A Look Back at Pet Ownership


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The way humans view their pets has evolved
In the last decade, pet ownership has risen and, today the pet culture in this country is booming. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports that in 2018, 68 percent of U.S. households or about 85 million households own at least one pet, compared to 62 percent in 2008. Several factors have contributed to that increase, not the least of which is the undeniable bond between humans and animals.

“Any observant person who welcomes an animal into their household cannot help but see the emotions, intelligence, sociabil-ity, and vulnerability of cats, dogs, rabbits, and other animals kept as companions. These animals are, quite simply, easy to love,” states Professor Kathie Jenni of the University of Redlands Human Animal Studies program.

While the animal-human bond is the most significant driver of pet ownership, there are other factors that have contributed to the booming pet industry, culture and care.

Some of our favorite covers from the last decade of publishing.

The Role of Retail
The pet retail business actually began very humbly in the 1840s, with the first pet stores catering mostly to birds. Then, in 1860, a man observed sailors feeding dogs dry biscuits on the fishing docks and decided to create the first commercially prepared pet food. Fast forward to the early 2000s, when the pet industry grew rapidly—in 2001, revenues from the pet market were $28.5 billion. Today, that number is estimated to be a whopping $75 billion. In just the last ten years, from 2009 to 2019, market revenues have grown from $45 billion to $75 billion, a nearly 67-percent increase.

As pet ownership has increased, pet culture has boomed, and the retail industry has done a great job of keeping up with the demands of savvy pet parents. And, of course, creating an entire market of things we never knew we needed!

The Role of Animal Welfare
In 2009, the momentum of the no-kill shelter movement was changing the face of animal welfare and shifting the culture around pet adoption. The movement encouraged adopting instead of shopping and stressed the importance of spaying and neutering, among other important themes. The surge of public compassion resulted in some seriously adorable marketing campaigns, the use of shelter and rescue dogs as “spokespets,” and shed light on special needs pets, pit-bull type dogs, and the multitudes of shelter cats in need of homes.

Over the last ten years, animal welfare/ corporate initiatives have continued to grow. Brands were created or inspired by the love of a rescue pet, and retail establishments jumped in with all four paws with give-back programs to help their local communities. Today, a philanthropic business model is almost a prerequisite for having your pet business taken seriously. Consumers expect companies to give back, and most pet owners prefer to support shops that do.

Lifestyle Changes
Household structure and demographics have evolved over the years, and that, too, has led to the increase in pet ownership and how we view our pets.

Catherine Salmon, professor of Animal Human Studies at University of Redlands, describes some of the trends that relate to pet ownership: “Being childless (or childless for long stretches of time), many people treat/have affection for their pets that is more in line with relationships between parent and child. Another factor is moving far away from where they grew up … their lives can lack social connections. Pets can also provide that, dogs in particular, as they, too, are social animals and crave companionship.”

People under the age of 30 are becoming one of the largest demographics to not only own pets but also incorporate them into every aspect of their lives. Today, pet owners want to travel with their pets and take their pets to work or on daily errands and excursions. This demand has led to an increase in pet-friendly office spaces, remote work options, and a surge in pet-friendly travel options.

Advances in Veterinary Care
Just like medical breakthroughs and advances in human health care, veterinary medicine stays on the cutting edge, now more than ever before. Over the last decade, veterinary medicine has advanced in leaps and bounds. Some of the surgeries, therapies, and treatments include DNA testing, water therapy, prosthetics, dental care techniques, stem cell therapy, cancer vaccines, laser surgery, and MRIs, to name just a few. Just as it is for humans, the cost of these procedures is high. To provide their pets the very best medical care available, some owners are purchasing pet health insurance, which is offered through a surprising number of well-known insurance companies.

Holistic options and services are growing in popularity, too, such as pet massage, acupuncture, supplements, herbal therapy, and other natural and holistic treatments. Slowly but surely, our pets’ health care reg-imens and options are beginning to look a lot more like our own, and pet parents are embracing the change. And as a result, our pets are living longer, healthier lives.

Science, Sustainability & Style
As we have grown more aware of the ingredients, sourcing, and impact of our human food, it’s no surprise that this awareness and curiosity has translated to the pet industry as well. Pet parents want to know what is going into their pet’s food and where it’s coming from. Sophisticated pet owners know that a carefully chosen diet will support your pet’s health and help them live a longer, higher quality life. The interest has driven more and more research around pet food and physiology and, as a result, the pet food segment of the industry has skyrocketed.

Ray Nocera of Bones-N-Scones in Palm Desert says, “Pet food is the number one purchase for my clients. It is what they have the most questions about and feel they have the most control over, as they all want to make an informed decision they can feel confident about.”

“Green,” “organic,” “sustainable,” “recycled” … these are just few trending words among savvy pet parents purchasing lifestyle products and services for their pets. Pet products that mimic home décor lines and fit in seamlessly with your personal home style are in demand. Services such as dog walking, pet sitting, training, and grooming with all-natural products have all grown over the last decade, and many pet families now consider these services a necessity rather than a one-time treat or a luxury.

Technology and Availability
The expansion of the pet sector into every retail space, from dollar stores to chic boutiques, has made it easier than ever to indulge our pets. Social media has led us into an era of “real-time” shopping that changes the way we research and make purchasing decisions. In addition, anyone with a smart phone can instantly communicate with and even remotely give their pets a treat while they’re away from home, through pet cams and other smart toys and apps. And another critical benefit of technology is that most pet adoptions now begin online, thanks to robust social media marketing of adoptable pets available through local shelters and rescues.

So, with all these changes, you might wonder, do our pets live better lives than we do? Kathi Jenni believes that by no means is that true. “Pets have no control over their basic living conditions— they can be given away or euthanized at will (though loving pet guardians would not choose euthanasia unless the pet were suffering irremediably). They are often frightened and harmed by human thoughtlessness, such as when people set off fireworks. Pets are considered property in our legal system and are treated as such by many cities, counties, and states. They are amazingly vulnerable in a way that few humans are.”

The evolution of pet ownership and our attitudes toward our pets, pet keeping, and the countless choices of personalized accoutrements may make sharing your life with a pet more fun for you, but the reality is, they still depend on us for everything. And throughout their lives, as their needs change, so do your responsibilities and so should your priorities. It is our duty as their caretakers to facilitate the necessary changes and provide them with love, dignity, care, and respect until the end of their lives.

Alicia Bailey
Alicia Bailey
Alicia Bailey is a writer specializing in animal welfare topics and issues. Prior to writing full time she spent 13+ years working in rescue and animal sheltering, holding leadership roles in both. She has worked with numerous local and national non-profit organizations including Best Friends Animal Society, NKLA, The Palm Springs Animal Shelter, Coachella Valley Animal Campus, and many others. Alicia is mom to 3 uniquely abled dogs, including @LittleBoogieShoes & @Bust.A.Moves.


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