By Sharna Johnson
One doesn’t have to be into pets to notice that everywhere you turn, pet paraphernalia dominates.
From products to services to viral videos and social networking memes, the U.S., and for that matter, western culture as a whole, seems to have pets on the brain.
If it were to be viewed as a trend, the slogan might read: “Kids are out, pets are in.”
Yep, that’s right, the fuzzy ones are easing up the nurture ladder to unseat human offspring as the preferred target of affection.
Birth and fertility rates in the US have dropped dramatically and are reflecting record lows, according to the most recent census and CDC data.
Experts say people are simply more reticent to have children these days, with economic concerns, cost of living and focus on career stopping the biological clock. In addition, people are putting off the decision to start their own families because they are instead directing their energy to care for aging parents and grandparents, whose death rates are hitting record highs, leading to the largest birth-death gap in almost 40 years.
The drop in reproduction has been so marked, it’s causing concern for rural communities where a drain of young workers heading to the city for better opportunity has been a known problem for some time.
And with no sign of change in sight, dwindling population numbers are expected to become a large concern for western culture as a whole.
The decision to delay or omit a bundle of joy from one’s life, does not, however, mean people have lost their hearts and chosen instead to live solitary, self-centered lives.
To the contrary, they have lots of love to give and modern folks still have that need to nurture something and have a sense of family.
Enter pets — and, an emergence of the euphemistic title “Pet Parent” because “Pet Owner” just seems a little too dictator-ish, inanimate and unloving.
Pet ownership has literally tripled in the same time frame as the population shift, and according to a 2012 Harris poll, a whopping 91 percent of pet people consider their dogs and cats to be family members.
With a pet in your life, you don’t have to feel like an outsider to the human race because you don’t have kids.
You can cuddle them, brush them, dress them up, take them for play dates, show off their cute pictures, shoot hilarious videos of their antics and have no shortage of stories to share around the water cooler.
And pet-kids offer some advantages over real life kids.
When they’re bad, you can lock them in a room or cage.
You can even tie them to something or muzzle them if they are mouthy.
The social life doesn’t have to suffer. Want to go to the movies, no problem… leave them at home alone. Need to get away for the weekend, book a kennel or get a friend to drop by a couple times a day.
And since you’re not forced to send them to school, there will never be a note that says “Dear Johnny’s Parents, Little Johnny’s teeth and hair haven’t been brushed in two weeks. Are you still there?”
And there’s always the shelter or classifieds if it tanks.
Face it, as conscientious as society is becoming with pets and animal care, “Pet Parenting” still offers convenience and autonomy — for the most part society and government stay out of it — that human parenting doesn’t.
Who knows, with the increasing complications, pace and expense of living, there may even come a day when the phrase “future generations” really means “Pugs and Tabbys”.
Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: