Remember when people came first?
Robert Thomas Allen’s rueful look at pets
IN THE PAST COUPLE OF WEEKS, while looking into Canada's pet industry, I saw three women carrying puppy dogs in their bosoms, another pushing a poodle in a plaza shopping cart, and a woman in a pet clinic holding a Chihuahua on a standard human-sized bed pillow, pointing out the window at her husband and saying to the dog, “Here comes Daddy!” I watched poodles getting coiffed in shops that looked, sounded and smelled like hairdressing salons. I heard a distraught woman who was arranging to bring a Manchester terrier named McGuigan to a boarding kennel, ask the operator if she could bring McGuigan’s doll. I found myself hoping it was just a coincidence that all the world's great civilizations went around the bend about pets just before some underfed and uncouth race put their cities to the torch.
Caesar just thought he saw puppy dogs being treated better than people. Last year, while two thirds of the world went to bed hungry every night, Canada’s cats and dogs ate more than a hundred thousand tons of specially prepared foods, including chicken chunks, chopped chicken
backs and necks, meatballs, tuna fish, radiant-broiled all-beef chunks, whole fish, Dog Yummies candy, Crispy Crunch Dog Yummies, Doggie Tid-Bits, Lolli-Pups, and Dog Kisses — a sugarless chocolate-flavored dessert containing soybean flour, vegetable oil, whey, spray-dried buttermilk, cotton-seed meal, cocoa, calcium, cyclomate, sodrum, saccharine, lecithin, niacinamide, and five vitamins; when it was introduced in January 1964 it was gobbled up by Canadian dogs so fast that as much was sold each day as the distributors expected to sell in a week.
New foods, developed in such places as the Gaines Dog Research Centre in Kankaki, Illinois, find so immediate a demand that Canadian supermarkets devote almost, but not quite, as much shelf space to pet foods as they do to baby foods. So much air time and page space is taken up by manufacturers trying to get in on Canada’s thirty-million-dollar pet-food market, it's a wonder the media can squeeze in news about kids in Latin America diving into garbage pails for cabbage leaves. In between interruptions, like President Johnson's speeches about the war on poverty, in 1964 (according to Elliott Research Corporation) we watched $112,400 worth of TV advertising just for Gravy Train, which was part of nearly a quarter of a million dollars General Foods spent on their pet foods, which include Gaines Burgers, Gaines Dog Meal and Gaines Rally Dog Food. Standard Brands spent $345,855 telling us that dogs and cats preferred Doctor Ballard’s Great New Taste to such already delicious foods as Ralston Purina Dog and Cat Chow which is so good that all you need to add is love.
You’d think dogs were already getting as much love as they could carry. In any shopping-plaza department store the price of the average poodle collar would send eight CARE packages to Asia. And that’s a pretty ordinary collar. A woman walked out of a Toronto department store recently because they didn't have a dog collar for around fifty dollars. The salesman told me, “I don't blame her. If I spent three hundred dollars on a poodle. I’m damned if I'd put a ten dollar collar on him.” A lot of people apparently agree with him. I saw a mink-trimmed custom-tailored dog coat that sold for forty-nine dollars in a specialty store—and it was just one from an eight-foot rack of dog coats. I priced a knitted blue-wool hat with a blue feather at $3.98, or what we used to pay for shoes. At Eaton’s, where five thousand square feet of floor space in the heart of downtown Toronto is devoted to pets and supplies, I priced a blue spray can of Pulvex Dog Cologne and Deodorant for Him, and a pink one for Her, at a dollar and a quarter each, and a squeeze bottle of Happy Breath, which stops bad breath instantly and “makes your pet a pal.” At Simpson's, another solid old Canadian merchandising house, 1 saw Comfy Coveralls, “the perfect season garment, sanitary, feminine and washable” in orange with white lace, for $6.98; a
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bow tie and collar for $5.98; a sweater of virgin wool; a vest; a “histyle” raincoat; and rubber galoshes for $5.95. If this doesn’t keep a dog happy you can buy him place mats, toy hydrants, Mamma dolls, snow suits, individually imprinted towels, cowboy outfits, nail-polish sets and Christmas stockings.
A salesman, apparently mistaking
my look of horror for national pride, told me that Canada is coming along nicely in all this, not far behind the United States where, at Mildred Pell Canine Creations in New York, for example, you can buy dogs’ beaded cocktail dresses for thirty dollars, lamé coats for fifty dollars, mink coats for a hundred and seventy-five and two hundred dollars, and lace pyjamas, which many dogs now wear every night to keep them comfortable in air-conditioned apartments. You
can buy your dog a custom-made canopy bed to match your furniture for fifty to seventy-five dollars, and complete suites for a dog’s bedroom.
Canadians evidently aren’t going to be outdone in this. The Humane Society in Toronto reports that they moved in on a woman in the fashionable Forest Hill area, who not only had provided her dog with a complete bedroom of his own in French Provincial, but was perfuming him, feeding him straight filet mignon and giving him champagne twice a day. The society had received a report from someone who claimed to have seen the dog drunk on the street. The woman was reprimanded. Personally, I think the dog deserved a drink.
Besides eating better than most of the world’s children and, in many cases, dressing better, our pets are getting such up-to-date and prompt medical attention, nights, Sundays and holidays, that a sick human could do worse when he’s having trouble getting a doctor, than to try barking over the phone. There are vets who make house calls, and some who only make house calls, at up to twenty-five dollars each. But the big thing for pet owners now is the Small Animal Clinic, a posh institution that can cost one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to build and equip with operating room, X-ray room, wards, soft music, air conditioning, and a dispensary.
You don’t just barge into these places, saying something like, “Hey, doc, this pooch has been scratching himself allatime lately.” You phone for an appointment, and a cool, professional, female voice says, “The doctor is in surgery.” Ten times when I phoned a vet I was told the doctor was in surgery. You make an appointment for eleven o’clock next Tuesday and you better be there or you’ll lose your seat because three or four other people will be there listening to the Muzak. You go into a consultation room with a special table for the dog to get up on. One woman holding a real hypochondriac of a West Highland Terrier told me he had been to the same clinic so often that now he just hops up on the table when an attendant physician opens the door and says, “Next.”
For the most part, small-animal doctors are doing a bang-up job and don’t overcharge, and it must be a temptation because pet owners tend to think the more they pay the kinder they’re being to animals. But just charging ordinary fees can add up to a lot of money: eight to ten dollars for X rays; twenty-five for spaying a dog; six for a blood test and cell count. If you’d like to fatten the bill even more, you can arrange for cardiographs, treatment for strokes and diabetes, surgery for tumors, ulcers of the ear, gout in budgies, mastoids, broken limbs, hysterectomies, tonsilectomies, extractions of teeth—all of which are done with sterile techniques by doctors wearing caps, masks and gowns. The more services available, the more a pet owner is consciencebound to get everything fixed. I misunderstood what one woman told me and thought she said she’d never had her dog to a pet hospital, but after we had talked at cross purposes for a little while, she explained, “I meant
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1 haven’t had him in this week.
All this scientific care is reflected in the frame of mind of the owners, who are beginning to think of pets as people. I sawone middle-aged man burst out crying because a medical attendant had come out just like Ben Casey and spoke to him about a Chihuahua. The dog’s owner shook his head, took off his glasses and wiped them. He couldn't speak. You couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. I thought the attendant had said the dog
was going to die. I found out later that the dog just had to have his tonsils out.
If. in spite of being born by Caesarian section, kept going by canine blood banks and receiving regular medical care, your dog dies—or your cat. canary, white mouse or budgie— you can buy him Perpetual Care in a pet cemetery. I phoned three cemeteries near Toronto, wondering if I were going out of my mind. At one, a woman's voice told me it would
cost me twenty-five dollars to bury a spaniel, the price including picking up the deceased and providing a headstone on which I could put a verse. For fifteen dollars they just bury the dog.
1 drove to two other cemeteries. One, in a beautiful patch of rural real estate, was like a military graveyard: rows upon rows of white stakes marked an estimated four thousand graves that swept up and over a hill topped by a monument of a dog and
bearing a Greek epigram. The graves are better tended than a lot of human graves. They're reserved by some people in advance, and sometimes four and five at a time, at prices from twenty-five to forty-five dollars, including a small wooden box and a stone, and an annual maintenance fee of two dollars. On Sundays the cemetery is a busy place with people who just come to meditate, including some who come forty miles from Toronto in a cab and leave the meter running.
I wandered around one pet cemetery reading things like “Our loved pet, Muffins, 1962 to 1964,” "Dear Prince,” “Our friends lie here asleep: Bus, Buddy and Bonnie,” “Our Dear Pets. They lived happy and died beloved,” “To Hans, Freída, a mouse, Emmy, a mouse. Max, Rudey and Kurt.” In this cemetery it costs eighteen dollars to bury an ordinarysized dog, plus ten dollars for a tombstone in granite or marble. Larger animals cost more. Twice now, this place has had to bury a horse, hauling it to its final resting place with block and tackle. The price tag for horses is, of course, higher. While I stood beside the statue of an angel, looking at one plot, I was joined by a man who had just brought his dog in to be boarded in the adjoining kennels. He stood looking at the grave with me.
“By gosh,” he said, “if there’s such a thing as us coming back. I’d like to come back as a dog.”
There’s such a brisk business now in boarding cats and dogs that it’s hard to get accommodation. Even kennel owners who do a land-office business boarding dogs for a dollar and a quarter to four dollars a day, depending on the place, and on the size of the dog, and frequently for stretches of two or three years, are getting cynical about the fussing and worrying that goes on over pets left with them. When a woman brought two cats into a kennel to be boarded, she left extra money with the operator to buy one cat barbecued chicken (which it was used to) and the other (which didn’t like barbecued chicken) a daily supply of fresh liver, which it rather fancied. The kennel operator sarcastically asked her when they got their caviar, but she either didn’t hear him or thought he meant it and didn't mind, because she went right on giving instructions about the cats’ care.
People come great distances to a kennel that has a reputation for giving pets proper care. They come to one well-run place just outside Toronto from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Montreal, and send their pets by plane from even more distant points. The kennel owner meets the plane at Toronto International Airport and takes the dog to its new quarters. The owner often sends along a toy and the pet’s own bedding. An animal being boarded at this kennel has a little house of his own, and while I was there, one woman insisted on measuring the house her poodle would inhabit, so she could fit it with her pet’s own chair and mattress. He already had a veranda and his own twelve hundred square feet of backyard. People phone anxiously, and as often as twice a week, from as far away as San Fran-
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cisco to learn if their pets are adjusting. They even send their dogs postcards.
Pet owners arc dead serious about their animals being snubbed. “I thought my dog would be on the upper terrace,” one woman said and burst out crying. People in the pet business arc inclined to be very understanding and sorry for people who get emotional about pets. “It's a shock to these people, having to leave their pets,” 1 was told. “You’ve no idea what a pet means to them.”
I was beginning to get the idea. Twice when my face showed what I was thinking, people asked me, “Have you got a pet?"
“No,” l\l say.
“Oh, then you wouldn’t understand,” they’d say, and walk away never waiting long enough for me to tell them 1 had two daughters.
One thing I found easy to understand was that the pet industry in Canada, which includes a growing list of lizards, frogs, toads, iguanas, tortoises, guinea pigs, hamsters, monkeys and birds, provided a lot of people with work.
Plaza pet shops are becoming popular places with Saturday-night shoppers, and poodle-clipping shops are taking on a social atmosphere. I watched five operators, as busy as those in a popular hairdressing salon, giving poodles English saddle cuts. Continental cuts with pompons, something called the Town and Country for everyday wear, and the Dutch trim which, I was told, is wonderful for wearing with sweaters and for more casual days at the cottage. Such cuts range from ten to eighteen dollars, and the well-groomed dog needs a new' job every six weeks. (The especially fastidious dog may trot around for a trim every two weeks.) A bath every two w'eeks costs another three dollars, not counting tinting and nail polishing. An experienced poodle-clipper can make up to a hundred and twenty-five dollars a week. There are people who do nothing but give dogs baths, in blue bathtubs, others doing the roughing out, and still others doing the finishing. You have to make appointments two weeks in advance.
During a big snowstorm last year, when two thirds of the staff of Le Chien Elegant, one of the busiest poodle boutiques in Toronto, couldn't get to work on time, there were customers lined up at the door so they wouldn't miss their appointments. This place stops making Christmas appointments in October and has standing appointments for many dogs. There’s a schedule on the wall which the poodle-clippers study over the dogs’ heads so they’ll keep on schedule, listing times of appointments and names like Coco, Tico, Buttons, Smokey, Venus and Pup. The remarks coming out of the salon make you look around just to make sure you’re still on earth.
“Take Fifi to the bathroom,” 1 heard one attendant say.
“I’m doing Louise. Oh, pardon me. André.”
“Chiffon! For heaven’s sake,” a male operator said.
“Pogo! Behave yourself!”
“You’ll feel better going home with your new haircut.”
People coming in to pick up their pets exclaimed with coy playfulness, “Well, who’s this? My, my, my — who have we got here?”
I wiggled my finger at one poodle that was prancing around my feet. “Call her Fifi," the guy who was calling for her told me. "She just wants you to pick her up and admire her hairdo.”
I poked my head over a gate to sec how things were coming along inside. A big grey poodle, descendant
of the Asiatic wolf, and former hunting dog, draft animal and free and footloose companion of bums, was lying on her back w'ith one foot twitching while a hairdresser trimmed her stomach. I could have sworn the dog was giggling.
“She likes it,” said the hairdresser. “Gigi has been here so much she often falls asleep while we’re manicuring her.”
With that kind of attention she could afford to, but I had a lot of
things to do, including squeezing in time for a haircut myself, at a dollar and a quarter. I couldn’t think of anything appropriate to say. I asked the man whether they had boutiques for other pets, like guinea pigs, and he looked over Gigi’s head thoughtfully and said, “No, but you just gave me an idea. The Happy Hamster Shop.”
I hope he was kidding. But the way Canadians are going on about pets, I’m not sure he was. ★