be able to claim him on my taxes even if I’m not his daddy.
Americans spent $72 billion on their pets in 2018. By comparison, federal funding for assistance to homeless people is expected to be only around $3 billion in fiscal year 2021. I’m not saying our beloved furry creatures don’t deserve everything we do for them but imagine if those numbers were reversed. Maybe a few folks currently sleeping on concrete could get a house where they could have their own little puppies for their children.
And let’s not forget the homeless strays that wander our streets, scrounging for food and no place to sleep. According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are about 70 million of these animals living just out of our view. Of these, only about six to eight million enter our nation’s 3,500 shelters each year. Even if we had 10 times the number of shelters, these unfortunate creatures would still have to be adopted and these days adopting a pet is no easy feat.
No longer can you just go to the local pound and pick out any old mongrel you take a liking to. Like everything else these days, there are hoops you must jump through. Just because you completed an application is no guarantee you will take home a critter. And Humane Society rules won’t even allow you to adopt one as a surprise gift for your loved one because the recipient must be met face-to-face for an interview. You don’t necessarily get to pick out the one your heart desires. They match the pet to you. And if you currently own a dog or cat that lives outside, you can’t adopt. I don’t know what you would do if you had a need for a junkyard dog. And on and on.
I’m thankful I have a little pooch I can talk to even if he never answers. He isn’t much for keeping me warm on a cold Georgia night because he’s only big enough to cover just one of my feet and he howls like I’m beating him to death whenever I play my harmonica and as a son, he isn’t. But as companions, we’re together to the end.
Steve Reece is a contributing writer for the Reporter and a known crime fighter. Email him at email@example.com.