Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
There’s a commercial on that’s bugging me (not a novel experience, granted, but still), and it’s been on about 5 times in the past hour. It’s for the local ASPCA (no link; they pissed me off), featuring Sarah McLachlin’s saddest songs accompanying the most pathetic photos imaginable of poor, suffering dogs and cats…and possibly a rabbit; I couldn’t tell. I mean, seriously; give me a break. There’s pulling on the heart strings and then there’s going too far.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I love animals in general and my pets specifically. People that know me know that you can frequently go almost five minutes without hearing a story or seeing pictures about my adorable little monsters. But still; priorities people!

I sympathize with the plight of abused animals; I’m a little fuzzier on the concept of “homeless” pets, since a pet living in the wild is just called an “animal”, but I have heard some very disturbing stories about people abandoning pets in environments they are not prepared to survive. I have a serious ethical problem, though, with the idea of spending that much money on homeless animals when we still haven’t helped all our homeless children.

In 2007 we spent 41 billion on our pets. Much of it on very reasonable things:

It’s not so much the $41 billion a year Americans spend on pets (“more than the gross domestic product of all but 64 countries”) or that only the consumer electronics category outpaces pets in annual growth. Or that we spend more on pets than on movies, video games and listening to recorded music combined.

No, it’s the specifics of our largess. That includes $919 testicular implants to restore a four-legged chum to “anatomical preciseness” after neutering; $430 indoor potties; $225 raincoats; drugs for depression, anxiety and obesity; psychotherapy; slippers and bikinis; calling firms with names such as Pooper Trooper and Doody Calls to pick up the waste in one’s yard; a host of new surgeries such as rhinoplasty and eye lifts; and the rise of pet insurance.
Meanwhile, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty, in 2007 we also had 13.2 million children living in poverty. This isn’t counting the families that are merely abusive, schools that are underfunded, illnesses that go untreated, or…well, you get the picture. Quick math tells me the money we spent on pets that year works out to about $3100 per child. Not a huge amount per kid, but enough to make a significant difference to a family, a school, a community, or a hospital.

Oh, and the commercial jusft came on again. Sigh. I opened with a quote from Ghandi; usually this is used as a comment on animal cruelty – how civilized can a people be if they lack compassion for other living things? Here’s the flipside though: what can we judge about a nation that buys our pets candy but lets our children starve? That buys custom dog houses and designer pet mattresses but leaves children on the street? That is more willing to buy health insurance for their own pet than for someone else’s child?

I love my pets, and want a better world for all Hashem’s creatures, but if I have to set priorities between pets and children it’s not even close.

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