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World Update: Changing Times in Pet-Keeping Thoughts and Practices

Posted: June 3, 2009

By David Alderton

Pet Product News ArchivesA fundamental shift is taking place in the pets people are keeping. Part of the reason is people worldwide are living in more urbanized surroundings, occupying smaller houses or residing in apartments. Because of the diminishing quarters, large breeds are falling out of-fashion, while smaller ones, such as the Chihuahua and Pug, are soaring in popularity in a wide range of countries. Shih Tzus and West Highland White Terriers are also increasing in popularity.

Another part of shift is due to the ongoing anthropomorphication of pets by their owners, in particular the treating of dogs as surrogate children. This, in turn, is driving the ever-expanding range of clothing and other accoutrements on offer for dogs of all shapes and sizes; which is an area of fascination for London-based photographer Bruce Tanner. His highly acclaimed Dogs in Hats & Wigs series of portraits received rave reviews recently when shown in St. Petersburg, Russia, confirming this is part of a global phenomenon.

“My portraits place dressed dogs in human situations,” Tanner explained. “One of the recurring themes that fascinate me is the relationship between people and their dogs and how pet lovers tend toward an anthropomorphic interpretation of their animals’ behavior.

A Yorkie dressed to impress
People are gravitating to smaller dog breeds and treating their pets like humans.
“Love, kindness, sometimes even sadness and guilt are often projected onto a dog by its owner. The way this actually links with reality can be quite different. On the other hand, there are emotions that are very rarely anthropomorphized and I have aimed to amplify the distinction by creating moods that imply defiance, alienation, pathos, despair, loss and resignation in this series of photographs.”

This changing relationship, as far as dogs are concerned, has spread across cultural boundaries. In Russia, Bruce encountered owners who lavished money on their dogs in an identical way to those in London, Paris and New York, with their pets’ clothing making a fashion statement. Visiting Singapore recently, I noticed a very similar trend, not just on the streets but in the pet stores, too, which featured rack upon rack of canine clothing.

Perhaps this movement is at its zenith in Japan, however, where dog ownership has soared over the past decade as the human birth rate has plummeted. The market there has now grown to $20 billion annually.

A predominant influence now shaping people’s choice of pets is technology. Advances in this field make it much simpler to keep certain pets successfully in domestic surroundings. As a result, marine aquaria have grown rapidly in popularity in North America, while in Europe the major shift to date is in favor of herps. As proof of this growing trend, the first herp-care newsstand magazine from a major publisher in the UK launched in April this year.

“We’ve been delighted by the response from the pet trade to Practical Reptile Keeping,” said publisher Stephen Curtis. “The magazine is very well-received. We see reptile keeping as a growing market, to which we can contribute, linking hobbyists and traders together. Such is the demand from advertisers that we’ve already had to increase the pagination of the magazine from what we planned.”

The current breeding of popular species of snakes and lizards is resulting in an ever-increasing array of different color varieties. Such is the confidence of breeders they are willing to pay potentially huge sums for rarer or more desirable color morphs.

“In our first issue, we featured a royal python morph that was selling for nearly $18,000,” Stephen confirmed. “The prices may not be so high, ranging up to around $900 at the top end, but there is incredible interest at present in bearded dragon morphs, especially Italian leatherbacks and other new varieties.”

This supports another aspect of pet keeping linked with the human psyche. The new and the novel help drive interest in the marketplace. <HOME>

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