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Why "Pets As Family" Should be More Than a Catchphrase


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David Lummis’ cat Yellowstone

Like many, if not a large majority of, pet industry professionals, I’m a pet parent. At present, I’m also a sad one. Recently, my cat died. A big golden tabby and the eldest of our four felines, Yellowstone suffered a saddle thrombus embolism (blood clot) and had to be euthanized. 

I suppose I should have been better prepared. A few months back, he rebounded from a second bout with acute pancreatitis, and, five weeks ago, he was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus. Endless thirst and copious amounts of urine suggested the dietary route recommended by our vet wasn’t doing the trick. Plus, through the decades, we’ve endured more such losses, canine and feline, than I care to count. Still, this one is hitting our family hard, in part because we had just moved into a new home in a new city in which Yellow immediately made himself at home. 

While the rest of the cat crew was glowering under the bed, “the dog,” having begrudgingly conceded that the balcony was off limits, was lounging in new and exciting locales, such as on the credenza in front of the TV sensor and on the floor facing the sliding glass doors—vantage points from which he seemed hypnotized by the Gulf-front view, complete with pelicans gliding past at eye level and dive-bombing into the surf. Maybe that’s what threw us off.

Constant hunger, weight loss and other not-good signs aside, he appeared to be cozy as a clam. Unlike other of our previous-generation fur babies nearing the end, rather than isolating, he’d become more social, positioning himself center stage in our new digs, as if he understood that, with our midlife move to the beach, we were realizing a dream dependent partly on him. Mystical creatures that cats are, he perhaps also understood that each day was a gift. Two and half weeks, and he was gone.

I recall with gratitude the veterinarian at the emergency clinic—the empathy even at the end of an all-night shift, the box of tissue. But other associations also remain. The day of the diabetes diagnosis, I went online and 1) ordered the recommended prescription food, which I’d been unable to find over the weekend in my small town, 2) researched over-the-counter alternatives, and 3) headed off to the pet superstore.

“Do you carry Tiki Cat?”

“Nuh-uh.”

“Do you have any low-carb pet foods? My cat was just diagnosed with diabetes.”

“Not that I know of.”

I pulled up the online list and figured it out myself.

Two weeks later, when I set out in search of a low-carb pet specialty brand of cat food to supplement the prescription diet, a similar scenario played out in another major pet chain in another state.

As a pet market analyst who has watched, and even assisted, as pet marketers and retailers have spun the “pets as family” phenomenon into gold, I was, once again, disappointed. As a pet parent, it goes deeper. 

People are preoccupied, and everyone has the occasional off day. But the pet specialty channel’s foremost claim to superiority over mass retailers has long been customer service and knowledgeable staff. And in stating that my cat had diabetes, I wasn’t just looking for food. After years of profiting on the affection pet owners feel for their “fur babies,” it’s important for industry professionals to be reminded—myself included—that “pets as family” isn’t just a marketing theme. It’s a promise that, once broken, may not be easily fixed, whether that promise is coming from a store, a product manufacturer or a service provider. Every day, millions of pet professionals go above and beyond, fulfilling that pledge in its truest sense. My money, and that of many other pet parents, is on them.


David Lummis is the lead pet market analyst for Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com, and author of Packaged Facts’ annual U.S. Pet Market Outlook report.

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